Resistance is Never Futile!


Helping Artists Find Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape

Geoff Hall, author and film-maker in Bristol, UK, began his journey into the arts as a child, playing drums on a biscuit-tin.  From living-room band and 60’s pop songs, to aspiring songwriter, Hall’s journey took a sudden detour when his local church would only support him if he became a worship leader—minus the biscuit-tin! “The thought of this shook me to the core. I didn’t want to play or write church music, but wanted to get ‘out there’ and be part of the rich conversation in the cultural domain.” Inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the German resistance against the Nazis, and Jacques Ellul, of the French Resistance and a writer of great insight and spirituality, Hall’s heroes formed his credo: resistance is never futile! Ten years ago, when an art student who attended his church told Hall that her college had warned her that faith was inappropriate for one of their students, Hall knew he had to respond. “I focused on writing, but God let me know that I had to respond with more than prayer, by rolling up my sleeves and doing something.” A monthly meeting was set up to provide encouragement and space for artists to share their work, presenting it before other artists in an open critique (discussing merit, technical problems, approach, etc.).  Cultural critique—of the current art scene, an artist or film director—helped artists discern belief systems, worldview, and the cultural direction of their work. “The Group,” as it came to be known, grow to over 60 artists around Bristol and South West UK.  Although he didn’t know it at the time, Hall had just added a new facet to his career: mentor. Hall focused on the spiritual, artistic and professional development of the artist.  Churches had little knowledge of or creatively-specific support for their artists.  Sometimes working within local institutions of spirituality and education, The Group found its niche outside the walls of the church, working with and supporting each other, building community, under Hall’s mentorship. “In fact some members of The Group tell me that this is their church, not that I aspire to be a church leader!  However, I provide a non-judgmental, discerning critique and mentoring service.  The majority of artists with whom I work practice outside the institutional church.  These artists use a totally different language, because an artist who speaks in an ecclesiastical idiom becomes culturally dislocated from the world by that language.” “In the Group we explored how faith informed our work, gave direction to it, and what our work conveyed about life. There is no divorce between spirituality and medium, nor spirituality and the life of the artist.” The original focus on visual artists expanded to include word, image and performance arts.   In the late 80’s, when Hall moved to Bristol, he established a creative community, capitalizing on the talents of those associated with The Group.  He studied at Bristol Polytechnic, majoring in Art History, with a dissertation on ‘Iconoclastic Disorders of the 16th Century’.  In the 90’s, while working as a photographic curator, he received his MPhil degree at the University of Exeter. In 2007, an exhibition entitled ‘Set All Free’ at the Grant Bradley Gallery (http://www.grantbradleygallery.co.uk/) included painting, sculpture, installation, ceramics, photography and poetry.  A gospel choir packed the place out at the Preview, to the astonishment of the proprietors. Between 2007 and 2009, ‘The Tree House,’ a monthly café event, provided space for dance, fashion, film, performance poetry, live music, cultural critique, a philosopher’s corner, and talks on visual art. A website went up in 2010, hosting a number of articles written over the last 15 years, including material penned while Hall was Arts Editor for a South African magazine, ‘The Big Picture’.  Hall plans to add to the library on the site, and release two free electronic editions of essays in 2012: ‘The Spiritual informs the Aesthetic’ and ‘Art to the Max’. (http://upptacka.com/) ArtsMentoring.Co developed organically, helping artists find spiritual direction in a postmodern landscape.  Today, some 70 creatives of all genres meet together in South West England to inspire and encourage one another, and impact their society. As Andy Rankin, of “RankinStones”  (www.flickr.com/photos/rankinstones), writes: “Geoff has provided both structure and insights into exploring my journey as an artist. He is deeply knowledgeable about the process of creativity and the challenges of revealing oneself to the world. I find him authentic, joyful and a pleasure to work with. I leave our sessions more purposeful and connected.” From Personal to Cultural Transformation In addition to mentoring, Hall provides lectures on the arts and spirituality, and has written numerous articles on the arts along with a series of books on spiritual direction, “Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape.” In this series, Hall visits the current cultural landscape in search of the spiritually-attuned artist. “Much of contemporary art is focused on the material; on the ‘process’ or ‘concept’. There are a few, however, whose work is a search for something deeper. The Group is open to all, but we have a slant to it: Christian spirituality. Many artists are searching, and are not closed off to this.  With the Tree House, our ‘slant’ comes to life, and is embodied in the life and work of the artist.” His second book, The Cultural Way of Being, moves from the personal to the communal, offering encouragement to those who want to know how their work can become culturally formative.  The book, rooted in 21st Century culture, seeks to help artists see the misdirected accent on relevance today, to “show how our work can change from being personally expressive to culturally transformative. Our aim should not be relevance, but credibility.  Relevance is fleeting, credibility endures. “Part of being a contemporary artist is uprooting the humanistic view of the bohemian, reclusive individual and developing a form of Christian artistry which is culturally connected to community, as well as spiritually at work like pinches of salt or a batch of yeast in the (fallen) dough of life and art. “Personal transformation leads to cultural transformation only if the artist is part of a spiritual community. I’ve explored this in ‘The Cultural Way of Being;’ it is a great foil to the current fixation in the West with the autonomous individual!  Through community we become culturally formative.” The third book, ‘Translating the Invisible Wind’ has just been published, and can be ordered at http://upptacka.com/shop. From Transformation to Restoration Cultural restoration is based on a Kingdom which opposes the trend of Postmodernism’s despair, with its disaffected artist. In the current landscape of fractured lives, Hall’s heart is drawn to walking in community and authenticity with everyday life, creativity, and people. “The deformed image of the self is part of the focus of the fourth book in the ‘Spiritual Direction’ series, “The Artist’s Autobiography.”  My publisher and I believe this will cause the most controversy, as it attempts to ‘clear the ground’ of synthetic Christian spirituality; i.e. Christian syncretism with Humanism, Nihilism, Gnosticism and Materialism. “My experience of church has led me to concerns about worldview and language, and the retreat of Christian spirituality into a sub-culture. I’m not sure that what we have today is what Jesus had in mind. When I see the response to his institutional days, at Synagogue, I am confronted by the murderous intent of those who rejected his teaching. His move to the highways and byways showed a different kind of communication, the story of everyday life, the parable form. We tend to use the language of the synagogue in such public spaces and wonder why people don’t respond to our invitation. “The language of Jeremiah’s calling may resonate with some artists: ‘Today I have appointed you over nations and kingdoms to UPROOT and TEAR DOWN, to DESTROY and OVERTHROW, to BUILD and to PLANT.” (Jer. 1v10) The picture of clearing the ground before restorative building and planting doesn’t just mean a different way of communicating, but a different way of living. The life of the artist may echo in some way the heart of Jeremiah’s calling and we need to get behind such people and support them, as the terrain is difficult… “Good, powerful, subversive Christian artistry is the art of the subtext. Want to tear down a stronghold? Then build a tunnel, don’t build a siege machine!” From Mentor to Filmmaker? Hall sees part of his ongoing role in The Group as facilitating the connection between artist and culture : “…good art will create an imaginative response in the viewer (and listener) if it creates a place for them to dwell, to participate in the narrative. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit…” Upcoming events include film projects (see Handy Cloud Productions www.HandyCloud.com, where “the spiritual informs the material”), more Tree House events, and possible synergies with other groups in the UK who are exploring reconciliation between arts and church. Contact Geoff at geoffhall1957@live.co.uk , and visit his websites for more information on mentoring, The Group, cultural critique, lectures, books, and films. Twitter: @ArtsMentoringCo web: http://artsmentoring.co blog: http://thegroup.artsmentoring.co Writer: http://geoffhall.co.uk Film Company: http://www.handycloud.com Publishing: http://upptacka.com Unorthodox blog: http://upptacka.net Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/123948337619696/ Film Production: https://www.facebook.com/MyNameIsSorrow and http://mynameissorrow.com/ (for our human rights film project).

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