Creating Artificial Art
My wife and I are fans of musical theater. Recently, we watched 3 musical shows within a span of a couple of weeks.
First, we watched a local community theater’s production of Legally Blonde the Musical. (Yes, they made a Broadway musical version of that movie. And yes, I admit that I saw and loved that movie.) Then we saw a summer stock presentation of the Broadway classic Pippin. Finally, we went to experience an original musical production put together by a mega church known for their musical theater ministry.
The level of excellence of the church’s production blew us away. The script was well written. The acting, singing, and dancing were excellent. The jokes were funny. The set and production design was epic. The set changes were slick and well executed. The music, videos, and visual effects were impressively designed and meticulously engineered. In a word it was – spectacular. But we couldn’t quite place or shake the inkling that something was missing.
Being avid enthusiasts of the art form and church nerds, we were committed to finding the reason for that implacable notion. So we discussed it at length.
We discovered what the difference was. Despite the somewhat clumsy way the motley crew of high school students and acting hobbyists danced and sung their way through those two local shows, we connected with the characters and left the show feeling awesome! In fact, we’re still humming the tunes with the warm and fuzzy buzz from the experience in tow.
As amazing as the church production was—we understood what was happening in the story and we were thrilled by the creative elements of the show—we weren’t compelled or moved by the experience.
I think art in the contemporary church has come a long way. Most of what we produce is comparable to what’s available in the marketplace. The things we design and put out there looks better than ever!
In large part I think it’s because most church artists have mastered asking and addressing these two questions when producing graphics, videos, dramas, print pieces, etc.: “Who’s the target audience?” and “What do we want them to do” or “what is the call-to-action?” This is the standard approach for commercial art (also known as advertising) wherein the goal is to try to convince someone to do something. Jonathan Malm puts it best in his blog when he said, “Many commercial artists run into this problem. They focus so much on convincing their audience that they forget to make them feel something.”
It is a good habit to always ask those 2 questions before starting a creative project. But I’ve recently discovered a key question that, when posed, takes my art to a whole new level—What do I want the audience to feel?
It took me hearing the same talk two years in a row at Echo Conference by Blaine Hogan, Willow Creek Community Church’s brilliant creative director, to learn this. He said (and I paraphrase), “Don’t just show them what you’re trying to tell them. How can you add an emotional layer to what you are showing?”
Adding the third question to my creative process has reshaped me as an artist. We are producing better art and getting more meaningful responses from our audience. It even leveraged a deeper level of buy-in and engagement for our creative elements with the pastors and it tees them up better to cast their God-inspired vision.
But asking, “How do I make someone feel something,” isn’t enough.
This year, I had to relearn how to do my job when God led me through a process to help me pray before I think instead of developing strategy then asking God to bless it. I learned to seek Him first through adoration, worship, and crying out to hear His heart and direction before starting.
This line from Hillsong United’s song, Hosanna, paints a powerful word picture: “Break my heart for what breaks yours.”
The depth of emotional layer you can produce is in direct proportion to the quality of your personal encounter with God.
You can’t give what you don’t have. Authentic emotional depth in your art will only happen as a result of an overflow of your personal ministry.
Do you remember what it felt like when God saved you? What did it feel like when you were hurting and desperate and needing God? How does it feel to be overwhelmed by His enormous love? Have you recently cried out to Him on behalf of the people you are serving or for your family or friends?
The depth and quality of what I’ve been producing has not only been better, it’s been spot on to what God is speaking to and doing through our church.
Church creatives, we have the most urgently compelling message to tell about God’s love and mercy for mankind. And He has supplied us with the most deeply moving story to share it through—the love story between our heavenly Daddy and us through a redemptive relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. What Jesus did is foundationally rooted to every emotional chord we possess.
By consistently engaging our heart with God’s, we can help reach and touch people for the Lord more effectively with compelling art that moves people at an emotional level.
Seeking God’s heart first not only changed me as an artist but as a person and leader.
But most importantly, my relationship with Him has grown so much deeper.