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The Place of Visual Arts in Interfaith Bridge Building

The Place of Visual Arts in Interfaith Bridge Building


By Eric Blauer

Art by Mai Refky
Art by Mai Refky

“A lot of different flowers make a bouquet…” 

-Author Unknown

1. What I Experienced: 
I found this quote on artist Mai Refky’s bio card captured the overall experience of viewing ‘The Bridge’, multi-faith art exhibit.

As an artist I’m always interested in exploring how faith and art can create or provide ways to build bridges in an era where burning them is so vogue. With so many polarizing voices, events and agendas these days, I was looking for an oasis of peace in the desert of demonization. I found myself longing for a quiet witness to the truth that another world is possible. It’s a theme that I think we desperately need and who better to prophesy of that reality than the poets, artists and writers?

Isaiah 11:1-2,6
“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
    yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him…
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all.”

Something new growing out of the stump…a fitting image among all the carnage taking place in our pugilist culture.

“The desire of the artist to bring announcements and repair to the world and humanity by the action of art, is similar to the nature of a prophet. The prophet announces to mankind the future in regard to how people pay attention to one another, either as a prophet of disaster or consolation that there will be peace in the land and in the world.”
-Artist, Ronen Siman Tov

As I entered the auditorium to view the exhibit at St. John’s Cathedral, I was aching in my own soul for something new to grow up and bear fruit in me and through me as well. A refreshing and renewal of commitment to endure, engage and encourage after a fairly rough season of wrestling with the value of my experience with local interfaith work.

“Efforts to reach out and engage others in dialogue with the aim of fostering mutual understanding and bringing people closer together may seem ordinary and unexciting, but they in fact constitute a bold and daring challenge to create a new era of human civilization.”
-Daisaku Ikeda

There was a fine cross section of art, mediums and cultural voices that all worked around the idea of a bridge. Each artist exploring the concept through color, space, image, line, texture and light spectrums. I particularly enjoyed the accompanying artist bios that had short explanations and thoughts from the artists about their participation and piece. Over all I truly appreciated the exhibit and welcome more visual arts endeavors focused on bringing together such diverse groups. It’s important work and a help to witness to the creative ways we can attempt to build understanding and deconstruct the roadblocks of fanatic fear and open us up to others who are more like us than we may know or believe.

2. What I Would Add: 
The lighting in the room at St. John’s Cathedral was poor. Sufficient lighting should always be an essential element in showcasing art. Lack of lighting dulls the impact of the colors chosen and inhibits one from fully indulging in the art.

-Courageous Content
I did find myself feeling that the subject matter of bridge building was handled in a way that was too safe in light of the life and death struggle we are facing today. Artists have an element of responsibility to carry the prophetic mantle and shake things up. Biblical prophets were highly provocative and it’s unfortunate that a lot of religious art is pastoral more than prophetic, soothers instead of shocks, cuddles instead of confronts. The issues today need courageous truth tellers who can speak without words. In fact, I think the pursuit of convincing or contemplating new ways forward will need less talk and more creating. People need to see the world they are working to build and artists help open the eyes of our hearts to give us new vision.

“Artists must be sacrificed to their art. Like bees, they must put their lives into the sting they give.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

I found myself wanting the exhibit to cut closer to the bone, to call me out of my own apathy. I was hoping to encounter artists that would show me why this inter-faith work is truly important. Convince me that this path matters and take visual risks to let me taste the pain or pleasure on your palate.

“Pictures which do not represent intense interest cannot expect to create an intense interest.”    -Author unknown

One of the best short moments in film that capture what I am saying is in the movie: ‘Walk The Line’ about the life and music of Johnny Cash. This clip needs to be seen and digested by everyone who is working to share life and truth through whatever means of communication.

-More Young People
When I attended there was about 25 seniors at the exhibit with a few under 40 people attending. I hope that the younger generations will find their way to such events to spark vision for incorporating the visual arts into peace work.

3. What I’m Going To Do:
I came away with a few commitments challenging me as an artist.

1. Work to say less and create more.
There’s a spiritual discipline in creating visual art that is dependent on elements that I think will help foster more meaningful messaging. One is the discipline of silence, art is a an act if observation and listening and we need much more of that is our dialogue and debate. The other is time. Art takes time, it requires us to slow way down and be present in the moment. It’s a posture of rest over anxiety, awareness to each stroke or line, seeing the small things that make up the bigger image. These gentle disciplines are needed in bridge building more than ever.

“The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.” -Junot Diaz

2. Purposefully seek to communicate more inclusively
Art has the potential to be far more inclusive than speaking or writing. It leaves room for the viewer to participate in interpreting the piece. Art isn’t a monologue, it invites us onto the level ground of sharing. Everyone gets to experience and interpret the moment of encounter with art. How it makes you feel or think of new possibilities in the future is a unique gift of art. This is a gift of art that is governed by progressive sensibilities over hyper-fundamentalist conservatism that’s often seems to demand a return to the past.

I encourage you to go view the exhibit and share your own thoughts about how you might be activated in the work and witness for peace in creative ways.
Eric Blauer

About Eric Blauer

I am Frederick Christian Blauer IV, but I go by Eric, it sounds less like a megalomaniac but still hints at my Scandinavian destiny of coastal conquest and ultimate rule. I have accumulated a fair number of titles: son, brother, husband, father, pastor, writer, artist and a few other more colorful titles by my fanged fans. I am a lover of story be it heard, read or watched in all beauty, gory or glory. I write and speak as an exorcist or poltergeist, splashing holy water, spilling wine and breaking bread between the apocalypse and a sleeping baby. I am possessed by too many words and they get driven out like wild pigs and into the waters of my blog at www.fcb4.tumblr.com. I work as a pastor at Jacob's Well Church (www.jacobswellspokane.com) across the tracks on 'that' side of town. I follow Christ in East Central Spokane among saints, sinners, angels, demons, crime, condoms, chaos, beauty, goodness and powerful weakness. I have more questions than answers, grey hairs than brown, fat than muscle, fire than fireplace and experience more love from my wife, family and friends than a man should be blessed with in one lifetime.

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