from Volume 1, Issue 4, 2017
EOF: Maybe we should start off by you telling us a little bit about yourself. I know you’re the Executive Director of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). Why don’t you tell us about that organization?
Anderson: I could say a bit about my background which connects to what I do right now. I am an artist and a writer. I have a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts and a Master’s of Fine Arts in painting and drawing. I taught art in a Catholic boys high school for a couple years, even though I am not Catholic by background. And then for 30 years I served in a variety of roles and positions with a campus ministry called “InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.” I left that organization about eight years ago to become the Executive Director of Christians in the Visual Arts. That’s the background. The background of the organization is that it was birthed in 1979 by a gentleman named Eugene Johnson; he and a small group of others. Gene was the founder of the Art Department at Bethel University in St. Paul Minnesota. He was a ceramicist, a painter, a theologian and evangelist; a very dynamic man. He gathered a group of like-minded people together, not just from evangelical traditions but also Lutheran, Catholic, and Reformed traditions to address a problem that they all sensed. It was basically this; that if one was serious about her faith and serious about her art, then often she found herself in a church that appreciated her faith but not her art or in the art world that appreciated the art but not the faith. In fact, most of those communities were sort of bewildered by the fact that anyone would want to be deeply committed, in a personal way, to those two themes together. Of course, that is partially what Iwrote about in my book. A conference was formed. A group of volunteers formed, that actually started in 1977, but we became an official organization in 1979. That’s the backstory. I would say that our original purposehasn’t changed much, which is really threefold: to serve artists in their creative calling, to see their calling as a holy vocation serving the church, and then engage the culture, especially the art world. Those are the three things that we are still largely committed to.
I am a member of your organization, as well, and I am the curator at our church. We are about to host a second traveling exhibit from CIVA, Come to the Table.
O good. I was the sole curator on that. It’s a lovely show. It might be one of our best traveling shows. It has been going for a while.
On to your new book, The Faithful Artist, a Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts. In it, you cover the history of the evangelical church and the dynamic relationship with the art community. Since you’ve done extensive research on that subject, as well as having first-hand experience in your current job, maybe you could tell us a little about your observations on the relationship of the art community and the church today?
I still think it is a pretty distressed relationship. The reasons why Eugene Johnson and others founded CIVA are still pretty relevant today. But there is shifting ground in a couple respects. It is still the case that the high art world is pretty suspicious about Christians who are artists and who really believe in their Christian faith. You get treated ironically, or get treated in all kinds of ways, but if there is a personally held faith, there is still suspicion there. The church is generally still pretty suspicious of the art world; and what goes on there has this kind of bohemian reputation. That hasn’t gone away. But I think the posture of the church in American life and culture with respect to art is still evolving or migrating or changing quite a lot. As you already mentioned, you belong to a church and it has an exhibit programme and while most churches probably don’t do that, there are actually hundreds and hundreds of churches around the country now that have a gallery programme and have an exhibit program and they want the visual arts to be a part of their worship and their education and their life together. When CIVA was founded, that would have been just very, very unusual. When churches start making those moves, then artists are feeling welcome in those kinds of churches. It feels like the vocation is valued. It just sort of makes sense. I would say almost 40 years ago when CIVA was founded, you just really didn’t even know where to look to find another Christian who might be engaged in the visual arts; certainly not with formal training and background. These days they are just everywhere and they are doing excellent work. There isn’t this sense of isolation and there isn’t that sense of “lostness” in terms of, “Where do I go and where do I find a resource?” I just published this book, but there is a whole bookshelf full of stuff out there now that you can pick up. Not to mention online stuff and conferences. It’s a much more rich environment and therefore it is more encouraging to artists who are Christian and it follows, of course, that they are making better works for the church. It’s a kind of ecosystem that’s tuned up.
This is probably a good opportunity for me to put in a plug in for InterVarsity Press because your book is part of a series called, Studies in Theology in the Arts. Obviously we are coming along, right?
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