Entering the rehearsal, my students hear, “Put your phones in the basket and let me have it.” As the students dutifully follow the given directions, I attempt to gauge their emotional responses. Some clearly feel stripped of their rights. Others, I sense, are excited to engage with the process and put aside the barrage of notifications buzzing away in their pocket. They know it will only pull them away from the creating.
The desire to leave a mark is nearly as instinctive to kids as the desire to eat and sleep. Children, made in the image of our Creator God, are born to be sub-creators who shape and adorn the world around them. Madeleine L’Engle (1972) stated it this way, “…unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life…” (78).
In schools, we must engage in thoughtful processes that involve active cognitive experience and emotional engagement. Creativity, artistry, and performance should be a part of the everyday educational environment. For many of our students this “world” of the arts is part of their safe space where the freedom of creativity is alive and exhilarating. But the benefits of the arts extend to all of our students. Engaging with the arts provides not only a welcome “tech” respite, but also tangible opportunities to examine the true, good, and beautiful in light of a Christian worldview.
A Scriptural View of the Arts
God is not silent about the arts or the creative process. After all, He is the Creator. Exodus 35:35 states, “He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.”
Skill, craftsmanship, beauty, clarity, balance, and other timeless elements are to be studied and practiced to produce an almost endless variety of quality artistic works. Education in these active pursuits, like all faithful Christian education, should set our kids on a lifelong trajectory toward maturity and wisdom. Christian education recognizes that students can have a higher aesthetic.
Scripture also instructs us, “(Finally,) brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). The world’s view, especially as it relates to the arts, is perhaps directly counter to Paul’s words. By this I mean, “Whatever is false, whatever is dishonorable, whatever is unjust, whatever is dirty and profane, debase, perverse, let’s think about these things.”
Recently, when I shared this verse and the accompanying sentiment with a group of parents, I felt the room agree. I was immediately encouraged and then discouraged in the very next moment. Why should something meant for immense beauty experience such intense corruption? “Art has lost its way because humanity has lost its way” said Ravi Zacharias, internationally recognized pastor and teacher. He went on to say, “…each now imitates the other, drawing the reason for its existence from a lost vision for life and beauty.” The beautiful work of the Christian school is to engage students in God’s redemptive plan for humanity and culture, which includes the arts.
Guiding Students on the Journey
This process must be aided by teachers modeling a love of beauty. Christian schools can be spaces of beauty wherein our students’ aesthetic senses flourish. How it is taught will have a direct correlation to the way our students order their “loves.” Ultimately, students will learn to love what we love. Because God enables through gifting, in our educational settings we have to be sure to provide a master teacher with adequate materials who loves the Master artist, and who will love and pass on their dedication to the next generation. Teachers must also deeply know and communicate that nothing in this life, including the art, is “about me.” Instead, we need to emulate “the beauty of God’s holiness” (Psalm 96:9) to this next generation.
Relationships with and between students are a vital part. If we consider our own favorite moments from our time as a student in school, it is likely that we think of stage productions, hanging out with friends at lunch, or being the underdogs scoring the overtime goal. Each of these activities require mental and physical engagement with others to accomplish a task, even if the task is simply “hanging out.” We must look to relational ways to help our students actively experiment and experience, so that Christian education can unapologetically be a place for God’s redemptive work.
Pathways to Redemptive Engagement
Our omniscient God wants us to experience the power of observation and creation. Imagination is one of the most sacred things we have. It enables us to experience the joy and beauty of the creative process, in which God Himself delights as the Creator. The arts aren’t simply a refuge for a subset of students who are weary from the rigors of the academic day. Rather, the arts offer pathways for all students to deepen their understanding of God and to participate creatively in His beautiful, redemptive work in our world.
L’Engle, Madeleine. 1972. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. New York: Waterbrook.
About the Author
Andrew Smalley currently serves as the director of Fine Arts at the Regents School of Austin, in Austin, Texas. Andrew has over 10 years of administrative experience in Christian schools, including roles within the arts and five years as a dean of students. He has a deep passion for leadership development for students, faculty and administration in the Christian school sector. In recent years he has served as a speaker to school administrators at the CESA national conference, Society of Classical Learning national conference, and the Deeper Learning conference. He is currently completing coursework for his Ed.S. in Leadership. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.