From Fishing For Zen to Fishing for Men: a book review.

I am artistically reclined. I have enough talent and creativity that people sometimes notice (good genes!), but I don’t have much to show as far as artistic output. The reason is only partly talent and vision. It is also about execution (inspiration and perspiration!). One the best things I can say about Douglas Mann’s book The Art of Helping Others: How Artists Can Serve God and Love the World is that it makes me want to get off my butt and make something beautiful and compelling. Mann is a visual artist and activist but he isn’t urging us towards propagandist art or art for art’s sake, whatever that means. He has a generous vision of how great art reflects reality and a peculiar sense on how a Christian artist’s reality shapes their creative process. Mann calls fellow Christians, creatives, artists and activists to a lifestyle of creative incitement.

Before Mann was a visual artist, he was a  published songwriter and music business and publishing executive (for Integrity and Navpress).  He was good and successful at his job, but he felt God’s call towards full time mission work. Now he splits time between Colorado and the Ukraine. He describes his road out of life as a music executive as a Damascus road experience where God met him and set him on a new path. Stepping away from a lucrative career was risky, but it was also spiritually enlivening. In the process he learned to trust God more, and recaptured some of his God-given creative vision.

Mann looks at art and activism (and the Spiritual life ) in three movements. Part one, aptly titled ‘Awareness,’ describes the call to the arts–something worth losing everything for.  Mann exhorts us to join in the call to creative incitement by contrasting what it means to be ‘fishers of Zen’–introspective artists seeking places of contentment and comfort, with Christs call for us to be ‘fishers of men’–looking for the in-breaking Kingdom of God and inviting others to the feast. While a certain amount of ‘fishing for Zen’ isn’t bad (who doesn’t want comfort and contentment), ultimately it is antithetical to the gospel call of self denial and discipleship.  Part two delves deeper into what it means to make ‘Art. Mann advises us about the creative lifestyle (a life of intentional tension). He talks about how art transcends propaganda and narrow schismatic boxes. and speaks winsomely about the freedom to ‘create dangerously’ as Christian–entering into the heart of culture creating rather than messing around at the margins. Part Three explores activism. Artists enter into the brokenness of humanity describing reality through art. God also enters into covenant with ordinary human beings (a shady lot) and calls us to emulate the way of Jesus in entering into the creative process in order to serve the world. That is, the telos of great art takes us beyond the realm of personal aggrandizement and invites us all to something far richer.

I like this book a lot. There are books which give a more detailed theology of the arts. There are also books that describe in greater detail the creative process. What makes Mann’s approach great is how inspiring it is. He is careful to give a peculiarly Christian understanding of the arts (and activism) throughout the book. However this isn’t a ‘narrow’ book. It is an inviting book. Mann will make you want to create better art and live a more compelling life. I felt inspired by Mann’s prose and recommend this to artists and activism including us artisitically reclined slacktivist varieties. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author or publisher via SpeakEasy and agreed to write an honest review.

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