This is a very rough first draft of what may end up being part of the Preface to the book I’m working on, 10 Questions Young Artists Ask (or should) About a Career in the Arts. The title of the book might change, although I can’t begin at this point to think of what else to call it. That’s just what it is.
The Preface addresses high school and college students, and their parents, for whom the book is designed. I’m currently collecting responses to the questions from working artists, and have about 1/4 of the number I need – pray for me. 🙂
In addition to the 10 Questions for students, there will be one question specifically for parents, something like: “How can I best guide and support my child in their decision to pursue a career in the arts?” For that one, I’ll get responses from parents of working artists. That will happen last.
I’m sure this will change a lot, and I’d love any feedback on what I have so far. Feel free to comment below or email me at email@example.com
I first had the idea for this book when I was working with artists* in New York City as the Director of the Arts Ministry** at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The Arts Ministry was part of the Center for Faith & Work, where our goal was to help people understand what their faith had to do with their work and what their work had to do with their faith.
I’d only been a Christian for a few years when I founded the Arts Ministry, and I had come to faith after working professionally for several years as a theatre director and producer. Because it was the first thing I thought about as I was weighing following Christ, I assumed that artists who had grown up in the church had already figured out what their creative work and their faith had to do with each other. I assumed wrong. We had a lot of artists of varying disciplines in our congregation, and I learned that many of them had never been told that their vocations were just as valuable to the church and to the world as any other; and they had a real hunger to learn more about how their work served God and the world He had created, and was creating.
The great thing about our pastor, Tim Keller, and what drew so many artists to Redeemer, was that Tim took artists seriously as God’s co-laborers. He would identify artists along with bankers and lawyers and journalists and college professors when he talked about the people who were influencing culture in New York City and, from there, the world. I mean, it makes sense. We talk about “the arts and culture.” But what I heard from many artists at Redeemer was that their churches at home had ignored the arts (outside of worship music) and sometimes even discouraged them from pursuing the vocation that the artist believed God was calling them into.
That’s changed a lot in 20 years, and more churches are arts-friendly. Becoming an artist is more accepted today, in the church and outside of it, than when I started out. This May my alma mater’s theatre program will graduate three times the number of students that graduated with my class.
But I’m not sure arts students are that much more prepared than we were. Some colleges and universities are investing in professional development and preparation for their students. That should help, although I’m still hearing the same kinds of questions from “emerging” artists that I heard when I first started thinking about putting this book together.
There are five theological questions and five practical questions. Even if you’re not Christian, the theological questions may be of interest to you. I think most artists, when you get down to it, are spiritual people, and ask similar questions to those you’ll see here.
I developed the questions six years ago. I wasn’t at Redeemer anymore, but I was working with college students and hearing their concerns and questions about their future careers. When I starting collecting artist responses to the questions, the artists often said, “I wish someone with experience had talked to me about that. But things changed in my life soon after I started working on the book, and I had to put it aside. I always wanted to get back to it, though, and when space opened up in my life I started working on it again.
One of the people I contacted recently to respond to the questions said “I’m not sure young people today are asking these questions.” If you’re not, you should be. There have been times in my life when I’ve been so new to something, I didn’t even know what questions to ask. You may be there. You may think you already know the answers, but you will learn something from the different perspectives here. You may even think that some of the questions are out-of-date. Yes, things have come a long way in how the church views the arts and artists. But even if you aren’t asking things like “Can I really be an artist and be a Christian?” (Question #1) and “Can I really make a living as an artist?” (Question #6), I guarantee you that someone you’ll come in contact with is asking them, and I hope these responses will help you give an informed and thoughtful answer to that person.
I’ve encouraged and included differing views. In most cases, there’s no one right answer for everybody and the simplest answer to the question might be “It depends.” Think of these questions and answers as a starting place. Ultimately you should talk to God, your parents, and your church community before making your decisions about next steps. This isn’t everything you need to know, but it’s a start.
To put the book together, I circulated the 10 questions to a bunch of smart and talented friends I’ve had the good fortune to make in 20 years of doing this work. Then they sent the questions to their friends, so that we’d get a good mix of backgrounds. I selected from the responses to each question to get a variety of perspectives and experiences. You can learn more about the people who responded in the Bios section at the end. There are also more extensive bios tucked into each chapter, where you’ll learn more about an artist’s life and career in relation to that question.
All of the people who are quoted here are Christians. All are working in the arts for at least part of their vocational mix, arts educators in higher ed, or theologians with a special interest in the arts. Although it might not show up in the responses, I sought out artists who were diverse in their artistic discipline, race/ethnicity, gender, and the kind of place where they live and work.
I hope the book helps you feel encouraged, informed, and ready to take your next steps. Know that we love you and are pulling for you. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice. You can connect with most of us through our websites or social media. You’d be surprised at how accessible people are today. If one of us doesn’t have time to help you, keep trying, someone will. Persistence and a thick skin are both great qualities for you to develop as you start your career.
May God bless you in your calling.
Although I (probably) won’t include them in the Preface, the questions are:
- Can I really be an artist and a Christian?
- Don’t other careers serve God better, or more?
- Does the art I make need to be “Christian” art – does it need to be evangelistic or have overtly Christian content?
- How do I set boundaries on what I’ll do artistically, based on my Christian values? Or do I even need to?
- How can I know that being an artist is really God’s will for me?
- What’s the best way for me to train and prepare for a career in the arts?
- Can I really make a living as an artist?
- Can I expect my lifestyle, daily life, and family life to be anything like what my friends who choose other types of career paths would have?
- Will I need to move to New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, or another major arts market?
- How will I know if it’s just not working out – if I need to stop trying and go in a different direction professionally?
*When I use the term “artists,” I mean anyone working in the performing arts as well as those working in the visual arts and design. Some writers will see themselves in the word “artist” as well, although how the writing vocation works seems to have significant differences from how the performing arts and visual arts/design vocations work.
**The Arts Ministry was eliminated in 2012 when the Center for Faith & Work went through a reorganization.