Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rumination #9

Dear Thesis,

I want to tell you a little bit about my upbringing. My father was the pastor of a Pentecostal church, so I was known in church circles as a "PK", or pastor's kid. The Assemblies of God denomination with which my dad's church was affiliated is unique in many ways. Church services were long and rowdy, with hours of singing, clapping, tambourine-playing, and raising of hands, and alter calls at the end that would make people cry and sometimes shake or fall over backwards. The services were informal and interactive, and often extremely emotional. Each visitor was greeted with a hug or a handshake, and everyone was welcome. 

Assemblies of God churches are not cathedrals. Their services are sometimes not even held in official church buildings, but in school cafeterias, tents, storefronts, and VFW halls. I used to envy the majestic architecture and stained glass windows at the Catholic church down the street from ours, which was a drab brown box with an unimpressive steeple. The reason our church wasn't built like theirs, I was told, was because it was meant to feel less intimidating, more comfortable and approachable. It was a church for people who didn't normally like church. It was a church for ex-convicts, ex-priests, gypsies, motorcycle gangs, illegal immigrants and all-American families alike. It was a church whose drum set had to be encased in plexiglas because the other members of the 12-piece rock band couldn't hear themselves on the monitors during the worship service. 

It's strange to relate the work I am doing now to my past experiences in church. I cannot, however, ignore the uncanny resemblances. For instance, in my work it's important that I employ devices, processes and locations that are familiar to the audience in order to encourage a level of understanding and participation. Just like how my dad used to hold services in a tent on the lawn in front of the church in order to make it more accessible to passersby during the summer, I prefer to exhibit my work in a coffee shop, office building or Elk's Lodge. I desire to make art for people who normally don't like art.

The most notable characteristic of an Assemblies of God church is the speaking in tongues. People would speak quietly to themselves in prayer, and also on occasion out loud to the rest of the congregation. It was believed to be a heavenly language that a person would utter when they were overcome by the Holy Spirit. When a parishioner would speak in tongues to the congregation there had to be another person present whom God would allow to interpret their message, in order for everyone to understand what was being said. I was often told stories about missionaries who would speak in tongues in a foreign country, only to find out that the natives could understand them because they were unknowingly speaking their language. I'm pretty sure that the original intention of the pentecost was to allow people of different cultures to understand each other even if they didn't speak the same language. What a beautiful idea!

I think I have transposed this same intention, of universal understanding gained through an alternate form of communication, to art. Perhaps making art is like speaking in tongues, and viewers are the interpreters. If so, then what is the Holy Spirit? What overcomes an artist when a work of art is created? Even to me, an artist, it is a mystery.

Yours truly,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You've never explained to me before what your church was like. Interesting... I'll take that over the stained glass any day.