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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Church Aesthetic Do's and Dont's

I get asked about the overall art and aesthetic of Westwinds often. I feel like I’ve written quite a bit about the "why’s" of art and beauty but I haven’t given much attention to the little decisions I make that fall more in the taste and preference category.

The following post is not a “philosophy” post. It’s a simple “methodology” post. It’s my quirky rules for aesthetics at The Winds. I won’t explain myself too much. These are “my” rules. There may be more I forget but these are the biggies.

1. It themes like you over-thought this—you don’t need a reason to change the aesthetic. If you’re bored, if it feels old, if you get a new idea, they all work. Don’t let theme dictate what you do and certainly don’t live under the tyranny of sermon theme. An aesthetic built around the church in Corinth or Mother’s Day is most likely going to be silly.

2. Reason for the season—One of the things that get old are aesthetic choices that have been done to death and are easy to anticipate in the season. Think outside of Christmas trees and wreaths if you are doing something for Christmas. Or, rethink the tree and wreath. What hints at a tree that isn’t a tree? What looks like a wreath that isn’t? There a list of “go-to” items for every season that I tend to avoid all together. If you can find it in the WalMart seasonal section, I stay away. For the most part.

3. Recycle—I like to think of aesthetic pieces as things I can reuse in other ways if I can change it up enough on round two to look different enough. The plywood that gets painted is the plywood I cut up for planters and repaint and the planters get disassembled and become canvases, etc.

4. Man, you’re cheap—yep. I don’t like to spend over 100 bucks on any aesthetic.

5. Small is dumb—About 15 years ago we decided to put up clocks on every wall. Clocks of every kind. We worked real hard to get donations and borrow from people. We ended up with about 50 clocks. Seems like a lot until you put them on four walls that are 20 feet high. Think it through. We needed 500 clocks for it to work. 50 looks like a garage sale. 500 is breathtaking. If we can’t go big, we don’t do it.

6. Don’t do the same thing twice—enough said. Stretch. Don’t settle. Keep ‘em guessing. Creativity is paramount in everything. It's one of the ways we shadow God.

7. Everything has potential (except raffia)—Things that are “crafty” don’t translate well. If you want your church to look like a school craft fair, go ahead and use raffia and ribbon. I want my church to feel like a museum or an exhibit as opposed to a Hallmark store.

8. Symmetry is dumb (sometimes)—make things interesting. Group in threes or odd numbers. Symmetry can work but only on large scales. If you have two of an item, it is not enough. One on each side of the stage looks like a high school play. Get 15 of those items. Again . . . go big. Symmetry isn’t as bad when things are large scale and don’t have one focus point.

9. Don’t build sets—yuck. Don’t think of your space as a stage and a room. Sets are for plays. Make the rest of the room interesting. Draw attention elsewhere. Create eye candy everywhere there’s space. Don’t make your stage the focal point.

10. Permission to paint please—the paint on our walls almost qualifies as another wall. You have to do it. It has to be able to change.

11. Cafeterias are for eating fast, hospitals are for dying—Unfortunately, many have church buildings that were designed for function with no attention to a philosophy of space or beauty. As such, many rooms have white walls with nothing on them. Then, we expect people to come in to a room and sing with energy. The only white barren space I want to sing in is the shower.

12. Decorations are for drugstore windows—decorations are streamers and plastic tablecloths and figurines and knick-knacks. We don’t use the word. Decorations are gimmicky and limited expressions.

13. Get HGTV or at least buy a magazine—you can get inspired by other ideas. It’s really okay. Or, let an idea inspire you and help you improve upon something.

14. Then there was light—all vibe is about good lighting. The right light makes it awesome. The wrong light ruins it. Find someone passionate about lighting and give them some freedom to make the world a better place.

15. Packaged art and décor is yucky—make your own stuff. This is huge for us and part of a deep conviction we have that we like to express as “growing our own we.” We are suspect of things made "over there" and then brought willy-nilly "over here" because where they came from ought to tie directly into the unique situational requirements for why they were made in the first place. Because ministry comes from within you, we want our people to make their own stuff. "Indie" is cool. We don't copycat, and we hate pre-packaged items/materials. If God is really alive and at work in you, then what you do ought to flow out into your own expression and brand of ministry.

16. Your art doesn’t have to have an end goal—Don’t do with aesthetics what CCM did with music in the 80’s and 90’s. Not all art has to lead people to fall on their knees and pray to Jesus after a first viewing . . . or . . . any viewing. We take art seriously - it's much more than either advertising or propaganda, it's creativity made flesh in honor of the Creator. It’s a signpost, a response, an act of worship, an expression, etc.

17. Everything with excellence and care—We work toward version 4 of every idea (an initial concept, plus 3 rounds of revision). Everything is subject to peer review. Every first-draft gets push back. We don't like things that look like they didn't take too long to make. This is why we steer away from things like clip art, crafts and craft-y things, clutter, homemade flyers, crayons and markers on posters, etc.

18. No such thing as good enough—God is worth our best. Period. If you find yourself making art that is good enough and it isn’t your best effort, it will most likely show and it will definitely begin to influence others to do work that is . . . good enough. You can’t expect your staff and others to turn out great art and work hard unless you are willing to do the same.

19. Use your screens—Don’t forget to use your screens as part of the aesthetic. Great aesthetics are often ruined by crappy things on screen that don’t belong with the rest of the feel.

20. Change it up—Just because.

21. Many artists. One vision.—It’s great to get a ton of people involved but creative collaboration does not work in the midst of creating an aesthetic. Decide beforehand what you will do. Cast that vision. If someone suggests something in the middle . . . listen. But, someone needs to have the final say.

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