I have been hearing about Francis Schaeffer for the last 25 years as one of the leading theologians to come out of the Jesus Movement of the early 70s. I eventually got around to reading him. The book is a collection of two essays on art and the Bible and what is meant by ‘Christian art’. The first essay ‘Art in the Bible’ was very disappointing. But perhaps this is because I am not the target readership. It appears to be aimed at the sort of evangelical Christian who needs a Biblical mandate to do anything from riding a bike to shopping at Asda. Do we really need to have ‘proof texts’ to allow us to create art and use it in a Christian context? Apparently so, and Schaeffer has done a good job of searching the scriptures to find them. However, I remind myself that if people like Schaeffer had not gone about stating what the majority of Christians today consider to be ‘obvious’ Protestantism and the Evangelical movement might still be imaginatively impoverished. Some would say it still is, but thanks to Schaeffer perhaps not as much as it was. The second essay ‘Some Perspectives on Art’ is a lot better. It gives a framework in which art can be appreciated and judged from the perspective of the world view of the artist. He also challenges the other Evangelical preconception that the only art forms that are permissible in a church environment are the Hebrew / Jewish ones we see in the Bible. So in the 80s instead of doing the old grapevine to ‘How good and how pleasant it is’ we could, if the beat allowed it, have done the quick step or the pogo ;)There is some good stuff in this second essay for anyone interested in faith and the arts, but please be aware that it was written to Christians 40 odd years ago who needed ‘permission’ to do what we do quite naturally now. I also disagree with his emphasis on propositional art – ie ‘art with a message’. Although he says that artists are free to create art with or without a conscious message or have ‘religious’ content, his theory that an artist cannot operate independently of her world view dilutes this. I am now reading Steve Turner’s ‘Imagine’ written 28 years after Art and the Bible. Turner is a student of Schaeffer’s and I am very interested to see how his teaching has impacted the thinking of the next generation.
I love music. When I was nine-years-old my grandfather, a very gifted musician, gave me a piano and I started taking lessons. However, the next year, my parents moved to South Africa and the piano was left behind. My family’s years in South Africa were very strained financially, and there was no extra money for music lessons or buying instruments.
When I was 16 I got a part-time job and earned enough money to buy a second-hand guitar. I started teaching myself. I never progressed to any great level with it as the steel strings hurt my fingers and the family cats knocked it over and broke its neck (they were flippin’ lucky I didn’t break their necks!) However, I could and still do play enough to accompany myself singing – whether that’s a blessing for anyone else is still to be determined.
When I was 18 I took a full time job as a waitress. I could then afford to pay for piano lessons again and arranged to practice on the church piano. But a year later, I was off to university and living on my own so all my spare cash went on the basics. Once again, piano lessons had to stop.
At uni I studied writing for the media and drama (oh, and history, but let’s not confuse the issue). And I hope you don’t mind me confessing that I was pretty good at both. I still am. So much so that I now lecture in writing for the media and for stage and screen. And if you check out my books, stageplays and screenplays you’ll see that I also write my own material which has been published and performed. Some people would think that was enough: I am more than blessed to have a career doing something creative.
And yet, there is still my music. Since ‘giving up’ my never-quite-started piano lessons at 19 I have continued to dabble. We have many instruments at home, including a piano and a guitar. And I married a professional musician (although he’s now a computer programmer, he still plays music as a hobby).
I tried picking up piano lessons again when I was 34 and finally had some spare cash. But then I got pregnant and after vomiting one too many times on the bus journey to my lessons, I again put them on hold. After that there was the baby and as all parents know having a small child leaves you with very little time for yourself. But I’ve carried on playing and although I never took exams, I can play Grade 3 pieces and still enjoy having a doodle.
Then when I was 40 (yes I know darlings, I hardly look it 😉 ) I took it upon myself to ask Santa for a clarinet – an instrument I’d always loved but never tried. Santa must have mislaid my letter so I went ahead and bought one myself. Now, a year later, I’m about to embark on my Grade 1 Clarinet exam!
Looking back on my failed musical experiments I wonder why I have continued to pursue it. Quite clearly it is far too late for me to have a serious career in music (despite the few years I spent in musical theatre as a singer and actress – but that’s another story!) and I already work professionally in the creative arts. So why do I keep on yearning for it?
The answer is that I simply enjoy it. When I want to calm my mind, my heart and my spirit, I play. Whether it calms anyone else’s, I’m not so sure, but it’s a real gift to be able to spend some time alone and simply express myself through music. And the fact that it is too late for me to have a career in it allows me to just enjoy it. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing very much, but there’s the pressure of meeting deadlines and maintaining a professional standard that can drain my soul rather than feed it.
So that is why I enjoy being useless at the clarinet. And the piano. And the guitar. And watercolour painting … oh, didn’t I mention that?