*1) Between the 19th and 23rd August 2000 the 20th European Christian Artists Seminar took place in Doorn, a small and pretty Dutch town which nestles in the woodland of central Holland. It also constituted the 10th Symposium of the International Association of Christian Artists, a forum for debate on social and cultural issues which may have political implications in a rapidly integrating Europe. After 20 years of mingling with artists of countless nationalities and of different artistic disciplines, do professing Christians who are involved professionally, or aspire to be involved, in the world of the arts have a role to play amidst the political and social turmoil of Europe at the beginning of the 21st century?
After the Dark Ages, when Christianity (who were in that era the culture keepers) was established throughout Europe, and into the Medieval and Renaissance period, art reflected Judeo-Christian and Hellenistic world-views. Musicians, painters and sculptors depended on commissions from rulers, wealthy or influential patrons, and the Church. After the Middle Ages, the arts moved away from dependence on such patrons and independence paved the way towards secularisation. Later still humanism began to determine the content of works of art, and the Enlightenment with its rationalism and scientific positivism led to the marginalisation of religious beliefs and of Christianity itself.
Although Christianity continued to exert a great influence on many social issues in the 19th century, the 20th century has seen it banished to the peripheries in the current post-Christian era. Secularisation has swept through even the most ‘religious’ parts of Western and Southern Europe in the last thirty years (i.e. Catholic Spain and southern Italy, as well as Orthodox Greece) and Christianity, despite its institutionalised strongholds, has lost its spiritual dynamic as well as its social mandate and artistic inspiration for the majority of people.
However, along with the manifold cultural influences invading Europe from the United States in the last fifty years, has come the vibrant and inspiring music of black gospel, blues and soul. Concurrent with this musical importation has come an evangelical Christian and Pentecostal sub-culture whose monopoly on new styles of worship has left many European Christians involved in the arts hungry to revitalise and recapture their roots in Europe’s own Christian heritage. In the late 1970s and through the 1980s churches throughout Europe (predominantly Protestant ones) began to wake up to the possibilities of using contemporary forms in worship, firstly music and then dance, theatre, and fine art.
With this renewed acceptance of the arts within churches, a recurrent question for those with an artistic gift who also happen to be committed Christians and Church members has been - is there such a thing as a ‘Christian artist’ or are such people artists who just happen to be Christians? Although many artists working in the secular realm of music, theatre, media and fine arts may well be professing Christians, there are also those who maintain a desire for their work to more directly speak of their Christian faith. Traditionally ‘sacred’ works of art or music, with their religious content have been confined to the Churches, and even then not always with a sympathetic audience, or else they have been seen to be exclusively ‘tools’ of evangelism. The Reformation brought a back-lash against the arts, which in Protestant opinion had become objects of worship, replacing God himself in people’s hearts and minds. The ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ in artistic output increasingly diverged and a dualism emerged, particularly amongst Protestant evangelicals, between what was ‘of the flesh’ and what was ‘of the spirit’ (i.e. what was legitimate art for a professing Christian to be involved in). Such pietism or even iconoclasm is slowly giving way to a return to an integrated view of life, including artistic expression, and to a rejection of dogmatic dualism. In the much more pluralist European culture of the late 20th century a Christian world-view is being expressed in every area of art.*2)
It was partly a response to such dilemmas, issuing out of a new generation of creative, and often newly converted, young people that the desire for mutual support, friendship and fellowship, learning from one another’s ideas and techniques and cross-cultural association led to the call for a forum or meeting place. In the USA a national annual conference for Christians involved in the arts had been set up in 1974 by Cam Floria, the Director of a Christian youth choir organisation, Continental Ministries. This initiative was watched closely from Europe by Leen La Rivière, Floria’s Dutch colleague in Continental Sound. La Rivière, a writer, teacher and speaker in the areas of creativity, music and the arts as well a concert promoter and tour organiser, bided his time as European ‘gospel music’ became established and accepted in the churches. However by 1980 he was planning the first European Christian Artists Seminar which was held in August 1981 at De Bron, a Christian conference centre, in Dalfsen, Holland.
The Christian Artists ‘movement’ that has grown up over the last twenty years has gone through several fundamental changes and developments as it has sought to reflect the role, aspirations and needs of those who communicate their Christianity through their art. The three main products of this movement have been the large-scale Seminars (1981 to 1993, promoting artistic quality and integrity, and from 1994 smaller scale and masterclass quality), the Association (founded in 1990, promoting national arts groups) and the Symposia (from 1991, promoting networks and specific socio-cultural studies).