Living Art - the Story

Journeys are fascinating. Whether it’s a physical trek, like Bear Grylls’ ascent of Everest or Sir Ranulph Fiennes circumnavigation of Antarctica, or the personal journey of overcoming one’s background, like Nicky Cruz’, the gang leader turned social reformer, in his biography ‘Run, Baby Run’, I love being inspired by other peoples’ stories. And, when we look back on our own journeys, though much less known, they can be just as fascinating.


Like Nicky Cruz, and many others, my journey has been one of overcoming my own personal demons: addiction and mental health and depression and relational brokenness. And like Nicky Cruz and others, once I was free of the demons that had plagued me for years, it was only natural for me, a carer and teacher by profession, to want to share with others what I’d found, in order to help them escape their own personal prisons too.

So it was that I left full-time work in July 2012 to explore this ‘calling’. Although I wasn’t sure at the time what God wanted me to do, I was putting myself in a position where I could listen and, hopefully learn more precisely what His plan for me was. For I knew He had a plan; it was just that, like someone driving down a country lane with high hedges on both sides, the whole picture wasn’t yet clear.

Initially, when I started out and set up AnthonyHodgsonArt as an enterprise, my mission statement was 'to encourage, to challenge, to inspire': I knew I wanted to create art, but I wanted to be creating art with a difference, art which would connect with the viewer, art which had a message or a story to convey. However, as well as a huge lack of confidence, I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. So, over the next two years I did a business course, met and learned with fellow aspiring small business entrepeneurs and did a lot of test trading, i.e. testing markets and fairs with different products in order to see which worked and which didn’t.

It was at one such art fair that a man came up to me. He was profoundly moved by a piece of mine called ‘Redemption’. Now, ‘Redemption’ is a overtly religious piece with the Christ at the centre of the picture clearly inviting the viewer to come to him. Yet this man, by his own admission, was an atheist. He didn’t believe in God yet was moved to be open to a conversation about the possiblity. Wow! Another, a lady who was a Buddhist, was deeply moved by a piece called ‘Condemned’, which is one of a triptych, the third being ‘Liberated’ - in which a couple are lifted up out of their former brokenness by a Christ figure. It was here that I started to understand something of the potential of art in reaching out to people.

As well as the business course, test trading and becoming a member of several arts organisations, I also worked with a business mentor for a year in order to apply for a start up loan. With his support and encouragement, I slowly wrote and rewrote a business plan, based upon the test trading until I finally had a plan ready to go in front of the board. However, by this stage, I had come to understand that God was not calling me to set up a full-time business, which would take me away from my wife and children for long periods of time as well as causing undue stress, but rather wanted me to be involved in reaching out to the hurting and lost with my arts and music. At the time, I was angry with God: ‘Why have you let me spend all this time writing this business plan only to say “No” at the end of it all?’ I was not happy! Yet, retrospectively, I could see why: it’s interesting how sometimes God prompts us to do things in order to teach us something else entirely: I believed I was doing a business plan in order to start a business but in fact it was to show me what life would be like if I continued down that path, which I wouldn’t have appreciated unless I’d gone through that process. As God tells us in Isaiah, ‘My ways are not your ways’.

Throughout all this, there was a lot of frustration and disappointment on my part: spending a whole day at an arts fair and selling nothing did nothing for my confidence or my feelings towards God; especially after praying fervently for success and believing I was going to get lots of sales! Yet God was teaching me (very patiently!) and leading me onwards, even if I didn’t understand what was going on at the time. Then in June 2015, nearly three years after I’d left a full-time teaching post in order to pursue this ‘calling’, together with another artist, a poet and a musician, I was invited to participate in an arts outreach evening in my local church in south London. For 20 minutes, I spoke on a painting of mine. Three months later, I was invited again, this time to speak at an arts evening organised by a church in the north of England, in Derbyshire. This time I was on my own. I’d had a conversation with God about how to go about it and had felt I should bring my guitar and some of my poetry: on the night, I used both. At both events, despite my lack of professionalism and obvious nervousness, the response was quite amazing: people came up to me afterwards to tell me that they had been profoundly affected, uplifted, encouraged, inspired and felt able to share with me their struggles with addiction, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts. It was way beyond anything I could have expected or hoped for: here I was, simply sharing a little of my story, my art, music and poetry with strangers and the result was…well, for me, it was simply ‘of God’: it was obvious that God was in it and able to use my efforts to touch people. It felt for me that this was it: this was what I was born to do, and, as if in confirmation, a pastor at the evening told me emphatically that this was the springboard for my ministry. Wow! So, after moving the rather heavy painting to the church and enjoying a pint of the local ale at the nearby pub with some of the church members I went home a very happy man.

So Living Art was born.  

I believe art, music and poetry, can be a very powerful medium for reaching people in a way that, for example, preaching might not. As I have seen, it attracts people; it speaks to people; it moves people. At a crafts fair, an exhibition or arts evening, a person will approach a piece of art and may spend a long time contemplating what they see, whereas if that same person passed a pastor preaching in the street they might quickly hurry past. God's Spirit can speak to a person's heart profoundly through the arts and we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the whole of nature is God's work of art and has spoken to people of every culture and race throughout history of the beauty and magnificence of its creator. Art is also more accessible because, like music it can operate both inside and outside of a church environment. Like music, it is a universal language that speaks to the soul. Thus Living Art endeavours to be a visible witness and communicator of God’s Good News to those who would never enter a church and ultimately, it is my hope and prayer that, as in my painting of the same name, my art, music and poetry will act as a bridge; to reconcile and bring home this broken, hurting world to the Father once more.

If the above ideas resonate with you, you can join with me in sharing the good news with the hurting of this broken world  through the arts. Get in touch if you want to get involved or help by making a donation to Living Art.  Nothing is wasted, as the Bible tells us, but is an investment in God’s kingdom here and as well as the one to come.

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