The artistry of service

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"Creating something God would delight in"

By Myra Holmes

Visual art is much more than pretty pictures to Oklahoma artist Dan Gibson, founder of Art Community for Christ. “My focus is trying to show our walk with Christ, our experience with him, our struggles and the things that are joyful,” says Gibson. “It’s about our daily walk with Christ.”

Gibson formed Art Community in May 2010 to encourage Christian artists to use their talents to bring honor to God. The community is part of Discovery Bible Fellowship (DBF), a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Collinsville, Okla.

Gibson says he has always been “into art” and pursued art as a side interest, often joining groups of artists for mutual learning and inspiration. But the groups didn’t have any kind of Christian focus, and after a while, he felt that lack keenly. He grew dissatisfied with creating for himself and began to ask what would bring more satisfaction. The answer: “I should use all my gifts and all my talents to glorify God.”

He approached DBF pastor Derk Madden with the idea of forming a community of Christian artists who would not only encourage one another artistically but also look for ways to serve and spread the gospel through their art.

The church leadership enthusiastically embraced the idea. They set aside an area of the church facility for the art group and helped spread the vision. Response from the DBF congregation has also been positive, as evidenced by affirming comments and valuable project suggestions.

Gibson says he didn’t know any Christian artists when he began to advertise the group and wasn’t sure who would come. But they did come.

About seven artists now meet each Tuesday evening, spread drop cloths and pull their projects out of storage to paint, draw and create. They always work on an assigned project—something they’ve agreed together to do. The advantage of working on the same project, says Gibson, is unity. “We’re all feeling the same vision.”
Artists are often independent souls used to working alone, Gibson points out, and so it is significant that they work together toward a goal. “It brings us together and we learn from each other,” he says.

Because he started the group without knowing who would come, Gibson says he didn’t know what level of skill to expect from the artists, but he has been pleasantly surprised. “Every artist is extraordinary,” he says, humbly adding that he considers himself one of the weaker artists in the group. In addition, he says, every artist has a heart for the group and a passion for spreading the gospel.

The artists each have a favorite style and medium—watercolor for one, pastels for another— but projects tackle a variety of both media and styles. “We all dabble a bit in everything,” Gibson says. In that way, the artists learn from and challenge each other: “Each person has a strength. That’s really great because we can teach each other.”

As they use their gifts, refine their talent and strive for excellence, the artists draw closer to God. Gibson talks about art that “expresses our love for Christ” and about “creating something God would delight in.”

While they work, the artists build relationships that also serve to draw them closer to God. “It’s never quiet in there,” Gibson remarks. They talk not only about the project at hand but also about their daily lives and their faith. They don’t open Bibles for formal study but encourage and challenge each other nonetheless. “We’re starting to lean on each other through difficult times,” Gibson says and calls the group a “family of artists.”

For this Art Community, the art is “for Christ.” Gibson says, “We don’t just keep it for ourselves,” but always ask how it might serve a greater purpose. Each project aims to serve or spread the gospel in some way. The artwork might be donated to further some ministry or sold to raise funds for a charity.

“Kwero” is a perfect example. This past spring, the artists invested four months in drawing and painting portraits of specific Ugandan orphans who are being given health care and education at an orphanage founded by Project Hope Worldwide, an outreach of Discovery Bible Fellowship. About 16 of these portraits were sold at an April 15 fundraiser, called Kwero, raising $7,000 for the care of these children. Gibson says giving orphans a second chance in this ways "displays someone who wants to be more like Christ."

At first, the Kwero project guidelines dictated a fairly uniform style, but as the artists began to work, the group decided to allow more latitude for expression. As a result, each portrait is unique and uniquely inspired, but the project as a whole has a common theme.

The artists enjoyed the project so much that, instead of doing just one portrait each, they found themselves working on several and giving extra time. And, as they worked, they connected with the orphans in a way that only an artist and subject can. “After a while, you become really invested in these children,” Gibson says. “I got to spend time learning about them and painting them.”

Gibson, artist Ceasar Condes and Project Hope Worldwide representative Kelley Compton had an opportunity to talk about the Kwero portraits and gather support for the orphans on local television. See the interview at http://www.newson6.com/category/121535/video-page?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=5742823&flvUri&partnerclipid.

Next spring, the group hopes to have a booth at the Blue Dome Art Festival in Tulsa, Okla. Gibson says that, while art always expresses the heart of the artist, including the artist’s love for Christ, the meaning isn’t always obvious, especially with more modern styles. So as festival visitors browse, view the art and ask questions, the art can become a springboard to share the gospel. “That’s a way for us to talk about Christ and talk about our testimony,” Gibson says.

“The whole mission is to spread the gospel. If we can do that in the modern art style or by painting orphans, those are ways to reach people,” says Gibson.

For more on the Art Community for Christ and to see some of the Kwero portraits, like them on Facebook.

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