In this three-part guide for Christian art students and recent graduates, London-based painter and writer Alastair Gordon, offers a highly practical book that tackles “the kinds of questions we don’t normally get the chance to ask as artists who are Christians.”[p. 2] Gordon draws heavily on his own experience as an art student at the Glasgow School of Art so his advice is full of personal anecdote and brims with authenticity.
Gordon divides the book into three parts. The first part is an accessible engagement with many of the pressing questions in Christian practice and the arts, such as “How is art worship?” and “What good is art?”. Gordon even tackles the elusive “What is art?” question, helpfully suggesting five ways to conceive of art. There is throughout a heavy reliance upon Reformed evangelical writers (e.g., Calvin Seerveld and Nicholas Wolterstorff). The second part of the book spends extended time on how the Bible conceives of art and artistic practice. For Gordon, “the Bible is the authoritative word of God, uniquely inspired by God’s Spirit, and is therefore living, active and relevant to us now.”[p. 62] With that framework, Gordon evaluates human art-making through the Biblical understanding of God’s creativity, the imago dei, the fall and human corruption, the cultural mandate, redemption and the new creation. This section is particularly accessible for those without a background in the Bible and would be particularly helpful for those seeking a Biblical justification for the arts and art making. The third section was the most interesting to me. Through a series of transcribed interviews, Gordon offers the reader the opportunity to enter into the artistic process of nine professional and successful artisans who are also Christians. The questions Gordon asks are insightful and elicit thoughtful responses that I’m sure an art graduate would find both helpful and encouraging. There is a final addendum targeted at the art graduate, offering practical tips on how to get started as a professional artist, followed by a very short piece on being an evangelical and an artist.
The title, Beyond Air Guitar, is meant to encourage the Christian to move beyond playing “air guitar” which “may be brilliant entertainment but … never really adds anything.” Instead, Christians “are to pioneer and steward the arts, leading by example, not following the crowd, and to set a generous example to the world.”[pp. 58-59] To that end, this book is a helpful guide for art students and graduates who want to start thinking about how to integrate their evangelical faith and their artistic gifting. While the book is most pertinent for the UK art student, I suspect those wider afield would also find the content helpful, especially artists within the evangelical tradition. The book could also serve as a resource for small groups as each chapter provides several starting points for further discussion.
In this interesting exploration of the relationship between art making and academic research, G. James Daichendt, Professor in the Department of Art and Design at Azusa Pacific University as well as a Professor for Boston University’s graduate program in Art Education, offers “a history and guide for artists to think deeply about their work and how they can improve upon it through critical writing.”[p. 3] Rather than seeing writing as working against the artist, Daichendt argues that “reflective writing works as self-critique and that thinking through words, however difficult it may be, will ultimately reward the artistic process and the art product.”[p. 6] To make his case, Daichendt asks the reader to re-consider his/her understanding of art production: “Rather than understanding art as a cultural phenomenon and aesthetic product, I invite you to see art production as a type of inquiry, reflection, interpretation, commentary, and thinking process that has transformed the way we understand the world and ourselves.”[p. 5]
In his introduction, Daichendt begins with an apologetic for why art making contributes to knowledge, the necessary role of the artist in accessing this knowledge, and the potential of introducing writing-based scholarship to arts education. While the artist studio is a rich resource for research, “we need the artist to make the connections. The artist is the catalyst that brings together the media and it is through the writing process that the artist scholar is able to connect the dots and reflect upon the writing process … artists may not always create embodied knowledge in the scientific sense but art and artistic processes are evidence of thinking made visible and there is much an artist can do to identify this production of thought made visible.”[pp. 6, 14]
After the introduction, Daichendt offers a brief history of arts education, setting the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree within its historical context and providing an interesting contrast between developments in North America and Europe. Daichendt continues with a discussion of the present state of artistic scholarship, specifically “arts-based research” and “practice-led research;” throughout, Daichendt is clear that while “[t]his text assumes the importance of writing and research for artists, … this perspective is kept in check as the artwork is the primary product and writing should serve as a foundation and tool to improve the artistic process of the artist.”[p. 50] The latter half of the book seeks to ground the history and theory by suggesting concrete ways this might be applied in MFA education. Daichendt argues that the writing process is a “positive exercise” not only for artist’s practice but also because “writing is the common denominator among research disciplines and it is through this media that the artist’s thinking can be transferred and communicated within the university.”[pp. 63-67] He continues with how art offers new knowledge and understanding, a prerequisite for scholarship, followed by a chapter that discusses what reflective scholarship is and how to go about pursuing it as an artist. The final, and what I thought to be the most interesting, chapter presents how different artists have used writing in their art making.
Challenging the bifurcation between art making and academic writing, Daichendt creates space in academic discourse for the artist to participate as he/she produces art. Throughout, Daichendt argues that the artwork is still the primary aim of an artist in an arts programme; however, an artist can improve by incorporating research and writing tools from other disciplines. As the artist critically reflects and writes about what he/she does, new avenues are opened and new knowledge revealed.
Reviews by Sara Schumacher