An Introduction to a Life in Art

An often asked question is, “What is creativity?” A superficial definition might be “to relate two or more things that were not previously related. But this does not really explain the heart of the matter.

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Hello. My name is Gary Wilson, and I am a part of the Kingdom Winds Collective. I have been a producing studio artist for over 50 years, doing street fairs all throughout the Midwest as well as showcasing work in colleges, hospitals, and galleries. I have also been a college professor of art for 45 years, teaching courses in studio ceramics, drawing, art history, art appreciation, and creativity with an occasional foray into painting and 2-D design. During this time, I have wrestled with finding a style that is uniquely my own and have had the joy of helping numerous students find their own voice. As a passionate Christian, I have tried to convey biblically-based content that speaks both to the believer and the non-believer which has the integrity of Spirit-filled craftsmanship with the hope of releasing something of the Spirit.  This is a never-ending pursuit.

I believe in encouraging others.  I have had a long and successful career, and although I am still creating regularly, I believe it is time to help other fellow believers find their own unique voice. I taught in a secular college for 45 years, and there were things that I knew that I simply couldn’t teach because of the restraints of that environment. But with retirement, I can finally use my full voice.

My son is the Christian documentary filmmaker Darren Wilson whom some of you may know through his films Finger of God, Furious Love, Holy Ghost, etc. As a young man, he had many questions about life and communicating with integrity, and we spent long hours talking about what it meant to be an artist with your Christianity intact in a postmodern age which finds God irrelevant. I see these entries that I will be posting in the future as ‘fireside chats’ where a range of ideas can be explored to the encouragement of all. I do not claim to know all the answers, but a lifetime of reading and wrestling with art and meaning and faith have given me a perspective that might be of value to at least a few.

So with this hope in mind, we begin. I’ve never really understood blogs, and I don’t journal. I have no idea why a total stranger would want to sit around my campfire to warm themselves. But if you do, I hope that you will find something of worth. These entries will be somewhat random. At times, I’ll talk about artists from history, or the creative process, or content in painting. Sometimes they will be thoughts around a work that I have done. Sometimes I’ll talk about failure. The problem with being old (I am 71) is there is a lot of stuff rattling around in my brain, but it’s not well organized. So my campfire chats will probably reflect that. Thank you for listening.  

My first official entry will be my artist statement. I trust you will enjoy it.

Gary Wilson

An often asked question is, “What is creativity?”  A superficial definition might be “to relate two or more things that were not previously related.” But this does not really explain the heart of the matter. A creative work of art is the product of a drive to create something tangible which rises out of the artist’s unique perceptions of the world. To do this, the creator must be willing to know himself. Rembrandt once wrote, “Always remember, in your quest for an understanding of mankind you will find it necessary to begin with self-searching.” In the creative process, there are three basic elements: (1) the person, (2) the process, and (3) the product. True style in art means that the product is a true reflection of the person. The Florentine reformer Savanarola once said “Every painter’s work bears the stamp of his thoughts,” and, in a way, a man’s work is a portrait of himself–the product is a mind observed.

An artist cannot deny what he or she is. Thomas Wolfe might say you can’t go home again, but in reality, we can never leave home–we take it with us wherever we go. Only when we develop the courage to create and to face what we are can we truly begin to express ourselves creatively.

The artist Ben Shahn once commented that great art is not merely stimulated or inspired by life, but rather, it is compelled by life. Good art helps restore man to himself in his true meaning. Unfortunately, in much modern art, the artist has forsaken man at the moment of his greatest need to identify himself. Great art has always accepted responsibility; it has not deserted the human race.

With these two ideas in mind: (1) that an artist cannot deny what he is, and  (2) that art should accept responsibility, I have tried to put together a body of work that reflects these concepts.

I choose to work in religious ideas for two reasons. First, because I have been a Jesus follower all of my life. Man’s relationship to God and how this has been portrayed through the ages is of primary importance to me. My work is not meant to necessarily stimulate the faith of others, although it may. Rather, I desire to give free expression to my own faith. I believe an artist whose primary goal is to use art as a tract is not a sincere artist, although he may be a sincere believer. I believe I have inherited the spirit of the Middle Ages. The finest of these artists did not seek to create religious art. It was their nature or, perhaps, their way of looking at things, their way of feeling, of loving. Religion and life were one for them, and faith was their reason for living.

The second reason I work with religious themes is for the sake of the continuity of tradition. Most art has been religious, whether we are looking at an Egyptian pyramid or a Greek Zeus. Up until the 1700s, 90% of art dealt with religious themes. Only since the Age of Reason has secular art begun to win out. In the 20th century, there are precious few who work from a religious view. I don’t believe man has changed in his inner needs. We all look for a reason to live, for something to believe in. A philosopher once said, “In every man, there is a God-shaped void.”  It is that void that I choose to speak to. In a seemingly hopeless world, there is still hope.

The artists who have had the greatest influence on me have been Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Mattias Grunewald, and Ben Shahn. The periods that fascinate me most are the Northern Renaissance, Coptic Art from Northern Africa, and the Middle Ages. The hidden symbolism, the naïve style, subtle formalism, and intense faith captivate me. In my work, I have tried to capture the essence of these periods yet present them in a contemporary format.

I choose to work in several separate venues: For most of my life, I have worked in clay as my primary medium.  This included functional pottery but was primarily one of a kind vases and wall reliefs which portrayed biblical stories and themes.  These were often portrayed using a narrative storytelling style. Many of the works are somewhat autobiographical in nature, reflecting my personal musings and encounters in my pursuit of God. Since I have retired and moved, I no longer have an access to kilns, so I have switched venues to two-dimensional works such as drawings, paintings, and collage. Hopefully, these works will transcend private experience and will touch something deep in the spirit of those that encounter my work. I believe that “things of the Spirit are discerned by the spirit,” and it is to the “spiritual” man that I address my efforts (1 Corinthians 2:14).

In recent years, I feel that the role of my art is changing. I believe that the purpose of my art is to be ministerial, to bring healing and hope into a world that desperately needs both. My prayer is that God will touch all those who “pass by” and take the time to engage in the art and that a blessing will come with the encounter.



Featured and In-Text Images Painted by Gary Wilson

The views and opinions expressed by Kingdom Winds Collective Members, authors, and contributors are their own and do not represent the views of Kingdom Winds LLC.

About the Author

Now living in Simpsonville, South Carolina, Gary Wilson has been working as a professional artist since 1969. After receiving his B.F.A. from Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an M.F.A. from Michigan State University, Mr. Wilson taught as an Associate Professor of Art at Monroe Community College from 1971 until 2016, where his course load included Ceramics, Drawing, Art History, Art Appreciation and Creativity. With the help of his wife, Linda, Gary has participated in art festivals for over 45 years during the summer months and was also represented by galleries as well as hosting a large Christmas show in his home every year. Besides those responsibilities, Mr. Wilson was active as an elder in his church in Monroe, Michigan and he and his wife worked regularly with young adult ministries. Gary has won many awards over the years including “Best of Shows”, “First Places”, “People’s Choice Awards”, and countless others. His work has been installed in hospitals, churches, nursing homes, funeral homes and universities, including Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. With over 45 years of teaching experience, Mr. Wilson has developed a number of presentations related to clay, art history and creativity with spiritual insights into each. He has done workshops for many colleges, universities, artist groups and churches. His familiarity with art history and in particular the symbolism of Christian art give him an unusual perspective into the purposes of art. His presentation documenting his search for a style of his own is particularly appreciated by aspiring artists who are searching also for their style. Having developed a college course in creativity which he has taught for over 40 years, he is able to communicate to others how to take the mystery out of the creative process. Gary sums up his artistic purpose this way: “In recent years I feel that the role of my art is changing. I believe that the purpose of my art is to be ministerial, to bring healing and hope into a world that desperately needs both. My prayer is that God will touch all those who ‘pass by’ and take the time to engage in the art and that a blessing will come with the encounter.