Art as Worship

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- Scott Sample

Like prayer, art needs to spring from a place deeper than the head, it needs to grow from the heart.

My friend Josh and I were hanging out a few months ago, getting ready to polish off the last remains of a rack of ribs. We had gotten together to discuss a faith-based music project he was set to begin. After working on various lyrics, riffs, and song ideas for over five years, he was finally ready to pull the trigger and produce his first album. As he threw down the last rib bone, Josh looked over and threw me a look I’ve come to know as, “I have an idea”. He asked - with a bit of nervous excitement - if I would be interested in creating a piece of art for each of the songs on the album. Catching the wave of his excitement, (and thoroughly satiated on BBQ) I said “sure” with no hesitation. It didn’t hit me until the next day that I may have committed to something a bit more consuming, demanding, and unusual than I was prepared for: the idea of ten paintings reflecting someone’s life-faith journey is more than a little daunting.

Now several months and a number of finished works into the project, I have a clear direction and a connection to the work that transcends both my friendship with Josh and even the music that is fueling their creation. The paintings have become prayers. This eleventh-hour clarity shouldn’t surprise me, but it does – every time. Creating art around faith (and as an act of worship) has been a passion of mine for the past decade. This direction started at a time when I was being called back into my faith and drawn into creating art. These two passions collided in a beautiful way. Not easy, but beautiful. The work I’ve produced post-collision is organic, dynamic, visual prayer. They are an utterance, via image, to God. Representations of thanks, question, and struggle make their way onto the canvas as I lay my burdens before Him.

Many of the works I do are more like constructions, employing materials like plaster, wood, copper, and glass. I am intrigued with letting the materials help determine the process and also aid in telling the visual story. It is in the telling that I look to faith for meaning, using the tools of metaphor, symbol, and icon. Therefore, the real story in a work is more than what you might see as it hangs finished on a wall. For me, it is really about the process; creating art can teach us and communicate something larger.

A few years ago, I was immersed in a series of paintings on plaster and canvas. When I started, I had no idea that the work itself would show me a valuable facet of God’s creativity, and how he works through me. I began the series with a clear idea of what I wanted them to be. I could envision the finished series before I’d even opened a tube of paint. Early into the paintings, I realized nothing was turning out how I had imagined or desired. My clear vision was turning out to be a clear mess. I reached a point where frustration got the better of me and I had to take a big step back. For the first time in my life, I was thinking I needed to give up and literally trash the whole lot of it. As I sat there staring in disappointment at the unfinished canvases, I paused to ask God whether it was worth moving forward, fully expecting a “no”. What came though was a distinct nudge to push forward, but in a drastically different way. I grabbed my grinder and started to work the painting by taking away. By removing layer upon layer, I began to see what was underneath. Slowly, a sky filled with delicate clouds began to appear. That were not only different that what I had envisioned, but immeasurably more beautiful.

Since that revelation, I’ve learned to apply the same idea to other aspects of my life. It’s not always about what you bring, contribute, or add; often, it is what you take away that can beautifully transform a situation or a relationship. Creating art and living by faith both require a continual process of transformation: sometimes moving forward, sometimes pulling back, and always looking for the story underneath. This ebb and flow are at the core of my inspiration. They are why I am endlessly compelled to bring God’s word and spirit to life through my works.

Intentionally, my works are not literal. By leaving the door for interpretation open, a viewer’s own storyline and conversation with God have a chance to inform what they see. I love witnessing how people at all levels of relationship with our creator are pulled into the work, can sense the inherent message of faith, and are eager talk and ask about God. It is my highest aim to create works that bring forward questions of belief and start a dialog around faith.

Right now, this desire and sense of purpose help ground me as I pursue the music/art collaboration I’ve gotten myself into. Even though my friend’s music is a beautiful and powerful expression of faith, I am still a little apprehensive about where it is all going. Will it work? Can I finish before the cd releases? What was I thinking? And then, once again, I step back. I let God’s hand into the work and trust him to guide the process.

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Scott Sample is both a passionate Fine Artist as well as Executive Creative Director and a Principle Partner ofInitio, Inc. As an original founder of Initio, Mr. Sample’s previous experience and unwavering passion for impactful visual communications has allowed him to build a myriad of successful campaigns for a wide variety of both corporate and institutional clients. Before founding Initio he was a Designer and Art Director for various firms in Boston and New England as well as an Independent Art Director for the Dayton Hudson Corporation. He has directed a wide range of accounts including: American Finance Group, K2 In-Line Skates, The American Cancer Society, InMotion, United Asset Management, Dayton’s/Target, August Schell Brewery and many others.

Mr. Sample has a Master of Fine Arts and Graphic Design from Kent and a BFA from MCAD in Visual Communications. He is also has taught design in the post undergraduate program at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Scott's work has been published in numerous magazines and books, as well as public and private galleries. As an Executive Creative Director at Initio, Mr. Sample creates and manages integrated marketing programs that are far-reaching in nature and scope. Mr. Sample leads the teams through strategic positioning, program and campaign positioning, branding, identity systems and overall creative direction.