All art, whether visual, written, musical or film, is supposed to reflect something of the mind and world of the artist, and make the viewer, listener or reader think or feel something they might not otherwise do.
An exhibition of artworks by High School students did exactly that for me.
Each year, thousands of high school students finish their Higher School Certificate studies and graduate onto the rest of their lives. For some, a significant part of their final assessment is based on a “major work”, in art, textile and design or design and technology.
Each year, a selection of the best artwork is exhibited at a local gallery, together with a brief statement by the student about the ideas behind their work. And each year we check out this Art Express exhibition.
Students are about 17 years old and their themes reflect this stage in their lives. Many show a sense of wonder about the world, while others are more pessimistic or introverted. Common themes include:
- the environment and how we seem to be trashing it for future generations;
- social justice issues such as refugees, inequality or gender issues;
- personal issues related to growing up – alienation, concern for the future, identity, etc;
- family and friends;
- beauty and patterns in the built and natural environments;
- war and history.
“Youth is made for heroism”
Tony Campolo once said that “youth is made for heroism”. These students are on the threshold of being adults, and they have some big concerns on their minds. Some may grapple with them for years, but it is likely many will move on to marriage, family, career and responsibility, and gradually the questions will be covered over like geological deposits.
This is a key time in their lives and may not last for long. From where, if at all, will their answers come?
Christianity and the church are irrelevant?
We christians reckon we have answers to many of the life questions they are asking. But I wonder how many of these questioning students would never even give thought to the possibility that answers may be found with us?
As long as christians use arcane or outdated language and concepts, and seem like we are fighting the battles of a previous generation, I don’t suppose we deserve a place in the market place of ideas. As long as we seem to not care about the things they care for, as long as we are not sensitive to them, I don’t suppose many will listen.
I long to see christians breaking free of old ways and old structures and joining these aspirational teens in grappling honestly with big issues, all the time living counter culturally, not judging, and pointing to another way of seeing.
I think there is an opportunity here for christians, but it would require some innovative thinking.
Photo: detail of the work Pain and Rapture by Leila May Kirkness.