Sputnik Faith and Arts After the Year of Not Gathering, art is more important than ever

After the Year of Not Gathering, art is more important than ever

In an alternative universe somewhere, a parallel version of myself is writing a review of 2020 and is waxing lyrical about an event that happened at the end of May, the first national meet up of Sputnik artists since our very early days. “Well, the weather was all right, wasn’t it?” – he quips, May 2020 being the sunniest calendar month on record in the UK.

And what a line up! Daniel Blake, Marlita Hill, TJ Koleoso, Pip Piper… And, of course, all the new friendships, collaborations and encouragements that sprung naturally from a load of us camping together for two days over the May bank holiday at (what we decided about a year ago to call) The Gathering.

A Gathering. Back in our universe, that word seems strange, even somewhat mystical at the end of this year.

2020 was meant to be the year of the Gathering for Sputnik. Instead, of course, it’s been the year of not gathering for all of us!

There’s obviously a solemnity and weight to that. Many people have died. Many people have lost their jobs. Many people’s businesses have gone under. For artists in particular, the inability to gather has made this year particularly difficult. The controversial ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber’ advert that came out in October may have been promptly pulled, but the reality behind it is more difficult to sidestep. 2020 has certainly forced many artists to consider whether they need to retrain and I wonder how many young people, real life Fatimas, who started the year looking to pursue a career in the arts are now thinking twice about that course of action.

In the light of all of this, I can’t just give you the highlights reel of the Sputnik year like usual. A year like 2020 demands more considered reflection. It’s not like nothing has happened in Sputnikville. Far from it. We’ve adapted, like most people have adapted, and seen many positives hidden in amongst the chaos. However, as I stumble out of the dust and rubble of what has certainly been the strangest year I’ve ever lived through, I want to kick off my reflections by outlining an important lesson that I’ve learnt this year.

I’ve learnt that Art is more important than ever.

I don’t want Fatima to retrain in cyber. I can see why she would but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t want to trade in our actors for bankers, our musicians for solicitors, our poets for accountants. And I don’t think that this is just personal preference. That wouldn’t end well for any of us.

One thing to be said for COVID-19 is that it has pulled us all to an almighty halt and caused us to question certain elements of modern life that we’d come to take for granted. On the back of such an opportunity, I’d like to hope that there is a genuine possibility for far reaching societal change on the back of this pandemic and, for that reason, we need artists more than ever.

In my experience, artists are at their best when challenging accepted norms and reimagining the future.

Now then is the time for artists to step up, not to jump ship. That means that now is the time to support artists, not to abandon them.

We need whole waves, even communities of artists, who can speak in all the different languages of artistry, to throw their weight behind the re-humanization effort.

The trajectory of western culture in recent times has been deeply concerning. For decades, the human being has been slowly and irresistibly reduced, first into a mere consumer and more recently into that least human of things, data. Our brains have been systematically rewired by the internet so that our attention, or what is left of it, is only able to focus on the most shallow and ephemeral targets. Self interest is now ethical high mindedness. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

And, in case nobody has noticed, evangelical Christianity is very politely doing its best to self destruct before everyone else does. Worship as entertainment. Pastors as celebrities. Abuse of power. Sex scandals.

Many of us have had an inkling that we’ve been ripe for a change for some time. This year, we’ve actually had time to reflect on this and found that our inkling was bang on.

But to step into a different future, we have to be able to imagine that future. To choose a different ending, someone needs to have told us the story. This is where artists come in. This is where WE come in.

Milton Keynes based poet, Sharon Clark, put it like this in a poem she wrote in October:

Writing is
for dreamers
who conjure up different worlds
-better worlds-
in the hope
that this world
will be
transformed
through their
words

But it is not just up to the writers. It’s also not just up to a handful of genius Artists to conjure up these better worlds. We need whole waves, even communities of artists, who can speak in all the different languages of artistry, to throw their weight behind the re-humanization effort.

If this is all sounding a bit humanistic for your liking, consider the examples we find in Scripture. Who are the bridge builders between the Old and New Testaments? Who are the people that God uniquely calls to lead his people from the wreckage of exile into the glory of the New Covenant? It’s the prophets. As we’ve written about before on this website, these people should not be seen primarily as ministers or even through the lens of the modern prophet: all booming voice and charisma. They were artists.  Most of them were poets. Many of them, like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, were performers.

And funnily enough, who do we find rounding off the Christian Scriptures and leading us out of the apostolic age? A guy called John who specialized in wacky, subversive, dystopian (or perhaps utopian) apocalyptic literature. Another artist.

And if we rewind to the very beginning, it is God, the artist, who makes the most dramatic re-imagining of all. From something to nothing. Chaos to order. Dancing over the seas. Speaking life into being. Fashioning dust and breath into Adam.

The world needs artists. The church needs artists. God knows it. I think that churches are beginning to learn it.

I really hope that we, the artists, catch hold of it too.

And so, if we’re going to reflect on this year properly, we’d be foolish to turn to anyone else. Therefore, in our next post, we will find out how artists viewed 2020…

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