Thursday, August 11, 2005

Art, Filmaking and the Spiritual Life

If you read my Raw Edges blog, you know that this summer I was on set of the film I co-wrote, "Say Hello to Clive For Me." The experience was significant for me as I lead this small community for many reasons. First, art and artistic expression has been an important part of the life of this community since it began over two years ago. Most of us who are part of or have been part of this community are artists: whether musicians or painters or designers, etc. So, that my wife Kate and I were both involved in this project meant that our small community life was significantly involved in the film. Kate is the Art Director, and will continue to be so if the film goes anywhere and Backburner Films can make a second film. I will most likely continue to write for backburner films though I don't know that I will be on set again.
Filming while most everyone on the crew and the actors all have day jobs is a challenge and make for long days, early mornings and late nights, and a fairly grueling schedule. We didn't particularly enjoy getting up at 2:30 in the morning to be able to be on set at 4 AM, and then head for work the next day, nor was it easy to head off to the set after working an 8 hour day. Yet, we did it, we sacrificed our time and basically we ate drank and slept filming for 8 weeks or so, and still it continues for some of us. We willingly made sacrifices and disciplined ourselves to get done what needed to be done for the sake of art.
It is the above sacrifice and the necesary discipline that was required that lead me to reflect on the similarities of the artistic process and the spiritual life. Art takes discipline and often requires sacrifice of one type or another. Like the Crew and Cast of "Say Hello to Clive for Me" artists are often willing to discipline themselves to attain an artistic product and live the life of an artist. I found my willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the film in sharp contrast to my often unwillingness to keep a fairly simple disciplien of regular prayer.
I am struck both by the acetcism required in the making of a film and the discipline we eneged in on set and that this is in ways not unlike acetisism of the monastic tradition, though for obviously different purposes. This seems significant because I think many if not most of the cast and crew would find irelevant or amusing the various deciplines and ascetism of the monk. Even for most Christians these days you don't find many churches offering true overnight vigils. Even in Churches where lent is observed the fasting is rather simple and while not insignificant does not require much sacrifice or discipline. Churches that offer an Easter Vigil don't expect people to stay at church very late let alone stay awake all night. Where as we were willing to loose sleep and for go our regular eating habits even going hungry at times for the film. We under went harsh conditions (filming in the summer in doors without airconditioning under lights is not an experience I'd recomend, but we did it and survived). I wondered why we who wouldn't undergo such hardships for a spiritual reason were quite willing to do so for art?
I think it has to do with having a goal a clear sense of why we were undergoing lack of sleep intense, hellish even, heat, and other deprevations and suffering. For "Say Hello to Clive for me" we knew that our ascetism was for a specific period of time, and there was a very clear and definable goal, the completion of the film in time for it to be submited to Sundance Film festival. I think for most of us the goals of the spiritual life are vague and the benefit of prayer and fasting seem remote or uninteligable. An all night Easter Vigil seems pointless to us, church at inconvenient times gets in the way of something that should be private and convenient. The life of the Spirit is to fit nicely into the rest of our life not disrupt. Its not because we don't take spirituality seriously but the benefits of a disciplined and ascetic spirituality are ill defined and dificult to measure.
A film or a painting is an easy goal compared to the goals of the spiritual life which are often deffered and distant, or subtle. In a sense an artistic production is eaily measured and difined in comparison to the spiritual life which is ongoing since what is worked on is my self, my soul, and the building up of the Body of Christ, the Church. The goals and ends of the spiritual life are cosmic and grand in ways Art can achieve at times but in ways that are more difficult to see.
This leads me to wonder what would happen if artists who are Christian would begin not only to aproach their art with disciplien and sacrifice but see the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fascting and vigils as part of their life as an artist. The discipline requried of an artist for her art is not that different from the discipline and sacrifice needed for a vibrant and deep and full spiritual life, what if we as artists would approach our spiritual life with the same willingness to sacrifice and do what is odd as we do with our artistic?
I think it takes a differing view of the spiritual life, a sense that a life of faith is truely diruptive and ecentric, as disruptive and ecentric if not more, than the artistic path. Yet, I think an artist of faith may in that they already know the benefits of disciplien and sacrifice can reinscribe for the church the benefits of a truely ascetical spiritual life. We know that our art requires sacrifce and discipline how much more our life of faith. This is not an easy task, but we already have chosen difficult paths.

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