The Liberated Artist
All creatives share an essential desire to live the life of the liberated artist. It is an intoxicating vision of artists shaking free of the shackles of the past, and breaking the boundaries of the previous generations. It is a picture of empowerment, confidence and open horizons. Yet while liberation is a powerful idea, not all liberation leads to the promised land we hoped. Some liberties appear wonderful, but wreak havoc on your soul, while other liberties lead to deeper joy and satisfaction. The problem is not that we shouldn’t want to live the life of the liberated artist. The question is what kind of liberty we are pursuing.
Chief among the concerns of the liberated artist, is the concern with traditions. They can be traditions of the artistic community, traditions of their church community, or local cultural traditions. Each tradition has its place, but each of those traditions has limitations. This is why the desire of the artist to be liberated from some aspects of tradition is warranted.
Traditions Were Never the Point
Traditions capture something unique about a particular time, and a particular culture facing particular challenges. Each generation must recognize which parts of our traditions are essential, and which parts need to be given new life. If we hold up our traditions as perfect, we will begin to worship those traditions, and commit the sin of idolatry. Jesus himself rebuked the Pharisees for not recognizing when God was doing something new. He pointed the Pharisees to a metaphor, saying, “no one pours new wine into old wine skins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wine skins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wine skins.” (Mark 2:22)
If God wanted us to do everything exactly as they did it in the Old Testament, He would have given them the foresight to write down the melodies of the Psalms written by King David and others. The fact that God, in His great wisdom, did not insure we have those melodies, demonstrates that he has no need for us to codify the artistic expression of the past.
In truth, God knows we would make an idol of those melodies, and begin to think we could attain God’s favor if we sing them just as David did. This is why I love how King David wrote about “singing a new song unto the Lord” (Psalm 96:1). He was never content with his old songs. He kept striving to do better, and to capture afresh what God is doing amongst His people. The very nature of art is to keep trying to express the mysteries of life in new ways.
God is always up to something. He is not predictable, nor can He be put in a box. This is because he is the one, true, living God. Throughout history our God was finding new ways to speak to His people and He rejoiced in bringing new and fresh seasons to his people. Remember these words spoken through Isaiah:
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. “ (Isaiah 43:19)
A Tale of Two Liberations
We must be careful to consider the nature of the freedom we pursue. Do we merely want freedom from the dead laws of dead men, or are we seeking freedom from all restraint? Do we recognize the wisdom of those who have gone before, or do we reject all previous viewpoints because we see ourselves as the most enlightened person in history? If we do not define the type of freedom we desire, we run the risk of great frustration and disappointment.
Art programs, academies, and film schools will tend to emphasize the pursuit of self-liberation. They are more interested in the ideas of Kant, and especially Nietzche, who encouraged people to find freedom by destroying, violating, and ‘moving beyond’ cultural traditions. This, for Nietzsche, was the only path to becoming the Ubermensch, who is the one that finds true freedom. Traditions are seen as negative, and freedom from them is the goal.
This is the water we swim in today, living in the twenty first century. Self-expression and liberation from anything we don’t like, is the ambition and goal for any enlightened individual. In such a view of life, there is no place for God. We are alone, and all that matters is how we feel, what we want, and our personal desires.
The Gospel gives us a profoundly different way to look at freedom. The freedom we have in Christ is not only a freedom from the slavery to sin, but also a freedom to experience the love of God. It is the best of both worlds, and both kinds of freedom. The paradox is found in the requirement to ‘give up’ our obsession with our selves, in order to find the freedom and joy that only God can provide for our ‘self.’ Before Jesus died on the cross, he made this clear to His disciples,
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’” (Matt 16:24-25)
The deep problem is that it requires faith to see the beauty of such freedom, and only the Holy Spirit can show us how beautiful it is. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the desire to give up our search for self-liberation so that we find the true joy and beauty in Gospel liberation.
Gospel Liberation Is Not Dependent
Gospel liberation is not dependent upon our effort to break the old traditions, or create the most innovative work of art. It is found in giving up the desire to be our own savior, and to place our talent, our gifts, our ambitions, and our lives in the hands of our savior, Jesus Christ. We may not use the words liberty or liberation when we speak of the gospel, but maybe we should, because it utilizes the words and ambitions closest to the hearts of our neighbors and friends in this culture. I was inspired to look at it this way by Ceslaus Spicq in his book The Trinity and Our Moral Life (amazon affiliate link). In that book, he explains how St. Paul makes this clear:
“Christ had poured forth His blood in ransom to liberate the slaves of sin. His disciples are ‘bought at a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20), and therefore are free. So true is this that we can substitute the word ‘redemption’ which is no longer meaningful, for the word ‘liberation,’ so significant to contemporary ears.” – Ceslaus Spicq.
Finding True Liberation
You can imitate the ambitions of your colleagues in art school by violating social norms, but it will never free your heart. You may feel free for a moment, or for a season, but eventually you will realize your heart is not experiencing freedom. True liberation is not found in offending various traditions and religious beliefs. True liberation requires a deeper medicine.
God designed you to find your joy and freedom in relationship with Him. That is the picture of life in the Garden of Eden and in the New Jerusalem. However, living between Eden and the New Jerusalem is hard. We struggle with sin, and all the shame and guilt that accompany our sin. The only way to find freedom from what ails you, and to clean what is corrupted within your conscience and within your heart, is to ask Jesus to grant the freedom you long for.
The Freedom We Crave
Christ died to give you the freedom you crave. He loves you so much, he endured the shame you experience, he took on the guilt that plagues you, and he experienced the betrayal of the ones closest to him. He knows your pain, and endured such pain out of love for you! What was the benefit which Christ has promised to those of us who give up our lives to follow him? The Apostle Paul was clear, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
Christ died to set you free. Only the deep, spiritual freedom He promises will bring you the joy you seek. The liberated artists of the world find a temporary liberation that never lasts. The artist liberated through the power of the Gospel experiences freedom that never ends because God’s love never ends. The artist liberated by the Gospel is free to love others through their art and to find deep and satisfying joy in creating and curating art that flows from a liberated heart. This is the life of the liberated artist everyone longs for. It is available to all, if we will only place our trust in God.
Copyright © 2021 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
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