Between Two Worlds: A conversation between the church and contemporary art

Three weeks from now I will join a group of visual artists, art historians, art critics, philosophers and theologians, patrons, teachers, administrators, pastors, arts ministry leaders and thoughtful lay folk at the biennial conference for Christians in the Visual Arts. I am very excited about this conference and am grateful for the opportunity to serve as co-director.

It is an understatement to say that the church and the contemporary art world find themselves in an uneasy relationship. On one hand, the leaders of local congregations, seminaries, and other Christian networks often do not know what to make of works by artists like Banksy and Chris Ofili, or Marina Abramovich and Barbara Kruger. Not only are such artist mostly unknown to church leaders, they and their work cause them to regard the world of contemporary art with quizzical indifference, frustration, and even disdain. On the other hand, many artists lack any meaningful experience with the contemporary church and are mostly ignorant of her mission. Not infrequently, these artists regard religion as irrelevant to their art practice, they are disinclined to trust the church and its leaders, and they have experienced personal rejection from these communities. Clearly, misunderstanding and mistrust abound.

CIVA’s 2015 Biennial Conference at Calvin College will host a conversation between these two worlds. During our four days together, we will explore the misperceptions that we have about each other, create hospitable space to talk and listen, and imagine the possibility of a renewed and mutually fruitful relationship. With these lofty goals before us, this conference will provide a range of case studies that exemplify the kinds of programs, partnership, and patronage that might serve the greater good. Meanwhile, where the difference between these two worlds is too great to overcome, this conference seeks to build a bridge that facilitates understanding and mutual respect. In other words, we seek to find common ground for the common good since we — Christians at work in the visual arts — believe this is what God, in Christ, would have us to do.

This conference will take place June 11-14, 2015, at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, MIThe following are a few highlights and I encourage you to register here, if you haven't already.

Who is speaking at this conference? A magnificent collection of people. See the names listed on this poster for a few of the folks that have thrown their lot in with this event. See this provisional list of bio notes, too. You can also see this blog post which I wrote originally on the conference theme.

For whom is this conference? This conference is for anyone in the art world and anyone in the church world.

Who is leading our devotional reflections and offering the homily on Sunday morning? None other than the lovely, immensely talented, artistically prolific and spiritually wise Luci Shaw.

What is the schedule for the conference? See here for a description of the plenary program, the tracks and seminar sessions, and the extracurricular activities.

What sorts of seminars and tracks will the conference offer? See here for a list of these.

Will there be any day-ahead programs? Most certainly. See here for a list of those events, including a conversation with Makoto Fujimura, a figure drawing workshop with Steve Prince, a tour of the Fred Meijer Sculpture Garden, and a tour one of Grand Rapids' most famous furniture design enterprises, Steelcase.

Doesn't the church have good reason to be suspicious of the contemporary art world, and vice versa? Yes they do. I talk about this, along with CIVA Executive Director Cam Anderson, in a podcast with Brian Moss.

What is one thing that I am most excited about? That's a hard question to answer, because there are so many things that I am excited about, but if I had to choose, I would choose the "First Generation" panel which will take place on the first night of the conference, on Thursday, June 11. This will panel will bring together five individuals who played a critical role in the pre-CIVA days in the world of modern art of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. This includes the following people: Calvin Seerveld, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, Sandra Bowden and Ted Prescott.

Last question: is there financial help to get pastors, church and ministry leaders to the conference? Yes, there is. See this poster for details.

To register for this great conference, please go here.


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