Professional artists, professors discuss how art, culture, theology interact

Caleb Booth, senior art major, serves bread to Brooklyn-based artist Wayne Adams during communion at the ACT Conference on April 9. | Photo by Abby Ott

By Abby Ott

Artists and theologians mingled together this past weekend to discuss the interaction of art, culture and theology.

Those three practices were brought together for examination at the ACT Conference.

“The disciplines of art and theology can be unnecessarily divided in the modern academy,” said Taylor Worley, associate dean for Spiritual Life. “We like to build fences around our disciplines.”

The conference was an assembly of experts in both art and theology. Speakers included Nigel Goodwin, executive director of Genesis Arts Trust; Dan Siedell, director of Whale and Star; and Mary McCleary, Regent’s professor of art emeritus at Stephen F. Austin State University.

In addition to Worley, vignettes were presented by Michael Winters, Paul Shockley and David Taylor.

“(The speakers) can give us wisdom on things that we haven’t done,” said Megan Thompson, junior art major. “We constantly need encouragement, especially from brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Michael Card, Christian songwriter and storyteller, led the group in singing at the start of the conference on Friday, and local musicians Alice and Aaron Hardin sang during the morning devotional on Saturday. Various media was used throughout the weekend such as dance, video and theater.

The theme of being a positive influence in the world through art was laced throughout the weekend.

“When the salt and the light are not in the culture, the results are obvious,” Goodwin said. “Motivated by God, we need to create the best work of our day.”

The speakers, artists involved in various mediums and belonging to the Christian faith, are constantly engaged with individuals of opposing beliefs through both their work and personal lives. Many of them encouraged addressing the darkness in the world instead of being afraid of it.

“Conferences like this can clear the waters to make people feel free to be artists,” said Michael Winters, director of visual arts at Sojourn Community Church, which uses art as a way to build commonality with the community that surrounds their meeting place in Louisville, Ky.

During ACT, Winters gave specific examples of how Sojourn is incorporating the arts with faith.

“We strive to create an atmosphere where new ideas can be considered,” Winters said. “We want to build a bridge to and from the larger community and the church.”

The weekend’s sessions encouraged Christian artists to use their medium as a means to exemplify the glory of God without excluding a wider audience. The speakers used personal experiences as examples of combining faith and artistic work. The speakers explained their work, shared their experiences and gave advice to future artists.

“We speak volumes the moment we walk out on the street,” Goodwin said. “God speaks powerfully through nonverbal language.”

Overall, the primary goal of the conference was to encourage artists within the body of Christ to make quality art in the world, whether through biblical stories or personal work and art.

Siedell, who works closely with artist Enrique Martínez Celaya at Whale and Star studio, said Christians often remove themselves from the world in an attempt not to be of it. He said he feels it is better to be more of the world than not in it at all.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.