As a Christian who is an artist, I frequently ask myself if the art I create glorifies God. This question is highly prevalent in my practice because my work addresses social issues. I have an audience with conflicting ideologies, and so I have to anchor my ideas on an overarching principle. That principle for me is love.
Love leads me to ask two questions:
By asking myself these questions, I can gage whether the art that I’m creating is an expression of my own biases and frustrations, or if I am truly seeking to express the love that Jesus modeled for me in the scriptures—a love that was frequently expressed amid conflict.
Conflict has never been something I enjoy dealing with. In fact, I avoid it as much as possible. This is not to say that I’m not willing to address conflicting viewpoints or rebuttal ideology that is at odds with my faith, as I do this in my work as an artist. What I’m talking about is a proactive approach to dealing with conflict. The Bible says in James 1:19 that we should be, “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” The Bible also says in Ephesians 4:2 that we are to be, “completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Active listening seems to be getting scacer. People think of what their rebuttal will be while the person is talking, rather than listening to find out where the person is coming from. To ask questions and become an active listener is what love is all about.
When I first started creating work that addresses the issues concerning the lower income community I grew up in and the marginalized groups in the inner city, my approach was more contentious and dogmatic. I was more interested in being heard than engaging in dialogue. Fueled with frustration and anger, I could not understand how there could be people that where racist and bigoted toward others, especially, people who professed themselves to be Christians. Could the views of this God that I was taught about as a kid and valued by many others really be influencing so many to superior piety? I had to really study scripture for myself and allow other Christians to minister unto me to broaden my horizon. I will have to say that at the beginning it was extremely difficult for me, for some of those Christians that ministered unto me looked the same as those that directed racial slurs at me. Yet I came to realize that prejudging these Christians did not put me in a better position than those who prejudged me.
As I came to understand that my reaction to conflict resolution or social advocacy had to be love rather than anger, my work began to change. This is not to say that there is no place for righteous indignation, but if I really wanted to engage in dialogue, I had to see things from the other person’s point of view. I had to value their point of view even if there was no reciprocity. It is very easy to criticize in the act of advocating for oneself, but “those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.” I wasn’t just looking to create work that that only my peers can relate to, but work that would actually inspire or intellectually engage those that apposed my political convictions. As I’ve learned in marriage, friendships, and fatherhood, criticizing only leads people to be defensive.
So what does the art of someone who addresses conflict in love look like? Answering the question in an absolute would just place me in the same boat of dogmatism that I was sailing in. I believe the only recourse I can offer is a personal one. This is not the only possible approach, but is one that works for me. For me to assume that we all share the same view of what love is would be a highly problematic way of looking at things. Accepting that there are different points of views is key to conflict resolution. If it is true in our nuclear families, it is definitely true at a broader scale.
I’m willing to say that I don’t agree with everyone’s point of view. If fact, there are some perspectives that downright bother me to the bottom of my core. Yet at the end of the day, I want to say that I “fought the good fight.” The only way I believe I can say that, is if I take the approach that Jesus took. 2 Timothy 2:24 says that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” As an artist who is a Christian, I’m compelled to view the production of my work—and my life for that matter—through the lens of love Jesus modeled. Power and authority exists in our world, and it’s frequently abused to the benefit of an elite few. I have the liberty of reacting to conflict in whatever way I choose. To react with violence and hate is just to perpetuate the same force that I oppose. I’d rather speak love to power. Love is power, and for those of us living by faith, it is our peace.
Neary Gabriel Lemus is an artist in Los Angeles who explores the politics of difference and representation through works in a wide range of mediums.
The views, opinions, authors, and contributors represented in The Table do not necessarily represent the beliefs of Biola University or the Biola University Center for Christian Thought.