Finding “Cosmos in Chaos”: How Supporting Artists Strengthens Community & Furthers the Vision of the Kingdom

As an artist, I can’t seem to stop thinking and talking about money all the time. “Why?” I ask myself. “Shouldn’t I be thinking about The Art???!!” Maybe you’ve been wondering this, too, even if you’re a lover and supporter of the arts. Creativity and Capital seem to have a mercurial relationship, one that can never seem to find a satisfactory resolution. And yet, if we are to *invest* in an artistic culture for the sake of the Kingdom (like creating an artist-in-residence program at church!) we need to reframe what the role of money is in the relationship between artists and non-artists. Because it is this relationship that determines whether an artistic endeavor holds the promise of life or death, hope or despair, for its intended audience.

This is a sticky subject and has as many nuances as there are people. Our individual relationships to money are deep and varied, and if we’re not careful the idea of “funding the arts” starts to feel like a government bailout of a bankrupt business when, in fact, it’s about tilling the soil for a more flourishing garden. I hope that in this small space, graciously lent by Rex Daughtery, we can journey closer to a new vision for artistic life and community harmony. 

Here’s my premise, in a nutshell: The artist is the perpetual stranger among us. They see things from the outside and can offer rich perspectives based on years of training, observation, and sensitivity to the human condition. Money, in its best application, is a relational tool, one that validates certain ways of seeing, believing, and behaving, and can encourage or discourage narratives about the world from developing. When we start to close the divide between art-makers and art-sustainers* we start to close other important gaps in our community and learn how to collectively remember our role as sub-creators and stewards of Creation, our neighbor, and ourselves. I’ll speak mostly to the art-sustainers in this piece, but I hope this blesses everyone.

*I’d like to use the terms “art-makers” and “art-sustainers” to describe the roles of “artists” and “non-artists”, respectively. This places Art as something outside of all of us, a gift given both to those who shape it and to those who support the shaping. Something no one can exclusively possess. Every human soul is creative; some practice it as a profession, some do not.

In this short space, I’d like to ask:

  1. Who are art-makers and why is the work that they do necessary for us all?
  2. How do art-sustainers fit into the artistic ecosystem and why is their work necessary?
  3. What does supporting art-makers look like practically?

The Art-Makers and Their Work

Art-makers seek the unseen and weave disconnected stories, people, and elements into a meaningful image.

Art-makers have and/or seek access to the in-between spaces of the world. The obscure, the non-obvious, the subtle, the hidden, the lesser-known, the deep secrets of the earth. We hunt for gems in a world of pebbles. We scour the details of our lives or the lives of others for the tiny wonders that might ignite illumination. Kehinde Wiley re-envisioning dignity in portraiture. Mozart relishing in the glory of variations on a theme. When all the world rushes by harried pedestrians on a sidewalk, Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York stops to take a picture and record a story. As Madeleine L’Engle would say, art-makers find or make “cosmos in chaos.”

Art-makers are the weavers. We take the tangled threads of the world and connect them into cohesive, living images. We take components and give them anatomy, a living relationship to one another and to the world. This is hard work. It takes years of discipline and skill; of investing time, money, and resources to go deeper into the vision; of choosing to create an alternative life plan because the traditional routes have no flexibility for inspiration. 

This work is important for all of us. The work art-makers do is both priceless (so valuable it cannot be expressed in monetary terms) and useless (so necessary it cannot be expressed in utilitarian terms). 

We all need art. Some of us make it, some of us sustain it. All of us enjoy and are nourished by it. Andrew Peterson writes in Adorning the Dark

“…the aim [of art-making] ought to be for the thing to draw attention, ultimately, to something other than the Self. For a Christian, that means accepting this paradox in the knowledge, or at least in the hope, that my expression, even if it is of the most intimate chambers of my heart, can lead the audience beyond me and to the Ultimate Self, the Word that made the world. In that grand chamber alone will art find its best end, as an avenue to lead the audience home.” 

The artistic compulsion to receive and express a vision of beauty and truth can be overwhelming and inescapable, especially for those art-makers who choose to listen and respond. Madeleine L’Engle puts it perfectly: 

“Perhaps the artist longs to sleep well every night, to eat anything without indigestion; to feel no moral qualms; to turn off the television news and make a bologna sandwich after seeing the devastation and death caused by famine and drought and earthquake and flood. But the artist cannot manage this normalcy. Vision keeps breaking through, and must find means of expression.” **

When we take in a skillfully and generously made piece of art, whether it is dance, music, poetry, theatre, cinema, or visual, our bodies and souls rise to the level of that piece. We dance with the dancer, we sing with the singer, we see with the painter. Art-makers mediate the vision and help us enter into it. 

Because no society has come up with a perfect system for supporting artistic endeavor (we can talk about state vs. privately funded art models later, my friends), it is essential to support art-makers in direct and indirect ways. When you buy a piece of art, you’re not really purchasing an object. You’re supporting an artistic infrastructure. A view of the world, a value system that says, “This is important. In a world of  practical and productive things, this beautiful thing is worth protecting. I believe in stopping and attending to the voice of the Spirit however He moves, especially if it’s from an unexpected place.” 

The Art-Sustainers and Their Work

How do art-sustainers function in this artistic ecosystem? What is their essential role in art-making?

Artistic life isn’t just for art-makers. In the best world, art-makers awaken us to our collective creativity and artistic sensibility. As we’ve seen, an artistic way of life is one that intentionally looks beyond the surface, beyond the obvious, searching for clues to eternity and the enchanting, indescribable Meaning and Beauty we all long to know and be known by in our small, brief lives. We play different roles in this Artistic Expedition. You are essential to the process. Your stories, your life, your work are all a part of the tapestry. If you spin the threads, the art-maker can weave the story. We create together. But too often the spinners and the weavers are cut off from each other, so their respective work feels pointless and meaningless. It is only when we join forces that the story can be told. One body, different functions. “An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone” (Madeleine L’Engle, again).

An art-maker without a community is dead. We need other creators to bounce ideas off of, to support and encourage us. One of my best friends is a fellow actor I met in grad school. When we hang out, it’s not just catching up, it’s spurring each other on to greatness. Validating the vision. Exchanging information and ideas. Buoying the spirit. But we also need those outside of our artistic community. Those we do life with. You. Whether it’s a church or a soccer league, or a volunteer group, or a biological/chosen family, we need portals to the world outside of our studios. We need to hear your stories and perspectives so we can better reflect human experience in the given time and place of our lives. 

In addition to your presence and perspective, you are essential to providing a level of security and shelter to an art-maker in an otherwise tumultuous and uncertain lifestyle. Art-makers live on the margins and are often on the edge of financial and social stability. (Now, there are many ways for art-makers to live flourishing lives, but that path often takes time to carve since each artistic life is as unique as each human soul.) You’re saying, “I see what you’re doing. For us. For the world. And I want to be a part of that work.” I used to work in fundraising and before I was a Development officer I thought raising donations was kinda yucky. Like a necessary yet shameful transaction for the creation of good things. Now, after having spent time with donors and fundraisers, I see the value in this sharing of burdens. Some are gifted to create, some are gifted to support. And both are collaborators in the making of art. 

We presume art-makers are money-grabbing dilettantes who spend all their cash on artisan coffee and wine. And while that does sometimes happen (can we talk about substance abuse in the artistic community at some point?), art-makers most often need help covering rent and utilities because their artistic work is insufficient for sustaining life and their multiple day jobs have exhausted them to their core. A little cash infusion can create a margin, even if it’s a brief respite, for a soul wearied by the protracted vulnerability of awareness in a broken, beating-hearted world. So when that art-maker in your life says, “I need money!” It’s not because they’re fiscally irresponsible. It’s because they are weary of living outside the system for the benefit of all. They need a little shelter from the storm they’ve been writing a ballad about; a ballad that shelters others’ souls. They are generous with you. Be generous with them.

Supporting an art-maker is also a way of entering into culture-making and taking an active role in the narrative of your community. We are story-driven creatures, and often the most lucratively backed story franchises are the ones that write cultural standards of behavior and belief, for better or worse (e.g. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Squid Game, etc.). If you feel powerless about the state of civic discourse or want to open a nuanced conversation about a prevalent issue, partner with an art-maker and make something together. We shouldn’t be living in a world where there is a division between the storytellers and the audience. Both come together to make a story happen. Both are necessary. 

What Supporting an Art-Maker Can Look Like

This is why I love the idea of residencies. Art-makers reside in larger communities. Through cultivating their own creativity they remind us of the creativity in all of us. 

Art-makers do vital work, but they can only thrive when connected to others, to you. An Artist in Residence is an art-maker called to listen closely to a specific community for a time and create something of mutual artistic nourishment. Or to present something original that is a unique vision they’ve been given of the world, themselves, or a particular subject.

So how can you help the art-maker in your life? Here are some practical things you can do that would be a huge blessing to a creative soul:

  • Offer housing. Freelance life is tough on credit and cash flow. Even a short term stay in a guest room can work wonders for an art-maker between living situations.
  • Offer studio space. Creative space is the most necessary and most expensive commodity for a working artist. Art-makers often live in shared housing or cramped quarters. Having dedicated space to paint, dance, or rehearse is a luxury few can afford but all need in order to grow and advance as an art-maker. If you have an empty garage, consider letting an art-maker work there on occasion.
  • Offer skill/resource trades. Are you a dentist? A tax preparer? Offer an art-maker a free cleaning or tax prep services in exchange for a painting, a performance, or even a secondary skill (like childcare, or house cleaning, etc.). Trading is a fantastic way to bypass a cash-based economy.
  • Buy them lunch. Take your art-maker out to lunch and get to know them. They’ll be grateful for the meal but even more for the opportunity to see and be seen by you. We’re often lonely and want to connect. But normal social connection points like grabbing brunch or drinks on the weekend either conflict with our work schedule or add up financially. Better yet, take them a meal during a busy week. One of the most loving things a church friend did for me was bring me a healthy and delicious meal during tech week. I felt so seen and supported.
  • Support their art. Go see a show. Buy a print. Donate to their production costs. It’s not just about spending the money, it’s accepting their invitation to see the world a little more deeply through the lens of their creativity.
  • Send them an encouraging note. I keep a folder of encouraging notes I’ve received from people because those demons of doubt can yell real loud.
  • Slip them some cash. It’s not gross. It’s an act of love. If you don’t know how else to begin entering into the artistic ecosystem, start here.
  • Encourage your community to support the art-maker(s) in your midst. Whether you’re part of an HOA or the PCA, identify the artistic souls in your community and find a way to bring them into your lives. Invite them to dinner, to game nights, on vacations. Encourage your church leadership to create an Artist in Residency program. 😉 We all need art. Help your other non-artist friends see their need for it, too. Do it as a group.

In Conclusion

I hope this was helpful. I hope you feel encouraged, and blessed, and welcomed into Art-Making as a way of life and mission. For the art-sustainers out there, I hope you see your vital role in this way of life not as a sidelined ATM, but as an essential collaborator for bringing artistic vision into the world. We worship a God of abundance and beauty and truth, and I know of no other way to proclaim this to the world than through the heart-enchanting nature of Story. 

I’ll close with one final, beautiful word from Andrew Peterson:

“I want you, dear reader, to remember that one holy way of mending the world is to sing, to write, to paint, to weave new worlds. Because the seed of your feeble-yet-faithful work fell to the ground, died, and rose again, what Christ has done through you will call forth praise from lonesome travelers long after your name is forgotten. They will know someone lived and loved here. Whoever they were, they will think, they belonged to God. It’s clear that they believed the stories of Jesus were true, and it gave them a hope that made their lives beautiful in ways that will unfold for ages among the linnea that shimmers in the moonlit woods.” (98)

**If you want a tangible expression of this, I recommend listening to Florence + The Machine’s newest single, “Free” (I also love the music video). She sings not only of her personal relationship with anxiety and art-making, but of the overwhelming need to create and share music in the face of suffering and death: 

“Is this how it is? / Is this how it’s always been? / To exist in the face of suffering and death / And somehow still keep singing? / Oh, like Christ up on a cross / Who died for us, who died for what? / Oh, don’t you wanna call it off? / But there is nothing else that I know how to do / But to open up my arms and give it all to you / ‘Cause I hear the music, I feel the beat / And for a moment, when I’m dancing / I am free.” 

Sources & Suggested Reading

  • Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle
  • Adoring the Dark Andrew Peterson
  • Culture Care, Makoto Fujimura
  • Art + Faith, Makoto Fujimura
  • Rainbows for the Fallen World, Calvin Seerveld
  • Habits of Being, Flannery O’Connor
  • The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy L. Sayers

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