When Art Hits You Between the Eyes

Can you point to a piece of art which deeply changed your life?

One of the features of working with an international missions agency like OM is the fact that we are constantly being exposed to the ways in which God is working around the world. Over the years, OM has become increasingly involved in the fight against human trafficking and modern day slavery, working to bring justice, hope and dignity to women and children who have been ensnared in the sex industry. OM East, which works in Eastern Europe and central Asia, has a number of team members involved in this ministry.

In 2010, I was still working in the IT department of OM USA. I was just beginning to get back into working with clay and sculpture, reviving a passion I’d had since I was a child.  I was already exploring the use of the human figure in sculpture, with the incredible range of ideas, thoughts and emotions which that form communicates, but most of my effort was still spent on trying to get a handle on the technical aspects of the medium of clay.

One day, a newsletter from the OM East team came across my desk.  The article on the first page of the newsletter talked about their ministry work among the prostitutes in one of the countries of Eastern Europe. I don’t remember many details from the article… but I will never forget the drawing which went with it.

It was a simple drawing of a young woman, dressed in a short skirt and stiletto heels, hand chained to her ankle, looking out of the page you.  I remember the look in her eyes as they burned into my heart, asking me if I was going to do anything about what I saw there.

The drawing deeply changed the way I look at my own art. It was no longer about simply making pretty things. I began to understand what it meant to have a purpose in my creativity. My art could give a voice to these women and children, and in some way, communicate their plight to those of us who never imagined the nightmare they walk in every day and night.

Without Faces

The theme of justice and restoration began to find its way into my creative process, and as it did, it began to meld with other threads in my life which were beginning to transform the way I created.  In 2011, I took my first trip to Hungary with OM Arts, and came face to face with the reality of God’s purpose and calling in my art. A year later, in 2012, I went with OM Arts to Prague, and began to sense God calling me back to my beginnings as an artist in His hands.  Fundamentally, I began to see that, rather than flowing simply out of my own ideas and imagination and skill, God had planted this gift of art in my soul as a way for me to listen to His voice; for my heart to come closer to His heart; to imagine, see, and create through His eyes.

In 2014, I was able to spend two weeks working with the students in the Incarnate 2014 program in Italy.  In those few days, I found myself connecting with that small, tightly knit community of students from around the world, creating meaningful friendships which would continue, scattered across the miles, to this day.  One of the students there was an established artist from Germany. Judika was a skilled painter and illustrator, and, I discovered later, had spent time working with OM in Eastern Europe.  We have stayed connected since then, and my appreciation for her has grown, not only for her artistic skill, but for her heart to help people, especially in her involvement with the difficult issue of Germany’s response to the flood of refugees from Africa and the Middle East.  She has become a champion for these people, speaking and working both with the refugees themselves, and in front of her community to stand up for their needs. We have crossed paths a couple of times since Italy, and it has always been a joy to sit down and share the story of how God is continually working in our lives and our art.

A short time ago, I made an astounding, “connecting the dots” discovery.  I was poking around on Judika’s artist Web site, enjoying some of the recent projects she has been working on, from illustrating children’s stories to deeper works around justice and reconciliation … and I was stunned to see this very illustration of the handcuffed prostitute in her portfolio.  All this time, I had been carrying around this image in my mind, thinking about the way it had transformed my art, and I never knew that it was created by a good friend and fellow artist.  Judika has often thanked me for how I have been an encouragement and help to her over the years, but it was amazing to be able to turn that around and tell her how her work had, and continues to have, a profound impact on my own understanding of God, myself and the gift of art which He planted in me.

So… to this point I’ve been talking about my own personal experience with one particular drawing and one particular artist. However, the take-away from this is the truth that, when we create, walking in the light of the presence of God, we have no way to control, predict, or even imagine what He will do through our art. In fact, this truth applies to everything we say and do, but artistic expression seems to magnify this effect. For us, then, and our art, our hope is not in our own ability to say great things through what we create, but rather in the Father’s ability to create Truth, Beauty, Hope and Light in us, and through our hands and imagination, in our art. For this reason, we have faith that our art will stand and begin to transform the people and communities around us.

(Illustration included here by written permission of Judika Dragässer.)

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