Suggested Reading List
I am often asked for suggested reading lists from fellow creatives eager to dive deeper into the connections between faith and art. So, I compiled a few books for you which I find myself returning to again and again. I'll post five suggestions this week and five more for you next week.
These are not in any specific order, but have each impacted me beyond a surface level and continue to shape my creative journey. Let me know what books you would add to this list and share your thoughts on these in the comments once you've read them.
1. Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle
This book is a timeless Classic for aspiring artists of faith. Madeleine opens the book with a candid reluctance to even use the terms "Christian artist" and "Christian art". She says, "Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it's bad art, it's bad religion, no matter how pious the subject." I love it. It is an easy read and one you will underline over and over. One more quote. "We live by revelation, as Christians, as artists, which means that we must be careful never to get set into rigid molds. The minute we begin to think we have all the answers, we forget the questions and we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues and thanked God he was not like other men."
2. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
Whereas, this isn't directly a book about art or creativity, contemplation is at the heart of all art. Merton discusses some of the most in depth thoughts on identity I have ever read. Even if you don't read the whole book, (and most paragraphs you'll need to read twice at least), read the chapter Things In Their Identity. Here's a quote: "A tree gives glory to God first of all by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be , it is imitating an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree. The more it is like itself, the more it is like Him." He also includes a chapter titled Sentences which has tons of wisdom for artists and writers. Here's another quote. "The poet enters into himself in order to create. The contemplative enters into God in order to be created."
3. On Creativity by David Bohm
This book is not for the light of heart. First off, the author is a physicist. It is primarily philosophical in nature but not so full of terms such as "ontological" that the rest of us can't benefit from it. Bohm is an atheist with a Jewish heritage. So if you aren't accustomed to finding gold outside of the camp, this book may be a stretch. However, his insights have led me closer to experiencing God than many contemporary Christian writings. When I first read this book, I found myself littering the margins with scripture references that perfectly coincided with his thought processes. This book has become a go to book for much of my own work. His connections between art, science and religion are presented in such a way you don't feel left on the outside or stupid for trying to understand. He draws clear distinctions between what are truly "original" modes of being and those which are merely "mechanical".
4. The Mind of The Maker by Dorothy Sayers
Dorothy Sayers was an amazing, multi-faceted woman. She was a poet, theologian and contemporary of Tolkien T.S. Eliot and a friend of C.S. Lewis. She is primarily known as a detective mystery writer though she also wrote many essays on art and the creative process. In The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy draws analogies between human creators and the doctrine of the Trinity. This is a phenomenal work drawing direct lines between creativity and theology.
5. Art Needs No Justification by Hans Rookmaaker
If you don't read anything else, read this one. It is a short but essential writing. Rookmaaker lays out the challenges artists face in discovering their role in society. More specifically, he addresses the challenges and stresses Christian artists face in living in a "post-Christian" world. He lays out the consequences of separating into a Christian sub-culture and calls the Christian artist to participate in the culture at large. Here's the first paragraph:
"Artists in our society are in a very peculiar position. On the one hand they are regarded very highly, almost like high priests of culture who know the inner secrets of reality. On the other hand they are completely superfluous people. Respected, yes. But others are still quite ready to allow them to starve. We want artists to be serious and create deep things that have almost eternal value, things that people of culture can talk about centuries later. But if artists want to be successful, they have to bow down to present tastes, be commercial and play the clown rather than the sage. Of course this is not a new problem. It has been like this since the eighteenth century when the old concept of the artist as craftsman began to be exchanged for a concept that saw him as both a gifted genius and a social and economic outcast.
Artists who are Christians also struggle with these tensions. But the problems of Christian artists are often greater because it is difficult for any Christian to live in a postChristian world. Artists are expected to work from their convictions, but these may be seen by their atheistic contemporaries as ultraconservative if not totally passé. On top of this they often lack the support of their own community their church and family. To them artists seem to be radicals or idle no-gooders. They are branded as being on the wrong track even from the start. Thus Christian artists are often working under great stress."
I mean come on. How could you not go buy this book now after reading that?
Thanks for reading. I'll give you five more next week.