The Unuseful, but Necessary Thing

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Hi, my name is Erin Shaw. I’m an artist, primarily a painter whose work explores stories; their power and function. My work as an artist is fueled by a deep passion for people and their stories. I’ll be joining in with CityPres, to hear your stories and engage them in visual form.

I thought it might be appropriate for me to tell you a little of my own story as we get to know each other. In the following weeks I’d like to share some things that relate to my life as an artist and the way those things have become integrated in my relationship with Christ and His Church.

For many years of my life as an artist, I wrestled with it’s utility. Because I was raised within the context of the church, I had inherent questions about how I might make the world a better, truer place. I wrestled with these questions alongside my vocation, calling and gifts.  For me, art was something I loved, but it seemed so unnecessary, so much an excess in a time when there were so many measurable needs. I was haunted by this simple question, “can my life as an artist matter?” Ultimately, these questions won out and I made a conscious, deliberate decision to do something in my life that was more measurable, more direct, the outcome of which was more evident and less messy. For fifteen years, I turned my back on the creative urge and inclination that God put inside of me. I wasn’t necessarily miserable, because I was doing things that mattered: teaching and pastoring, but I was far from what I now see and understand as my true calling.

In the midst of this process I began and continue to see the ways in which I was reducing my art, my life, and ultimately my faith to utility.  And while being useful isn’t a bad aim, when it becomes the mark we are reaching for it’s possible to miss the most important thing. I am continuing to learn that my faith, just like my art is a gift. It’s a tremendous, powerful and mysterious gift that cannot be reduced to utility. When I begin to approach these things with that mindset, I believe God moves me to a deeper understanding of who He is and his profound and extravagant love for me.

I hope to talk more here about the interconnectedness of art, faith and mystery and the reasons I need to pursue beauty, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with this quote by Andy Crouch about art and utility: “If we have a utilitarian attitude toward art, if we require it to justify itself in terms of its usefulness to our ends, it is very likely that we will end up with the same attitude toward worship, and ultimately toward God.”

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