Monday, December 13, 2010
Where is God in Art?
Four artists for whom God and work are inseparable shared their stories yesterday afternoon during “Where is God in Art?”, an hour-long panel discussion at Marble Collegiate Church.
Marcia Fingal, a commercial actress, model and maker of documentary films on social justice issues, told how she felt called to bring to light what was happening to people in New Orleans nine months after Hurricane Katrina. Armed with the investigative skills from her degree in English and journalism, she borrowed a camera, got GPS and drove south.
“I believe God called me to do that,” she said about what proved to be an award-winning documentary. “There were lots of things I could have done that would have kept me here in New York.”
But she chose to go.
“I felt I was really listening for God through these stories. When God tells you to do something, do it. It was a marvelous experience.”
Tom Schneider, a visual artist and painter, also feels God’s involvement in his art.
“We work together,” he said, adding that this causes him to maintain a Buddhist objectivity. “I make no judgment. If it’s God and I working together, how can I criticize what he’s working in me?”
For Bill Zeffiro, a composer, vocal coach, teacher and musician, God is like a mysterious co-author as he writes his music. “I don’t always know where the tunes come from, which means I know where they come from.”
Off-Broadway and regional actress, singer, dancer and musician Jenna Coker-Jones said she counts on God’s presence when facing the great actor challenge of auditioning.
“You can’t base your personal values on what the world is saying about you,” she said. “We weren’t designed as human beings to take all that criticism.”
She said having a church family or spiritual community is essential.
All four artists talked about the responsibility they had to develop the gifts God had given them and then to trust God that their careers would develop as they should.
“If you co-create your life with God you can do amazing things,” Fingal said, sharing advice she had been given by another model in Paris more than two decades ago: “When you’re being beaten up, hold on to your faith. It will carry you.”
Brian Hampton, the panel’s moderator and Marble’s Arts Ministry director, asked if there is any work they refuse to do because of their faith. Fingal said she won’t promote cigarettes; she turned down an international commercial that would have paid well and for which she would have been glamorously groomed.
“I felt it was like blood money, disease money,” she said.
Schneider said he won’t do commissions because “my art is my relationship with God.”
Coker-Jones related an experience of having been cast in a show after auditioning with just a portion of the script. When she received the full play she found it to be “actually blasphemous.” Unfortunately, publicity shots of her in the show had already been taken and she knew she risked being shunned in the business as a “typical Christian” if she pulled out then. She prayed about it and felt she could not support the show. She withdrew, and “by God’s grace there was no judgment.”
A member of the audience asked if they witness to people they work with. Coker-Jones said she has brought someone from every show she’s been in to her church and has started a women’s group which meets weekly to counteract the cattiness in the industry.
“I reach out in a normal way,” she said. “Loving people is the best example.”
All expressed a sense of responsibility for the gifts they had been given.
“As artists we really are the timekeepers,” Fingal said. “We tell the stories of different people’s lives.”
Zeffiro said he is conscious that his abilities are gifts and that he only has a finite time to use them so he shouldn’t put off developing his craft.
“God called us before we were born to do what we’re doing. The world looks to people who tell stories.”