It Was Good: books, CIVA and working with artists
The last few days have been exhausting; the old pulling, packing, driving, and luggin’ books thing I sometimes tell you about is often pretty stressful. I know it is hard to generate much sympathy for my string of late, late nights and back-bustin’ hauling, though, when I report what a time we have selling books to interesting, good folks. This time, it was the great treat of setting up a large book room for CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) for their biennial conference, Transforming Spaces: Virtu(e) and the Virtual.
You can click on their website if you are interested---it is inspiring to see, so you really should---and you can learn of the serious thinkers and important cultural critics that appeared at their conference, hosted, this year, at the near-by campus of Messiah College. The hour long commute back and forth in the wee hours was a small price to pay to serve their crowd of several hundred artists, art historians, art lovers, art teachers, museum curators, architects, and the like. (I was so exhausted, though, after four nights in a row of only a few hours sleep that I had to pull over to sleep on the 45-minute drive home. Sigh.)
A highlight---besides the warm reception from the good folks there, and the way in which this gang of artistic activists wanted/needed good resources and enthusiastically made their purchases---was learning about the vast array of faithful folks bearing, as Calvin Seerveld as put it, “fresh olives leaves.” From every part of the continent, and with every sort of medium and art form, these folks displayed their work and told their stories, and talked about their tasks and struggles. Like the bird returning to the ark, these artists bear signs of life, offering hope and insight and healing for a culture decimated by avante garde angst, high-brow anti-religious bile and shows of postmodern meaninglessness, on one hand and, and a pseudo-spiritual, cheap sentimentality and kitsch from the church on the other (think “TestaMints or Thomas Kincade, for instance.)
A few of the books we talked about, and sold, there, on these themes include, of course, the Calvin Seerveld book I’ve mentioned, Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves, and a serious, coffee-table look at kitsch from a Christian perspective, wisely and lovingly compiled by called A Profound Weakness written by Betty Spackman. The small but foundational Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts by Philip Ryken (pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian, an arts-friendly church) sold well, as did the top-shelf and very insightful (and very up-to-date) call to artistic faithfulness, Art and Soul by Adrian Chaplain and Hillary Brand. I told many participants about the great collection of brief editorials done by Gregory Wolfe, drawn from his journal, Image, that is collected in Intruding Upon the Timeless (his piece on Kincade, by the way, is very good.)
One of the most important books these days on this topic is by the esteemed art historian at University of Chicago, the widely published James Elkins. There was a CIVA forum on his recent book, On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art, which offered space for a variety of views, some critical and some less so, about his significant take on the legitimacy of faith-filled art. Elkins does not claim to offer a Christian perspective, but Hearts & Minds bud, former CCO staffer and CIVA Board member Dayton Castleman is studying with him and had an upbeat take; Elkins, it seems, has even used some of Dayton’s slides (of his large art installations) in his lectures.
Alongside these helpful conversations, there were speakers who represented varoius artistic mediums, disciplines and perspectives. We were especially delighted to meet Ena Heller, who has done an outstanding job curating the extraordinary Museum of Biblical Art (MoBia) in New York city. Do check out their website to see what kind of great things they are doing...
And, I enjoyed renewing friendship and good conversations with Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio. His opening and closing addresses were stellar, jam-packed with insight, challange and the grit of a worldview shaped by the texts like Romans 12:1-2. If you don't know of his audio subscription service, please check him out here. What a smart and important voice! We carry some of his books on CD, too, by the way...
I won’t test your patience by telling all the details, but it was an honor to chat with amazing and respected visual artists like Ed Knippers, Bruce Herman, Ted Prescott and the amazing leader of CIVA, Sandra Bowden. We’ve got autographed copies of her stunning book, The Art of Sandra Bowden (published by Square Halo) if you want a splendid example of a recent CIVA-related book. Faith + Vision: Twenty-five Years of Christians in the Visual Arts is a fabulous collection which she edited, again, released by Square Halo. I have a blurb about it at their website, alongside some very prominent folks in the CIVA community. Check it out here.
One evening of the conference included a very special autographing session with various artists and writers who are collected in the new edition of It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, a book I raved about last month here at the blog. We snacked on rare olives and great cheeses surrounded by various works shown from It Was Good, hosted by the fine folks at Square Halo Books. You know that we love their stuff, and our friendship with them made these several days that much sweeter.
I hope my sharing of this brings encouragement to you----faithful folks from all over are doing very good work. Buy some books from us about the intersection of faith and the arts (consider donating them to your local library or church resource room) and pray for those who work in the fields of the fine arts. They are doing very special stuff, often against great odds, usually without much finanical security, as they offer their signs of life amidst the death of a modern culture.