Hard and Painful and Lovely 20

The man who took the stage, from my seat in the auditorium, resembled one of many hip, young whippersnappers populating the building. His ballcap sat at a jaunty angle, though I’m sure “jaunty angle” is a term Hemingway and Fitzgerald would use to the delight and derision of the hipster crowd. His skinny jeans sagged and I figured this kid had nothing to tell me. I may or may not have asked my neighbor if they let hipsters eat; those people can wear skinny jeans for a reason.

And then, I was schooled.

Isaac Rentz is a music video director who has worked with Cage the Elephant, Blink 182, The All-American Rejects and The Gap* (the store, not the band). He paced the stage while explaining how he learned his craft. He gave the audience the stories behind the videos. I watched his videos rapt; I haven’t intentionally watched a music video since, probably, the late 1980s. His work, coupled with the music, told stories and they were lovely and filled with redemption, even when the musicians were clearly not interested in such things as grace and mercy.

He said, “about ten percent of my work is fun. Ninety percent is grueling.” He said, “Making art is hard and painful.” He said, “When things go wrong in creativity, they can actually be going right.”

He seemed nervous near the end of his time, and he said, “I have to say this because my wife said she’d kill me if I didn’t talk about it.” I steeled myself, waiting for the cursory Bible stuff; faith and art are tied and blah blah blah and do your work, work hard and love Jesus.

And then, I was schooled.

I’m an agnostic when it comes to Christian art. It is a big hazard for Christians. It’s dangerous, unrealistic. It’s fake and it gives a false, rosy impression. I don’t live a world where people don’t swear, where a war movie doesn’t have the guy’s leg blown off. Be honest and be real. There is no wrong way to do art. Be sincere. Don’t trap yourself, don’t worry about your pastor or church guidelines. Make art that’s authentic, not what we think Christians want to see. Don’t worry about what it’s called.

I don’t know why he was nervous, because this was the most passionate he’d been, and he’d been passionate.

Madeleine L’Engle, Annie Dillard, Kathleen Norris, and others have been the voices before him. And here is the man in the jauntily angled cap, young enough to be my, um, younger brother reminding me of the value in all of art, no matter in what environment it is produced. The details always point heavenward; there is redemption everywhere. We just have to open our eyes.

His work resonated with me, and I encourage you to check it out. Especially this one, that was uncomfortable for him to make. This video was nominated for the MTV Award, but Isaac said, “You don’t win in creativity. Art is subjective. Winning doesn’t make it come. If we don’t win, it will still come out of us.”

What would you like to try creatively that you’ve been afraid to do?

*did you know that The Gap Band takes its name from 3 streets in Tulsa: Greenwood, Archer and Pine. True.