Posts in Category: Art

Art as Prayer

lords_prayer_in_chinese.jpgThis weekend I had a revelation in church following our family trip to Hong Kong.  I have struggled for some time with trying to figure out what God wants me to do with my life, particularly my art.  I do not have the stomach for risk needed to be a full-time artist, and quite honestly, I don’t think that my family would be well-served if I attempted this.  With the present economy right now, many galleries are closing while others are seeing their worst sales in years at present.  I received a call from one of my friends who said that the gallery she is with has sales that have dropped 70% from last year.  No, that is not the road I am to travel at this time. 

I have always felt that one way to tell if my work is good is to be accepted, and sell, in a gallery.  While this is a good thing, I think too much of my own self-esteem is tied up in being a gallery artist.  But my heart, if I am honest with myself, is not completely in this arena.  I think God has something more in mind for me.

 So while in church this past Sunday, it struck me that what I found fulfilling recently was making the “Breath Prayer” series that I have been working on.  My Breath Prayer series is a number of small portraits of Chinese women, praying while holding symbolic objects or making prayerful gestures.  Each painting was created either for a person, or to pray about an idea or issue while I worked.  The results have been a series of paintings that have had the most prayerful quality that I have been able to muster in ages.  I love these small pieces.

Maybe my calling is to create visual prayers for people … and give them away – divorcing myself from the idea of being paid for my work.  Just making art for people whom I have a direct sense that God wants me to create for, to pray for while I work.  Giving these pieces to people afterwards and sharing with them what it is that God put on my heart while I worked on the piece for them.  Maybe this would be a way that I could serve God with my art.

 I always have said to people that if I could do one thing with my life it would be to help people sense the presence of God in their lives with my art.  Maybe this is the way.

 I am going to prayerfully go a little way down this road and see what happens, taking with me my Bible, my paintbrush, and my open heart.  I want to see what this journey will bring. 

The Process of Creation

Women’s Chinese Styles Through the AgesI have been exhausting myself the past few days – going to work, coming home, painting, going to bed and then starting all over again.  I have been consumed with creating little visual prayers for various family members I will see in 6 days!!! (I can’t believe I will finally be in Hong Kong again after 4 years away!)  I have four done, and have two more to go.  I think I will make it.

In the past month when I began, I was mostly concerned with just making paintings, but within a few hours of starting, I realized that this in many ways was what I “really” want to do when I create: I want to create for a purpose.  I want to create “for” someone.

I pray when I paint.  So when I am creating an image for someone I know, their story influences me heavily.  I am praying with words of paint, using the grammer of design.  I am finding that each composition speaks to the unique joys and struggles that I am aware of for each of the people I am creating for.

It is what I would love to do – to be an aesthetic prayer servant.  If there was one thing that I could do with my life, it would be to help people experience the presence of God, to know and long for intimacy with God.  It is my firm conviction that the arts (verbal and non-verbal) would be primary channels for this to happen.  It is my hope that my own creations each can be little pieces of the way that this can happen for people – each painting like one grain of sand that makes up the beach of the presence of God.

So I am busy making art, and just praying that it will be used for the people that I am making the art for.

Christianity’s Verbal Bias

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bible … and I love the way that words have given us insight into our history as a people of faith.  For example, the Nestorian Tablet which is the first evidence of Chrisitainity in China, gives us this information precisely becuse the words inscribed on the tablet tell us about the “Luminous Religion” which came to China around 700AD.  However, it really bothers me as an artist how Christians, especially Protestant Christians, have such a verbal bias when it comes to understanding and knowing God now.

Suffering, Beauty, and Bound Feet

It has been a few days since my last entry.  My kidney stones have not passed, my daughter needed to be taken to the Urgent Care Center, and we are still coping with the feelings after our friend’s son took his own life.  Our family is not in a horrible place, but we are having some moments of suffering.

Reflections on Qing Dynasty Women

As I have written about in earlier postings, my imagination is moved by images of old China.  Maybe it is because for me as an outsider there are so many things that I appreciate about the culture that are beautiful, and yet I do not understand them completely either.  There is a degree of mystery in these images for me.  And yet, there is something about these images from a 6000-year old culture that speak to the present moment as well.


I often get stylistic inspiration for my work from Buddhist sculpture.  Several years ago, I saw an exhibit in Hong Kong of a recent archeological find of centuries of ancient Buddhist sculptures which showed the way that Buddha came to lose his Indian features and become more Chinese-looking the longer Buddhism was in China.  This was a very beautiful exhibit, and one that got me thinking about my own art in the years to come.  Could an artist make art that had the face of Buddha and express the heart of Christ?

Gold and the Presence of God

Ancient Gold Leaf WallTonight I was in my studio working on “laying down gold” for the backgrounds of my new “breath prayer” paintings.  All the while I was working, I kept thinking of who would eventually look at these pieces, who would own them, what would be going on in their lives when they take time to look at these little paintings.  I always hope that in some way my work helps remind people of the presence of God.  Lately, I have used gold in my pieces to suggest this presence as it surrounds the figures in my work. 

I once made a painting for a friend called “Can You Drink This Cup?”.  Years after she put this piece up in her home, she was looking at it one evening when she could not sleep and felt that she suddenly “understood” the painting in a new way.  I was so appreciative that she told me this, even though she did not share what it was exactly that she came to understand.  However, what struck me was that she talked about this experience as an encounter with God, and that it was God who gave her this understanding.

I so hope that something like this happens for the people who eventually receive my newest work, because I certainly feel a sense of being in God’s presence as I stand in front of my easel.  I hope that there is a life for my art beyond the joy I get in creating it. 

… and More Happiness

Singing Girls

This morning I had the opportunity to give a talk on non-verbal connections with God to a group of seminary students who have an internship where I work (Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services).  It was good to be able to speak as an artist, to talk about how God communicates with me visually.  At the end of the talk, I asked the group to create pictures in response to Psalm 63.  The results were great.  The group became nearly silent while they reflected on God.  During the sharing time, some people responded directly to the passage, while others let their minds wander a bit and reflected on what God was doing in their lives at this moment.  It was a beautiful thing to experience.

Preparation …

giantbudha_0651.JPGIn one month I am leaving with my family to go to Hong Kong.  It has been a little over four years since I have been there.  My wife and I used to go every year to visit her family there … but three kids later, things have changed a bit in our travel-ability. 

 As I am sitting in my studio, I am preparing to leave.  I will be bringing paintings as gifts to family members I have not seen in some time.  I am also preparing to visit a number of galleries in the city, seeing if any would be interested in representing me.  When I was there 4 years ago, a gallery I took images to told me that my work was not “Chinese enough” and at the time, I did not know what she meant.  But since then, I have had an artistic transformation and am paiting with a heavy Chinese influence in my work.  I have no idea if her comment brought this on or not, but I am hopeful that someone may want to take a chance on my work.  I know artists are supposed to have a thick skin, but like my favorite drums, my skin is very thin.  I think some of the most beautiful rhythms come from drums with thin skins.  I think some of the beauty I experience while painting also come precisely from being “too sensative” to things.  It is both a blessing and a curse to be like this.  I will go with boldness, and also brace for disapointment.  In addition to gallery shopping, I am hoping to find inspiration.  Two of my favorite artists have gallery representation in HK, so I am so looking forward to seeing some of their recent work in person there.  I am also hoping to have a chance to visit some antique shops, a Buddhist monastary near Diamond Hill, and the Christian cemetary where many Chinese Christians are buried with their portraits baked into little white tiles that are centered on each of the tombstones. 

I can’t wait to go.  I really hope that I can sense God’s presence in a fresh way in HK, and that this sense will bring with it artistic ideas as well.