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.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 thoughts on “Hard and Painful and Lovely

  • Alise Wright

    He was my favorite presenter as well. So, so, so good. His “you don’t win in creativity” punched me in the gut. I so needed to hear that. The thing that I loved about him (and what I’ll be writing about sometime soon) was how proud he was of what he did. I loved that.

    Great post. I hope everyone has a chance to watch the videos. He does amazing work.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      First of all, you’re you way too early. Second, yes. Everything he said was just pitch perfect. I especially loved that the bands he works with are “secular” and that the videos were just luminous. I will look forward to reading your post. Better yet let’s meet for coffee.

  • Marie Wreath

    “You don;t win in creativity…’ and so many other things here resonated with me. hat a wonderful treat to hear this presenter, especially being such a surprise. Awesome.

    We were shopping an estate sale recently and the lady hovering over us as we looked at a painting said,”Oh that’s by a really good artist, she is just wonderful, that’s an excellent price.” Just shy of arguing with her (because art is DEFINITELY subjective) I turned away conspicuously because it irritated me that someone would purpose to TELL me an artist is good. (Of course she was trying to sell me a painting.)

    Anyway, on top of all that, what a bold message to deliver about Christian art. Not something we hear too often, and I appreciate it. So much.

  • elora nicole ramirez

    He surprised me too. And then when he dropped that bomb at the ending?! Good glory I just about jumped out of my seat. I love this shift happening in our culture – this expectation that we don’t have to fill. Makes me breathe easy.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      You know, I love the way you put that. How nice to shrug off an expectation. I struggled with this for a while in writing, because I don’t want to be a “Christian” writer, but somehow I had this idea that I had to be. Shucking that off!

  • Kristin T.

    “The details always point heavenward; there is redemption everywhere. We just have to open our eyes.” Amen, sister. (Also? I’m so glad I was sitting right next to you for all this eye opening. Somehow it makes it more real, makes it stick.)

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Yes. There’s this sort of experiential thing I feel about the conference, that it was more than lights and sounds and bodies, but that we were connected and ideas were sort of just vibrating through us. It was indeed a special trip to make with you.

  • pamhogeweide

    gorgeous writing. gorgeous post. gorgeous you. Just what i need to hear right now as my confidence in the creative process of writing has been waning.

    Thanks for recounting your time with this video artist. He totally is telling it like it is and yep, I’ve been schooled too.

    Glad his wife told him to not forget to tell the really true parts about creating something out of nothing and true authentic expression…a truth we all need to hear, especially churched folk who are conditioned to cover up our truth as it might be dangerous and heretical.

    You and I ought to have a phone date sometime. I’d love to hear what’s up with you these days!

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Thank you, Pam. I love it when a successful person confirms what I’ve long been saying, we can create because He created. So freeing. He was really kind of cute, in his h,ding back and then pushing forward.

      A phone date would be fantastic. I see the kid is off the school. Makes me nervous and a little heartbroken.

  • Andrea Cumbo

    Oh, Jen, how much I needed to read this tonight? How much I needed to hear a person who loves that Jesus guy say that it’s okay to make art that is true to the beauty and the ugliness of life, to hear someone I love and respect (without even having met her) say she is spurred on by these words. Thank you, my friend. Thank you.

  • Mellissa Thomas

    Wow. Thanks so much for sharing this – as a fellow creative (writer), I’m in the same boat myself, and questioned if this perspective was somewhat flawed or sinful on my part. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one, and that it isn’t necessarily wrong.