How should Christians interact with the arts? Is there room for faith in the arts? What about the Church—what relationship should it have to the arts? In this episode, we’re talking with Cameron Anderson, a lifelong artist and writer, about his personal experience with the intersection of the two. We’re also saying goodbye to one of our hosts, Tim, during this episode—his final one before he packs up for a move across the lake to Michigan.
Cameron Anderson is an artist and writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. Currently, he serves as the Associate Director of Upper House, a center for Christian study that serves the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In 2016, IVP Academic published his book The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts. He’s also worked as the executive director of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) and served InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for 30 years.
- Living between art and faith: Cameron shares how he discovered a passion for the visual arts and how he navigated the disinterest that his faith community had in his career path as well as the disinterest that the art community had in his faith.
- Artists make contributions to the world the same as any other occupation does. What impact do those contributions make? Does the Church value the contributions of the artists?
- What is the difference between a faith-based artist who purposefully identifies as a Christian artist and one who doesn’t? Cameron shares which he prefers and why.
- What makes art Christian art? Cameron defines Christian art as art distinctly designed to tell biblical stories and biblical truth in a necessary and beautiful way. How then do we interact with other forms of art? What about art that isn’t distinctly Christian art but is still created by an artist who is Christian and passionate about showing goodness and beauty through his/her work?
- We also discuss the historical response of the Church to the arts and the arts to the Church. Cameron shares what he’s learned and how that led him to write his book The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts.
- Before he signs off, Cameron shares advice for artists everywhere: If you want to be an artist, you just have to start. You have to show up and do the work.
A Few Mentioned Resources
Helpful books Cameron utilized when he first began exploring the intersection of art and faith:
Cameron Anderson: If I believe these long-standing truths, and, I confess as I do the Creed’s of the church and hold to a high understanding of biblical truth, how do I intercept all that and understand all that right now in this sort of cultural moment? It’s a relevant question, right? In a way, it’s a question we have to think about every day when we get up. So, I get out of bed, make my cup of coffee, and there’s the day. I have to think about what it means to be a Christian in the world today. I like to ask the question, “What is the Holy Spirit doing in the world today, and how can I be a part of that?” Again, I think the arts are right in the thick of that, responding to what the Spirit of God might be doing today.
Michael: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of “Living Uncommon.” I’m joined here by Tim Taylor, T-bone for short, Angelina Burkholder, and we have a very special guest, our graphic designer. Is it fair to call you an artist?
Michael: As we’ll learn in the discussion today, you have to put in the work to be called an artist.
Angelina: Are you implying that she’s not?
Michael: I don’t know.
Tim: I have seen Ashley’s work on occasion.
Michael: Ashley Kilgas is here with us. Say Hi, Ashley.
Ashley: Hello! It’s nice to not see you all…
Michael: We have a great discussion today about art. But, before we do that, what’s going on, everybody?
Angelina: I think Tim has some big news that he wants to share with us.
Michael: Yeah, do share, Tim.
Tim: Yes, I do have life news. I’m going to be moving soon to another state.
Michael: Can’t wait to see you go.
Angelina: No. It’s pure excitement for your next chapter in life.
Tim: Everyone’s been very enthusiastic that I’m leaving, so, that is how I’m interpreting everyone’s responses. So, yes, in about a month or so, my family and I are going to be moving to Michigan. I’m going to be taking a position as minister at an Anglican parish in Hillsdale, Michigan.
Angelina: How are the feelings and emotions leading up to this? Like, what is it? What does it feel like to go from working in an office to now you’re going to be doing ministry full-time?
Tim: Stressful. It’s really, really stressful.
Angelina: In a good way or a bad way?
Tim: It’s kind of mixed right now. It’s sort of like, there’s a million things going on because, you know, for work, it’s the end of a school year. My wife is a tax accountant, and as we’re recording this, it’s April 1st. So, we’re two weeks out from April 15th. That’s exciting. We’re also supposed to be moving in about a month. Our daughters are in school. So, basically, we’re just making this all at the busy time of year, and we’re just trying to, you know, change everything all at the same time. It’s good. Trying to find a place to live. All the basics.
Michael: You’re stressing me out, Tim. Ashley, what’s going on?
Ashley: Not a whole lot. Just working on a few projects for the university. Looking ahead to the National Youth Gathering and what that’s going to be all about.
Michael: And what is The National Youth Gathering?
Ashley: The National Youth Gathering is a big conference that’s put on every couple years, I believe. But, it’s for Lutheran high schoolers to get to go and just experience this great conference where they get to be with a bunch of other Lutheran students.
Michael: There’s lots of inflatable jumping things. One year, I saw there’s a huge Concordia display that was huge, like, this inflatable maze, or gauntlet, or something like that.
Ashley: That could be. I think, this year, they’re doing an escape room for Concordia.
Michael: That’s a nightmare of mine, being in an escape room. We’ll never do that as a team building exercise. I promise you.
Angelina: I feel like that would be kind of a weird team building exercise. When people do that for their team-building thing, you gotta be really okay with your coworkers. That’s my opinion.
Michael: What if you have to use the restroom? Where do you go?
Angelina: You’re letting the whole team down if you gotta go, you know, tap out of the room!?
Michael: I heard there’s one where people are, like, crawling through a duct, you know, to get out. Somebody did that. We’ve progressed too far in civilization to do this.
Angelina: What does it say about civilization? That we crave an adrenaline high where we’re locked in a room and we have to figure out a way out or we’re gonna get axed to death? Or, you know, whatever.
Michael: Here’s an idea. You all seem a little stressed out at work. Let’s lock ourselves in a room, pretend someone’s gonna chop us up, and then I’ll crawl through a duct to get out. You can’t use a restroom.
Tim: I feel like it would be more fun to do one where you’re trying to rob a bank, or something.
Michael: Well, we have a real steal, this is a good pivot, a real steal of a podcast. Today, we’ve got Cameron Anderson from Upper House. Upper House is a really awesome Christian organization that deals in the arts, and helps college students in particular, plug into the arts community, the Christian community as well. It was a really interesting conversation. Give it a listen, and we’ll talk a little bit more on the other side of it.
Angelina: Welcome back to another episode of the “Living Uncommon” podcast. We’re in the studio today, and we have a really special guest on the phone. We’re joined by Cameron Anderson. He is an artist and a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. He currently serves as the Associate Director of Upper House, a Center for Christian study that serves the University of Wisconsin Madison. In 2016, IBP Academic published his book, “The Faithful Artists: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts.” He’s also worked as the Executive Director of CIVA, which is Christians in the Visual Arts. He also served InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for 30 years. So, welcome to the show, Cameron.
Cameron: Thank you! Nice to be with you.
Angelina: So, why don’t you just start by giving us a little bit of your version of your background, what you’ve been doing throughout your life as an artist, and what you’ve been doing professionally, and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Cameron: Just a couple sentences to describe the last 65 years. That should be easy. I was actually born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I grew up on a farm until I was age 10, and that certainly shaped my life. I think, relevant to the topic at hand today, I would say, I grew up in a conservative, Protestant, Christian home and community as a young person. The Christian tradition and Christian life has been important to me my whole life. I’ve never departed from it. But, at an early age, I also understood that I like to make things with my hands. I was coming to understand that I was, and am, an artist. So, I grew up in the Christian community first, but, then in high school, and then especially in college when I became an art major, I attended University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for my bachelor of fine arts. I was coming to understand I was really living in two worlds in many ways that had very little relationship to one another. Either there were some antagonism, or, even worse, a kind of ambivalence toward each other. So, to put the point on it, a Christian community that I was committed to had very little interest in my visual arts. They couldn’t really understand what it was for, or why someone would want to do that. The art world that I was devoted to was disinterested in, or dismissive of, my traditional Christian faith and beliefs. That kind of schism was present in my life from early teens on through much of adulthood. I found it troubling and intriguing at the same time.
Angelina: What did it look like for you, especially as a young person, to feel that kind of tension from both sides of your life?
Cameron: I guess the thing I started to look for, in both communities, was there people in either community who understood what it meant to live in those two spaces simultaneously? So, in fact, in the mid-70s when I was a college student, there were three or four important books written at the time that really were some of the first things I’d ever read about Christians engaging the visual arts in a in a serious kind of manner. One of them was written by the playwright, and not playwright really, she was an author, but she also did plays, but Madeleine L’Engle. There was just a movie made of one of her children’s stories. She wrote a book called, “Walking on Water,” and she had a deep and thoughtful look at what it meant for a Christian to understand that the arts were their calling, or vocation. Then, there was a philosopher, a reformed philosopher, Nicolas Waltersdorf, who wrote a book called, “Art in Action.” That was a more of kind of philosophical look at things. So, there were some writing going on at the time, and that was helpful, but there weren’t many resources back at that point in American life and culture, or church culture.
Michael: You said that you didn’t receive a lot of support from your Christian community when you told them you were an artist, and when you presumably showed them your artwork. Can you keep digging a little more about what was the reaction, what were they saying, and what were the conversations that kind of came out of the early interaction when you first became an artist?
Cameron: Well, I think, in the church tradition that I grew up in, first of all, we didn’t have a lot of conversations about vocation and calling. What does it mean for Christians to be called to particular kinds of work of vocation? We really had sort of two tiers. I mean, we had people who gave themselves to a life of ministry, so, pastors, and then, people who were missionaries. Those were kind of the first class Christians. Then, you know, there was the rest of us in the church. So, in other words, the question over the decades has come up, “What is the relationship of Sunday to Monday?” Right? Is there any relationship between what happens in worship on Sunday and the kind of job that I report to on Monday? I mean, the good news is there’s been a great deal of thoughtful work conversation, organizational life, around vocation and that much, much broader sense, the idea that we, as Christian people, are invited into all kinds of things in the world. I mean, it’s pretty interesting if you actually read the Bible. Actually read the Bible now and ask yourself, “Well, what was the vocation of, or the occupation of, most of the people who are the key players in Scripture?” Well, they were shepherds, and weavers, and soldiers, and servants, and winemakers, and gardeners, and, you know, stewards. I mean, most of the people who are featured in the biblical narrative weren’t apostles, or disciples, or prophets. They did things in kind of ordinary work in life. So, part of the resistance in the church, the point here, is that there just wasn’t a very worked out understanding of calling, and vocation, and the broad sense. But, then, you know, I suppose, in a kind of secondary way, it was easy in the church to understand what contributions, say health care workers, or doctors, or teachers, might be making to culture and to life in society. It’s less clear what in the world artists might have to contribute. So, what practical good do artists do in the world? What contribution do we make? That’s a more difficult question to answer than, “What does a third grade teacher accomplished in the world?” In a practical way, right?
Michael: Is that a fair question? Is that a question that should be answered? What practical contribution does an artist contribute?
Cameron: Well, right. I think it’s, you know, by definition, a kind of limiting question, really. Right? The real question is, “Well, are all of God’s people called to meaningful work in the world in some form or another?” I think the robust answer has to be, “Yes, absolutely.” So, then, the second question is, “Well, then, if I’m a man or a woman made in the image of God, what gifts and talents do I have, do I possess? Given those gifts, and talents, and my kind of cultural situation, what does it mean to be a responsible steward of those gifts and talents?” If you go into the question through the front door, in that manner, affirming that we all are people called to something, and then we assess what work is it that we have to do, and then you almost always have a kind of positive outcome. But, if you go in through the back door and sort of eliminate a bunch of occupations and vocational calling based on their usefulness, or their utility, all of a sudden, a lot of things fall off really, really quickly. I don’t know if that’s the best way to explain it, but the thing I’m really trying to say is that it’s taken the church in America, and across the denominations, a while to think more deeply about work in the broad sense, and it’s importance, and it’s important to the culture.
Angelina: So, can you back up just a little bit to the beginning of my story, again, and just talk about what first drew you to art?
Cameron: I think, what first drew me to art was my deep desire to be rich and famous. No, okay, no, actually not that. If that’s what draws people to art, give them my phone number, and we can have a conversation. I mean, there is that funny kind of notion. No, the thing that I first discovered, really, as a boy, is that satisfaction of making things. So, like I said, we lived on a farm, and we had an old tool shed, and it was full of stuff. The men, and the women, the adults, were busy working all day. But, I was only 9 or 10, and, so, I spent time in the shop playing with tools, and wood, and pipes, and materials. I realized, I liked making things with my hands, and I had ideas, and I was sort of a creative play space. Because I lived in a really rural setting, we didn’t have any art classes at all. So, I just knew that I sort of liked making things. When we moved, we located to suburban Milwaukee, and then I was in middle school and high school. Then, we had art classes. Then, I realized I had a good drafting and painting abilities, and I could make my drawings look like actual real things. I knew that I was pretty skilled at that, and I had a kind of creative mind, so it just sort of came to me. I realized I was interested in that place where the mind’s eye, and the hand, and materials meet. It’s just possible to make stuff, and the satisfaction of being in the process, in the creative process, and then making a thing. I mean, my understanding that there was an art world was something that came much later to me in college, and graduate school, and beyond. There’s a whole world that’s involving the history of art, and art criticism, and theories about art, and institutions that support art, and show art, and patrons, and philanthropy, and all that stuff, right? But, then, that was just all additive, if that makes sense.
Angelina: So, then, discovering that, and feeling that tension of, “Is this a vocation, can I call this my calling?” Where did you make that connection?
Cameron: Well, yeah, that’s a good question. The answer is complicated because, I guess, I went to graduate school, did my MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art, and was thinking I would probably, you know, become a college professor and teach art to undergraduates or something like that. My first job out of grad school was to teach out of a Catholic boys school in Detroit. So, that was enjoyable to teach students, and, I mean, I maintained a studio practice in those days and was making some work that didn’t seem real strong to me. I, really, for a season, I thought, maybe, I would just step aside from it. So, I got involved in university ministries at that point and thinking that well, you know, I am an artist, and I like art. I like making things, but, maybe it’s just not the most important thing for me to do right now. So, I thought I had kind of stepped aside from it, but, in fact, I kept making things.
Then, I started writing about art, and I would be at art shows from time to time. Then, now and then, I’d have a chance to talk about it, or write about it, and the pace of all that just continued to accelerate. I think, what I mean to say by that, is that I came to understand, really, and it was really kind of in my late forties and into my fifties, that at the core, I really am an artist. I guess, later on, I realized I was a writer too. I hadn’t started out as a writer, but after I published a number of articles and essays, and then published a book, and then got a contract for another book, I realized, you know, I actually probably am a writer too. I mean, it is really kind of that funny in a way. The more poignant moment was when I was on a plane flying somewhere in my early 50s. There was a passenger next to me, and the next thing you know, we started having one of these conversations that you have on planes, right? You’ll say, “Well, what do you do?” Which is code for, “Are you actually interesting and somebody I want to talk to on the rest of this flight, or not?” Somebody said, “Well, what do you do?” And, I said, for the first time in my life, really, “Oh, I’m an artist and a writer.” I realized that was the best answer to describe who I am. So, I’ve been very active as a studio artist and a writer for the last, in a deeper way, last 15 years, but I never left it. I’m giving you really long answers to short questions.
Michael: Can you tell us a little bit about the arts community and your experiences with that? You don’t necessarily think of the arts community as being Christian, especially when you’re digging into theory, and you’re digging into criticism of art. As a Christian, what was your experience living in that world, and in that space, and navigating that space, and did you feel acceptance? Did you feel rejected?
Cameron: There’s a lot of different pieces, a lot a lot of different ways, to answer that question. It’s a multi-phase question, right? So, one of the issues has to do with folks like me. How do we self identify? I’m reluctant to call myself a Christian artist. I’m very willing to describe myself as an artist who is a Christian, and I’m forward about that. I mean, my Christian faith undergirds everything about who I am, and how I think, and how I perceive of the world. I think, to describe myself as a Christian artist would then limit the kinds of things that, as an artist, I might pursue or be about. So, I work kind of abstractly in a pretty contemporary manner, and I don’t think about making art for the church, in particular, or, my art making isn’t burden, necessarily, by developing Christian themes in a kind of overt way. I think it’s best to describe myself in that manner.
When I was in undergraduate school and working on my graduate degrees and everything since, when I’m talking with other artists, whatever their faith commitment is or is not, or wherever they’re coming from, the thing that we have in common is that we’re artists. We’re people who are making stuff, and we’re thinking about the visual world, and visual life, and culture, and then, of course, when we start to talk about those things, eventually we’re going to start talking about the worldview that informs our practices. So, that I am a Christian informs everything that I do. I find I have a lot in common with artist friends and friends in the art world who don’t share my faith at all, and I think that’s one of the wonderful things about the arts is that it can transcend, in some cases, belief and even points of disagreement. So, I think the arts, and in kind of the best sense, can be places that are very hospitable. The conversation there is more about, what does it mean just to be a human being? What does it mean to be human? I think that’s what comes out a lot of art making, studio art, music, poetry, all the arts that are humanity.
Michael: You said that art really unified you with people of different beliefs. So, it was a unifying factor in your relationships with people that have beliefs different than you. I think about Christianity and culture today. I think there’s kind of a lack of relevance in some ways, especially in the art world, or, perceived lack of relevance. Can you talk a little bit about how potentially art can be a conduit, or allowing more Christians to kind of express themselves in that way, and ultimately, in a way, have been Christianity be a little more relevant?
Cameron: Well, I mean, let’s admit it. The social and political moment right now that we’re living in is very fractured and broken, right? We live in a world where a lot of people think the solution to dealing with people who aren’t like us is to build walls between them so we don’t have to deal with difference, right? You know, we live in a culture where there isn’t time for a long conversation, there isn’t time for authentic conversation. We live in this sort of soundbite world where all the decibels are turned up, and people are yelling at each other, and, you know, it’s just sort of dealing in stereotypes day in and day out. So, we’re not doing very well for all the communication tools we have. All the ways that we’re able to be connected digitally and beyond, I mean, we ought to be giving ourselves an F, a grade of F, in terms of how we’re doing. So, we have communication tools in abundance, but our communities are dissolving, right? It’s pretty ironic. It’s worse than that. It’s actually kind of tragic. It seems, to me, that one of the things the arts do, I mean, the arts can be very politicized, no question, and can add to the division, but, I think, when you’re actually with artists who are involved in the creative process, and making things, and trying to articulate how they’re encountering the world, but also taking on the burden of communicating with other people, I think there’s a chance for our humanness to be restored. One of the things I say about the creative process a lot is that the creative process might start in my mind and it continues on in my studio, but, the creative process, in many ways, doesn’t reach fruition, or isn’t really in that fruitful place until I’m actually showing my work to other people and they’re engaging it. The poet might be writing poetry on her own, and in a coffee shop, or in her apartment, or something, but at some point, not always, but at some point, mostly, we’d like her to publish her poetry so other people can hear it, or read it in public. Or, we’d like the violinist to perform in a concert, right? The creative process needs an expression. You know, its end goal in many ways is to serve the community. It exists best in its fullest form in the community. So, I just think that process of making an invention, and what is off on a personal expression in its best, takes public form. Then, I think it helps us be together with other people and understand what it means to be human.
You know, now, for me, as a Christian, my humanity is entirely informed by my theology. So, I’m not just a human. I’m a human made in the image of God, and bearing the image of God. So, I mean, I understand my humanity in that way, and I live in a world made by God. I think the arts are a tremendous gift to us in terms of, at this broken point, to help people enter into deeper conversations about things that matter. I mean, sometimes, when I get people who are antagonistic about the arts, they just say, “Well, okay, yeah, the arts have lots of problems, but can you actually imagine a world without art?” I mean, a world where there’s no music, where nothing’s been designed, where nothing’s been made by hand, nothing’s been made in any kind of creative way, it’s just sort of bland and gray. Can you imagine that world? We actually can’t even imagine that world. Well, that’s why we need artists because they provide that world for us.
Angelina: I’m interested in something that you also said in your previous answer about identifying as an artist who’s a Christian versus a Christian artist. I think that’s something that’s happening a lot. I hear it happening in music a lot where there’s a band that used to be, you know, a Christian band, but now they’re just a band that’s, you know, made up of Christians. Oftentimes, that comes with more creative freedom, or the ability to do something with music that might not fit in with the Christian community. Can you just talk a little bit about why that distinction is important for yourself? You had said something about how there might be things that you can’t explore as a Christian artist, but you can explore it as an artist who’s a Christian.
Cameron: I’m not sure I did my best job on that earlier question. So, let me put this in a very positive, affirmative kind of form, okay? So, I do think there’s an important thing called Christian art. So, for instance, we have people who are painters, and photographers, and filmmakers, and all kinds of things who use the arts in a very particular way to tell the Christian story, maybe even retell a biblical story. So, let’s say, you know, the story of the prodigal son, and there’s a creative way to use painting, and drawing, and sculpture and filming, and graphic design to tell that story. That’s Christian art. That’s great. We have people who make art for liturgical purposes, for worship in the church, and that’s great, and we need that. We have people who make art for purposes of prayer, and contemplation, and that’s great, and we need that. I’m saying, all those kinds of things, for me, qualify as Christian art. We need them, and they’re good. It’s just that there’s lots of other kinds of art to make too that don’t serve particular purposes, and are important to our life together, and equally valid. So, I tend to not call myself a Christian artist because I’m tending not to make those kinds of things that I think I would describe as Christian art, even though I value them, and I think they have an important place. I also think that there’s a stigma by associating and attaching the name Christian to art. I mean, these days in particular, in this sort of mediated world we’re in right now, Christians are thought to be, well, they’re thought to be thoughtless, right, lacking any kind of sophistication, any kind of generosity, any kind of serious thought. They’re just thought to be simple-minded, out of touch, slogan bearing. I mean, the idea of being a Christian has been just entirely savaged by our media, and unfairly, and falsely. Of course, that’s not new to the Christian community, right? So, you know, to say I am a Christian acts a Christian doctor, a Christian businessperson, whatever, is it sort of just to start the conversation in a way that’s not helpful in this cultural moment.
Angelina: Where do you think that comes from? Do you think that comes from maybe insecurity from the church on not wanting something to be called Christian art that might not qualify as Christian art? Or, is there an insecurity from the side of secular art where, it’s like, you know, if you’re a Christian artist, then you’re not welcome here? There’s a lot of art that’s really meaningful, and can impact goodness, and can impact meaningful change. What, you know, I wonder sometimes, why can’t that also be called Christian art? You know, why does Christian art have to be this one type of thing?
Cameron: Well, I mean, I think it’s both, but again, to focus on the positive statement about what you’re saying. Any opportunity, anytime we can use the arts to tell us, to let us in on what beauty, goodness, and truth are is a good moment. So, I mean, the arts are as much as any piece in our kind of cultural setting. The arts ought to be able to help us apprehend goodness, beauty, and truth. And, as a Christian, I care about all those things because I think they’re Christian virtues. So, that’s the positive. The struggle is a historical struggle, and a philosophical struggle. In a lot of ways, it’s what caused me to write the book that I wrote in 2016 that asks the question, “Is there any way to understand the hostility between these two worlds, or there ambivalence toward one another?” That’s what I tried to explore in the book.
From the late 1900s, I mean, excuse me, late 1900s. No, I’m sorry, late 1800s, and, well, into the late 1900s. In that century, there was a great divorce between art and religion. The general heading we put over it is we call modernism and then post-modernism has followed from, you know, the beginning, probably in the 70s, 80s, and onward. So, really, in the history of the West, for the first time in the history of the last art and religion, we’re really separated from each other. It’s actually an anomaly because in most of the history of the West, and most of the history in the world, actually, and our art museums bear this out, art and religion have been in the conversation about all the important things of life. So, art and religion in a conversation together about what’s meaningful, what’s transcendent, what’s beautiful, what’s moral, what happens when we die, what’s the nature of love, all these kinds of things. So, really, there was a break between organized religion, especially Christian religion, had started in the end of the 1800s and really has continued to this day where art and religion are seen as hostile to each other. Now, there’s not one single reason for that. There’s many, many reasons, and I find it’s complicated. I think it’s really interesting territory too. The thing that doesn’t go away, and it was in modernism, is that even if organized religion, and especially Christianity, was considered irrelevant, out of bounds, even hostile to the art project, a fascination with spirituality continued all the way through. So, you have clear through the modern period, up to the moment in the arts, a deep interest in spirituality. But, organized Christian religion is often seen as the actual enemy of that spirituality. So, one of the jobs of the church is to recover deeper notions of what it means to be spiritual and to live that out in community. Probably, one of the things the art world needs to think about is, does the church have more for us there than we imagined? And, to take a deeper, more kind of careful look at the rich spiritual traditions of the church.
Now, I mean, there’s other issues here about who has authority and who has power, so, there’s all kinds of politics related to this, and it’s kind of social forces as well. It’s helped me to really understand that the modern period, and through the postmodern period, spirituality is really in and religion, especially Christian religion, is really out. Somehow, it is possible to see those as two different things.
Michael: When you think about art, when you think about theology, there is an interplay between the two. Philosophical movements, artistic movements, post-modern…that’s influenced Christian faith as well, and we see new forms of Christianity emerging that are postmodern.I’m curious about your thoughts on that, about that interplay, and then, now, we are seeing emerging forms of Christianity. They wouldn’t not necessarily always be canonical or in line with mainstream denominations. What are your thoughts about that, and then, also, how do you differentiate between these new emerging forms of Christian thought and that being a true movement for this time versus being stuck in a historical moment and not being aware of potentially missing the historical moment that we’re in right now?
Cameron: So, first of all, our Christian tradition. Let’s talk about that first. Our Christian tradition is a living tradition. So, the biblical story and narrative, you know, starts for us in Genesis one and continues clear through the scripture. In that way, it’s true, and it’s timeless. But, at each cultural moment, we have to apprehend it. The gospel, again, in kind of fresh ways, right? So, I told you that I grew up, you know, on a farm and understood that I was an artist because in the tool shed, I was making things with my hands, you know, the digital world that we just deal in every day, every moment didn’t exist. We had a rotary, dial up phones in our house and am/fm radio, you know, and black-and-white television. Eventually we had television. We didn’t have it at first, black and white, so, that was the mediated world to us at the time. So, we keep having the fresh iterations as how culture, and then ideas, and the creative process comes to us. We, as believing people attached to this timeless story, have to keep asking, “Well, what moment are we at right now? What’s happening right now?” If I believe these long-standing truths, and, I confess as I do the Creed’s of the church and hold to a high understanding of biblical truth, how do I intercept all that and understand all that right now in this sort of cultural moment? It’s a relevant question, right? In a way, it’s a question we have to think about every day when we get up. So, I get out of bed, make my cup of coffee, and there’s the day. I have to think about what it means to be a Christian in the world today. So, for me, and I think for the church, that’s why the Holy Spirit is present to us. I like to ask the question, “What is the Holy Spirit doing in the world today, and how can I be a part of that?” Again, I think the arts are right in the thick of that, responding to what the Spirit of God might be doing today. I find, a lot of my work in the studio is responding to what’s happening in the world and the things that I’m thinking about, the things that I’m reading, the conversations I’m having. I work abstractly, but it’s often the source of much of the thinking and the core ideas that I work on.
I was just out for coffee with a friend here in town who’s in a jazz ensemble, and she’s a jazz singer, and she’s a Christian, and we were having the same conversation. Where do her ideas come from? Why does she sing the jazz charts that she sings? Why did she write the songs that she writes? Well, because she’s trying to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is saying and doing today and responding in music. So, there’s a spiritual dynamic. So, we have these timeless truths that we Christians hold to, these things that we confess. But, there’s a spiritual dynamic that’s present all the way through because our faith is a living faith, it’s a live, dynamic, thing each day. Artists are among those people who are in a position to respond to that. Of course, not only artists, but artists who are Christians can do that, I think, or should.
Angelina: What would you say to an aspiring artist who’s feeling some of this tension that we’ve been talking about today? What would you say to them as advice for, you know, as they begin navigating this world? Or, maybe, they’ve been trying to navigate this for decades and they’re not sure how we bridge these worlds. What kind of advice would you give to that?
Cameron: This is an easy question. All your other questions are hard, but this one’s easy. So, really, it’s really two things. If you want to be an artist, then do the work. Don’t talk about the work, don’t think about doing the work, don’t dream about doing the work, do the work. You want to be a poet, write poetry. Write lots of it. Write lots of bad poetry until you start writing good poetry. Make lots of bad paintings and throw them away, but do the work, period. So, that’s the first piece. Then, find a community. So, that’s the nice thing about the digital age we’re in. You can find community in someplace. Well, you can do what we’re doing today, doing video chat. We’ve never met before, but, here’s some nice technology, and we got to see each other face-to-face and talk, right? So, find a community. I got great advice about this from someone near the end of the 70s. This person said that each time, he happened to be married, each time he and his wife moved to a new part of the country, they prayed that God would introduce them to a small community of like-minded people. I find that it’s my friendships that carry me through these sorts of seasons. There’s the immediacy of actually having friends you drink coffee with, and talk about art, and ideas, and faith, but, then there’s this sort of bigger, what I’ll call discursive, community too. So, there are the people who are writing about things, and doing podcasts about things, and videos about things that I care about. There’s this whole world of ideas. My advice to young people, actually any artists at any stage, is to do the work and then find your community someplace, find out who you’re gonna have the give-and-take with, who are you gonna drink the coffee with, who you’re gonna read and listen to, what voices matter, who’s making sense, and cultivate that because like lots of things in life, it sounds like almost every part of life, life can be pretty lonely. I think just trying to do the work on your own without community is more than a lot of folks are kind of up to. If you want to say on the plane at age 50 that you’re an artist and a writer, then you actually better write something and make some art, if that’s a fair way to put it.
Angelina: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Cameron. It was such a joy to talk to you, and we really appreciate all your insight and your perspective.
Cameron: Sure. I hope you get ten good minutes out of this.
Angelina: It’ll be more than that, for sure!
Cameron: Okay, fifteen. That’d be excellent. Then, we’ll get to meet in person someday.
Angelina: Yes, that would be awesome.
Michael: All right, we’re back. Great conversation with Cameron Anderson. Just a reminder, with all this talk about the arts, Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor have amazing fine arts programs, amazing design programs, everything you could ever want to do with the Arts. You have the opportunity to do that at Concordia University Wisconsin or Concordia University Ann Arbor. So, give it a look at cuaa.edu or cuw.edu.
That was a great conversation. As I mentioned at the beginning, we have Ashley Kilgas here who is the design wiz and Concordia University and in the marketing department. You went to MIAD (Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design) It was not a Christian college, obviously, and part of a really vibrant and eclectic arts community. But, knowing you, you’re a really strong Christian. Did anything resonate with you about what you heard from Cameron?
Ashley: A lot of the things that he talked about were things that I was asking myself even as I was going through school. For example, how do I balance this love that I have for arts, and for creating things, how do I stay true to the things that I believe in being a Christian? How do I integrate those two things? What is it going to look like for me after I graduate? Will I be able to find a place where I feel like I can stay true to both the things that I believe in and also put to good use the the gifts that God’s given me to be able to create and to make great things? I loved the way that he was just talking about that kind of dynamic between, are you a Christian artists or are you an artist who’s a Christian, and what that kind of looks like. That was something that was really interesting for me to hear from him.
Michael: You know, at one time, I was involved in a police for arts community too, and in kind of a similar grouping of individuals, and I never considered myself a Christian artist, just an artist who’s Christian. Some of them probably would have been surprised to even hear that I was a Christian. How did you fit in with that community? Do you find yourself accepted? Do you find yourself talking about your faith, or did you find yourself just kind of, what was that like?
Michael: So, I feel like there wasn’t always a lot of great ways to talk about my faith. When I was in school, I didn’t. When I initially went I was like, “What if I’m the only Christian who goes to this school?” That was something that was kind of frightening for me, and I was able to find a community and help build a community of other believers that I found at school. That was something that all of them also were wondering about, and, how do we engage with our fellow students, just be able to talk about our faith. So, that was something we were always trying to figure out how to do. Sometimes, it was even as simple as baking cookies and going up to students who are in their studios. I mean, like, “Hey, do you want a cookie?” You know, just engaging them in conversation that way and talking about our art and why we created the things that we created.
Michael: Well, we end this on a bittersweet note. This is Tim’s last podcast with us. As we talked about the beginning, Tim’s moving to Michigan to be a minister. Tim, why don’t you leave us with some thoughts, some things to think about. What do you want everyone to know here? Tell us what you really think of us. Let it go.
Tim: You’re all wonderful people.
Michael: We’re gonna miss you, Tim. You’ve done a huge part of this, and I don’t think people really saw, how could you see, people didn’t really know the amount of work that Tim did setting up social media and helping out with the launch of this. Of course, Angelina does a huge amount of that as well, but we just thank Tim for all of his work doing this and setting us up to be a pretty decent podcast.
All right, so, that’s all that’s all the time we have. We have more interesting topics coming up. See you soon.