By Tim Dunston
I was in Africa a few years back I saw a billboard that reminded me why
I need to carry my camera with me more often. It looked like your
everyday Sprite advertisement–green bottle, slogan, all larger than
life–but, underneath the green bottle wasn’t a picture of Kobe Bryant,
or Lebron James, just these words:
“Want to succeed in life?
I didn’t know if I should laugh or borrow an axe and
chop it to pieces. I didn’t do either, in fact, I didn’t do anything.
Really, what can you do when marketing hijacks art?
picture of a Sprite bottle is hardly art,” I can hear you say to me.
And you’d be right. It’s not art. “Then why bring it up?” I hear you
ask. I bring it up because revealed in that billboard is the essence of
marketing. We have learned to have so much fun with marketing–as many
of us watch the superbowl for commercials as to see the game–we forget
that its essence is deceit. The slogan on the billboard had nothing to
do with the product being sold. It was meant to take advantage of the
anxiety we feel. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad thing to obey your
thirst, it will often lead you to meaning. But even when we buy their
product, even if we drink it, we find it doesn’t really satisfy. Not
the way we wish it would.
So, what do we do with that anxiety?
If we can’t buy our way out of it, how do we exchange it for meaning?
For starters, you can put down your remote, stop channel surfing and
pick up your paintbrush, or camera, or microphone. Art has the power to
save us from that anxiety, marketing only has the power to make us
“You really think art has power?” I hear you ask. Well,
art is a bottomless well, always has been. It has been there in every
generation, in every period of history to help bring us back from the
brink, to quench the deepest thirst. When we create, we reveal a divine
playfulness that draws us toward something more deeply human. That is
the power of art. It re-humanizes us, it reawakens meaning in our
lives. And the beauty of art is that there is even more re-humanizing
power when we share it.
Often when we think of art, it’s as a
painting or a poem, but art is so much more than just works of art.
It’s a way of life, a way of living. When we reawaken the parts of us
that play and create, not only do we produce works of art, but our
everyday, mundane existence becomes art–we become living works of art.
Art has this power because the essence of art is the revealing of
truth, and it is that revealing that gives art the power to save.
back to the earlier questions. What can we do when art is hijacked? And
what do we do with the anxiety we feel? Same answer to both questions.
Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t chop down that billboard. Since then I’ve
learned that creating is a more powerful form of change than
destroying. But, on to the answer. I’ve got just two words for you.
There’s power in art, there’s even more when we share it.
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I had a dream last night, a dream of General Conference Sessions past and future. I stood in the center of a stadium, packed with people, all captivated by the music and stagecraft in front of them. I looked around and felt a sadness that kept growing inside of me until it was overwhelming.
Some time ago I was sitting in what quite possibly was the most boring church service I have ever been in. (No, I won’t tell you where I was.) There couldn’t have been more than 50 people in the sanctuary, and I’m being generous. We sang no less than 5 hymns. All hymns were sung in a dry, slow manner. The sermon seemed uninspired, barely prepared, and was presented with no sense of conviction. It felt like we were in church for three hours. We were in church for about 70 minutes.