The vocation of artists: a class syllabus


The following is syllabus material for the course that I'm presently teaching on the vocation of artists. The only thing I'll mention here, of a critical nature, is that a syllabus always involves the unenviable fact of choice: what to include and what to exclude. So many other resources could have been included here, and perhaps should have been included. But since this is a first venture, I've allowed myself a pinch of grace to get it better next time around, trusting that this year's students will provide me the kind of feedback that will enable the course to become even more helpful to future students. Otherwise, I'm having the time of my life.


THE VOCATION OF AN ARTIST: 
IN BIBLICAL, HISTORICAL, THEOLOGICAL & CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVE 

Course Description: 
This course introduces the student to biblical, theological, historical and contemporary models for the vocation of an artist and offers a vocational model that seeks to encompass a broad range of professions, stations of life and cultural contexts. With this broad perspective in mind, students will explore examples within the arts where artists have articulated their sense of calling; the virtues, practices and spiritual disciplines (both individual and communal) of an artistic vocation; the biblical, theological and spiritual contours of a mature human life; the aesthetic dimension of an artist’s calling; the practical conditions of a flourishing artist; and the mission of a believer artist in light of God’s mission in the world.

Learning Outcomes:
The basic aim of this course is for students to discern the shape of a flourishing artist. Upon completion of this course, students will: (1) have a working knowledge of biblical, theological and historical models of an artist’s vocation; (2) be able to articulate contemporary understandings of the vocation of an artist as well as “read” works of art in which ideas about the vocation of an artist are expressed; 3) be able to articulate one’s own convictions about an artist’s vocation; and (4) be able to discern the basic shape of ministry to artists.

Course Assignments:
In addition to 1,350 pages of required reading, lectures, class and online discussion, students are being asked 1) to write an essay, in conversation with Madeleine L’Engle, in which they examine the ways in which family, church and society, past and present, have shaped their ideas about the vocation of an artist; 2) to write a review of the Wainwright and Begbie readings; 3) to read a novel or biography/autobiography of an artist and to write a critical reflection on it; 4) to write up an interview that they conduct with an artist; and 5) in conversation with the work completed in previous assignments, students are to advance an argument on the vocation of an artist, appealing to specific historical, biblical, theological and contemporary perspectives.


Luz ascendente ("Amen of creation")


Topics covered:
1. Defining our terms (art, vocation, Christian, faithful) + setting the scene for our course.

2. Theological perspectives on the vocation of artists (trinitarian theology, Christ as vocational exemplar of humanity, creation in Christ, the logic of the physical world).

3. Biblical perspectives on the vocation of artists (how the Bible presents ideas about vocation, art, and artists, and how we "read" the Bible in turn).

4. Historical perspectives on the vocation of artists (how Christians in particular and others in general have thought about the vocation of artists in the pre-modern and modern era).

5. Historical perspectives on the vocation of artists (how Christians in particular and others in general have thought about the vocation of artists in the contemporary era).

6. How biographies about/autobiographies by artists give evidence to a range of ideas (and, in turn, reinforce those ideas in contemporary practice and discourse) about the vocation of artists.

7. How novels about artists give evidence to a range of ideas (and, in turn, reinforce those ideas in contemporary practice and discourse) about the vocation of artists. Plus: “How to read a novel.”

8. How movies about artists give evidence to a range of ideas (and, in turn, reinforce those ideas in contemporary practice and discourse) about the vocation of artists. Plus: “How to read a movie.”

9. The virtues, practices and spiritual disciplines (both individual and communal) of a faithful artist.

10. The practical conditions of a flourishing artist + the mission of a believer artist in light of God’s mission in the world.

Required Reading (BOOKS):
1. Bayles David and Ted Orland, Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. Eugene, OR: Continuum, 1993.

2. Currey, Mason. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. New York: Knopf, 2013.

3. L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Waterbrook Press, 2001.

4. Taylor, W. David O., ed., For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.

5. Wainwright, Geoffrey. For Our Salvation: Two Approaches to the Work of Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Required Reading (ESSAYS):
1. Jeremy Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise, “Christ, Creation and Creativity”
2. Calvin Seerveld, Rainbows for a Fallen World, Intro. and ch. 1
3. Andy Crouch, Culture Making, chs. 6-11
4. Deborah Haynes, The Vocation of the Artist, chs. 5-7
5. Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of Artists, Introduction
6. Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise, “Artistry in Christ”
7. Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, Theological Aesthetics: A Reader, “Patristic theologians on the Divine Artist”
8. Flannery O’Connor, “Novelist and Believer”
9. Chad Walsh, “The Advantages of the Christian Faith for a Writer”
10. Walker Percy, “On Being a Catholic Novelist”
11. Jeanne Murray Walker, “On Poets and Poetry”
12. Ted Prescott, “Identity”
13. Mako Fujimura, “Our Calling in the Starry Night”
14. Christopher Zara, Tortured Artists, Introduction
15. William Deresiewicz, “The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur”
16. Priscilla Frank, “What Experts Got Wrong about the Relationship between Suffering and Art”
17. Pope John Paul II, “Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”
18. Choose one biography/autobiography from the suggested list.
19. Choose one novel from this list: Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev; Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray; Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven; Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch: A Novel; Ron Hansen, Exiles; or TBD.
20. Selections from Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-One Writers Speak About Their Writing and Their Faith; The Muse that Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process; Playwrights on Playwriting: From Ibsen to Ionesco; Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith; Written In My Soul: Rock’s Great Songwriters Talk About Creating Their Music.
21. Selections from "conversations" with artists on Image Journal (http://imagejournal.org/artists/)
22. Emily Browne, “10 things about being an artist that art teachers don’t tell you.”


Planetary gears ("Amen of the ringed planet")

Comments

Cole Matson said…
Thank you for this excellent resource, David.

Peter said…
Very promising. I just re-read Dorothy L. Sayers's "Towards a Christian Aesthetic" essay, which is an early version of The Mind of the Maker. It would be a good short intro to her seminal Trinitarian thought—a clear distinction of Christian theology of creation vs. Greek making/representation. Very provocative.
Thanks, Cole.

And glad to hear of your interest in Sayers, Peter.

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