Art Communicates: A Push For Purpose

Whatever kind of art your art is — digital illustrations, mixed media, video production, record mixing, or any other kind — it communicates with your audience. Even the absence of a message says something to the viewer or listener. Does your art reflect who you are and what you stand for in life? What kind of message are you putting out there? We encourage you to create with purpose.

With the Engage Art Contest, we’re asking artists to focus on a specific set of verses, which will influence the message of the entries. By setting this theme, we all remain focused on the Armor of God. But within that theme — which is larger than you might think at first! — you have full freedom to create.

Think Before You Create

Your art outside of this contest can be just as purposeful.

Think of a scientist. Scientific experiments don’t begin with the testing. There are crucial steps that have to come before scientists start performing tests. If they jump into the testing before they have researched the topic and understood it, how would they even know what to test? Developing a hypothesis allows a theory to frame the tests by defining what the scientists are trying to figure out.

What can artists learn from the structured world of science? That in any field, the intent going into a process sets the direction for the final product. While an artist may not prepare in the same ways a scientist or an educator does, we do prepare. For the landscape painter, time in nature taking in the vistas is preparation. For sculptors, “people watching” is preparation. For writers, jotting down a well turned phrase is preparation, even if it doesn’t show up in type until a decade later.

Keep Asking Questions

We are often inspired before we pull out our paints, but for many excellent artworks there is a big and important step between the inspiration and the creating. It’s the “art thinking,” and it often begins as a series of questions. What do I want the main message to be in this song/video/sculpture? How will I get it across? Are there metaphors that would help people understand my point better? How do I show or explain them? What emotion would I most like the viewer or listener to have?

At another phase of creation, you may ask: Does this approach have the level of potency I’m after? Will people have enough clues to understand my meaning? For excellence in our craft, we’ll often revisit the basics: Does my story have a beginning, a middle and an end? Can you understand what I’m singing? Does this visual composition contribute to or work against what I’m trying to say?

Art can be spontaneous, of course, and still pack a punch. Many artists talk about how meaning unfolds as they work on a piece. But art intended to have a particular meaning is often a layered affair, crafted carefully with serious thought behind the creative decisions. It is important to understand our own intent and purposefully allow that message to direct our art making, provide clarity in our decision making, and guide us to a final result that is fulfilling and gets our point across.

Food for Thought

The Engage Art Contest theme is Ephesians 6:10-20. All the music, video, and visual art submitted to the contest should be informed by these verses:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Creating with Intention

These ten intense verses set the stage for this contest. But there’s no need to get overwhelmed. Whether you struggle to find the “right” idea or feel like you have far too man of them, just take a breath. Take your think time; allow your ideas to percolate. Exercise, take a walk, eat something, enjoy a cup of tea and watch the birds on the feeder, pray, talk to a friend — and then reintroduce yourself to your project. Consider the craft of the piece; do research on materials and techniques, if you want.

By not forcing yourself to create the entire project in one sitting, you can work through individual elements and consider their purpose for this art. Sometimes projects that lack clear purpose were simply done too quickly. If an artwork isn’t communicating well, it’s possible that fault lies in the timeline and not the skill of the artist. So here’s a rule of thumb that many artists follow: Reserve enough time in your schedule to do a good job … and then double it.

This intentional way of creating art can extend beyond this contest. Art made with meaning and purpose can have more impact in our societies, and it can also bring more exposure, deliver a better product, and provide a more potent portfolio piece. As you engage art, culture, and scripture throughout this contest, we would encourage you to see what it feels like to make art with a purpose and to explore other ways and times you might want to infuse purpose in your art. Yes, art can be for art’s sake. It can also bring attention to causes you care about. It can express love or fear or desire. And it can be in service to the Kingdom and to God, who, in the beginning, created our world and everything in it with specific intention and enormous attention to detail.