CIVA Conference — Are We There Yet?

Teresa Cochran | Artist to Artist, Faith, In the Know, Reflection & Growth | November 16, 2019

“The artistic sensibility is impoverished by its divorce from the religious sensibility, the religious by its separation from the artistic.” — T.S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture

Have you ever had a new experience and thought, “I didn’t know this was possible!”? For me, that was the CIVA Conference. 

CIVA stands for Christians in the Visual Arts. It’s a 40-year-old membership organization focused on helping “artists, collectors, critics, professors, historians, pastors and arts professionals explore the profound relationship between art and faith.” They publish a fantastic journal, maintain an on-line hub for networking and information, and sponsor events, including conferences.

The conference was really comfortable. We were all artists of faith. Nobody asked which denomination you were. Your faith was assumed, celebrated, part of what brought you here and brought you to your artmaking. 

I love CIVA’s tagline: “Serious art. Serious faith.” So often, it’s one or the other. “Artist” and “Christian” can sometimes feel like two irreconcilable worlds. I talk about faith with my Christian friends and art with my art friends, and those groups don’t often overlap. I’m not hiding my art life or my Christianity. It’s just that they are separate realms. At the CIVA Conference, you can see that those separate realms are part of one Kingdom.

The art at CIVA was not what most people think of as contemporary Christian art. The objects for sale in the silent auction could have been purchased by a museum (but the Sandra Bowden piece came home with me)! There was a gallery of exceptional curated art—the sculpture of an open book with pages made of mesh still sticks with me. Any of it could have been in a NYC gallery. The gallery of un-curated pieces was edgier, and still with a high level of craftsmanship and conceptual quality. Even the conference t-shirts were screen printed, one at a time, onsite.

Attendees were swept along with an impressive flow of speakers, performances, worship, panels, and tours. In between, there was a constant invitation to gather, converse, check out the bookstore, or engage in two different co-creative artworks. The participatory piece by Steve Prince was devised specifically for the conference. Steve drew the grandmothers quilting, and everyone was invited to fill in a quilt square. 

The trope of artmaking as the vehicle for deep questioning, a part of the search for truth/security/love/purpose/good is as old as dirt. Or at least it’s as old as the idea that you can smear dirt on something to make an image. That many of our deepest questions ultimately are about God is also common knowledge. Why, then, is there such a disconnect in our modern world between serious art and Christian art? When we visit Europe, where do artsy people (Christian or not) go? To museums. To Cathedrals. There we will find the very best art within the context of magnificent architecture, familiar Bible stories, and the Christian faith. 

What CIVA is creating is a 21st Century community of artists—Christian artists, grappling with the questions of our age. They are dedicated to their craft and to God, and they’re unafraid to mix the two. My hope is that their work, along with Engage Art and other ministries, will make the (artistic) ground more fertile for excellent art inspired by scripture and the Christian walk. 

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul and paints his own nature into his pictures.” — Henry Ward Beecher, 1813-1887

To check out CIVA:

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