Newsletter: August 15 – August 28, 2018
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
I am driven by the principle of re-creating beauty in brokenness. My creative portfolio includes me being a visual artist, presently working in the mixed media of charcoal, ink and acrylic on various substrates. I have been an exhibiting artist around the U.S. since my early twenties. I am an author, having written an action-drama novel, entitled, Not Easily Broken, which is about a widowed father fighting to rescue his 6-year-old abducted daughter with his angry 15-year-old son alongside him. I also authored, The Purple Curtain: Living Out Beauty in Faith & Culture from a Biblical Perspective. Most recently, I authored, “Shadow,” in It Was Good: Performing Arts to the Glory of God, which is a chapter on the complexity and importance of good villainy! I have been a professor at Biola University for the past 12 years, teaching on Beauty and Spirituality and on Theology of Heroes and Villains. I am a regular speaker for conferences and workshops on the subjects of creativity, writing, and faith in the arts. Some of these workshops for writers, producers, and actors take place at the CBS studio lot and Warner Bros. I have five degrees, so I am and always will be a scholar at heart. My full-time work is pastoring a ministry called, Creativity Catalyst (www.creativitycatalyst.la), whose aim is to cultivate creativity for the good of human flourishing. We fulfill our aim in a two-fold function: to nurture the soul of the creative person and mobilize creatives to bring human flourishing in the world through craft and content. I’m also a kung fu master, teaching a handful of select students privately, while continuing my own training under my master Eddie Chong in Sacramento. I enjoy gardening and creating installations out of discarded items (ready-made materials). All that I am and am becoming aims to fulfill a life-purpose, which I foresee will never be achieved but can only be passionately striven for. Re-creating beauty out of brokenness for me happens when I try to minister to a troubled soul with my visual art. It happens when I help my readers navigate through their reality with my stories. I try to grant a more profound and robust view of beauty and creativity for the good of the world through theology and philosophy. It happens when I try to enlighten minds on how to turn a weak situation around with a kung fu technique, enrich the writers and producers of my workshops on the richness and purpose of writing for human flourishing, or provide pastoral guidance to struggling artists on finding grace, truth, and freedom in order to triumph and succeed. Re-creating beauty happens when I mobilize a group of creatives to bless those in need and the overlooked. But I feel the most creative things that I do happens with me being a husband to my wife of 19 years and a father to my son, whom we so proudly adopted when he was two but raised since he was 10-days old. I believe re-creating beauty is at the heart of God and will never be fulfilled in my lifetime but I try to do my part in this world and lead others on that path. People often ask me how do I do all that I do. I live by six principles. Firstly, I meet a lot of people who do a lot of things well! They just don’t recognize themselves as being multi-talented. It’s easier to look at someone else and think you’re not that (i.e. multi-talented) when you already are or perhaps more! So I think having a healthy view of oneself that’s neither over inflated nor under appreciated is important. Secondly, I follow true humanism, a view of the Renaissance period, where I think people can have the capacity to be many things. Da Vinci as a creative person par excellence exemplified that. It’s a special God-given capacity of the human being, allowing us to experience so much of life and who we are. I embrace that. Thirdly, I also funnel everything I do through my thematic life-aim of re-creating beauty, so to me it really feels like I’m doing one thing. It just has multiple facets for its fulfillment. I think it’s helpful to have a life purpose or life statement. It helps to make sense of all that we do and also to filter out what we choose not to do. My late mentor Howard G. Hendricks used to tell me, “What you say, ‘No,’ to determines what you say, ‘Yes, to.” So true. Fourthly, all of my art forms are a part of me. It’s like Jackie Chan’s character in “The Karate Kid” said, “Kung fu is in everything.” For me, art, writing, teaching, as well as kung fu are in everything. If I were not doing these on some professional level, I would still be doing them. If I aim to be good at what I do and maximize what I do with the resources I apportion for them, they will go somewhere. Fifthly, I live by being realistic and having proper expectations. I choose what is my full time work, which is ministry to creatives and changing the world with creativity. So I don’t expect my art or writing career to progress as if I were putting 60 hours into it, but it doesn’t mean it won’t move on some significant level over the course of my life’s narrative, if I commit to excellence, discipline and maximizing them with the portion of time I give to them. Therefore, I don’t beat myself up for not having achieved certain things by a certain time, which is easy to do in a culture where we gauge our success by comparing ourselves to others. I have to be aware of my own narrative and not live someone else’s. Lastly, I believe time is the one resource that can’t be earned or taken away. You can’t gain more time and you can’t lose it. Time is given and you can only manage it. Life is a miracle everyday and, as long as I am alive, I have time. Like a good artist who manages paint well on a canvas so to not make a muddy mess or a writer who manages words so to not make a convoluted garble, we are to live artistically by managing our allotted time to fashion a well-lived life.
How did you first become interested in art?
The arts started young for me. I made a pencil drawing for which I received recognition from my family. It was of an F-16 Thunderbird plane, which I copied off of a ball cap that my dad gave me from an airshow we attended at the Travis Air Force Base. That being my first “significant” piece is meaningful, because among my fondest memories are of me attending the airshows with my parents, sitting on my dad’s shoulders and watching the jets roar by. From that piece, my family validated my talent for drawing. I was 6-years-old. I think that early validation was key, encouraging me on a course in the arts and eventually taking it seriously. I began submitting for juried shows when as a social worker my supervisor supported my work and encouraged me to put myself out there. From then, I’ve exhibited around the U.S. in various shows. Then it was renown artist Julienne Johnson who affirmed my work and challenged me to pursue the artistic course more fully, which again made a difference in the decisions I made as an artist. I think the path of validations at poignant times in my journey mattered in the development of my artist life. My creative writing started in elementary school as well. I remember writing stories and reading them to my fourth grade class. I received a lot of attention and praise for my stories, which contained my own illustrations. Mrs. Parkhurst praised and encouraged my creative writing. Again, I think that early validation was key. Writing for me was, as J.R.R. Tolkien called it, a way to traverse in a ‘secondary world.’ I still have all of those stories saved in a box! And yes, I do once in a while crack open that box to look at my old stories. Kung fu started for me when I was seventeen. My two masters from Hong Kong of two different disciplines recognized my talent for it and invested in training me. There is such an art in kung fu that intrigues me. I’ve been a hip-hop dancer too, having competed in old school dance battles in San Francisco, but that’s a whole other story. Art and writing were my ways to explore the many life matters swirling in my spirit, re-imagine what life and the world could be, and venture into other worlds to understand my current reality.
How can art enrich a community, and what are some ways people can become engaged with art in Burbank?
I have a great example. When I was a pastor in Hollywood, my ministry served an innercity elementary school, and among the many charitable acts we did there, two artistic efforts continue to have a lasting impact. We painted three murals, a castle with fairy tale characters, a tree that encouraged dreaming and imagination, and a map of the United States (which was on the ground). Before these murals, the school appeared bare and worn. But we saw the effect it had on the children when we added artistry, creativity and beauty to their environment. They walked in smiling and excited. The teachers told us the paintings helped to change the children’s moods. The second thing we did was we purchased new text books on the story of Hugo Cabret for a classroom. One day while we were working on one of the murals, the teacher of that classroom came out to us to thank us with tears rolling from her eyes. Each of the kids had written us heartfelt thank you notes, saying how much it meant to them to have new story books. Art, beauty and creativity cultivate a sense of worth, value, purpose, and goodness in the human spirit. It reminds us that we are not bound to a context of chaos, meaninglessness, and indifference. The 20th century Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote that a society that loses sight of beauty also loses sight of the good. Truth, beauty and goodness go together. While food, shelter and clothing help the body to survive, art, beauty and creativity help the human spirit to thrive. We, artists, have a high calling and burden to cultivate and shape our community into a fertile place where the human spirit flourishes. That’s why I love the efforts of the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission and the Burbank Art Association, which I am a proud member of, to promote the presence of the arts in our city. Whether performances, spoken word, music, visual arts, stories, or gardening, the spectrum of the arts bears in my mind a sacred calling for artists to be brilliant and benevolent creative stewards of God’s good earth.
If you could share with our community one thing about art, what would it be?
Picasso once said that the arts is not merely for decoration, but rather the arts have the power to construct and tear down. Also, Madeleine L’Engle, author of, A Wrinkle in Time, wrote in her book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, that true art reverses chaos. Finally, my son Josiah gave an important quote. As he was about to turn 5, I took him to a hiking trail in Burbank. When we arrived at the trailhead, he came out of the car and said, “Wow! This is so beautiful.” I responded, “Yes, it is beautiful.” He said, “This helps my heart.” I think there are a lot of people wrestling with chaos in the world, in their lives, at their jobs, in their relationships, and in their hearts. I remember when I first heard about the tragic end of actor Robin Williams. It shocked and shook me. I grew up with him and saw him as an icon of a happy human, because of all the laughter he brought people, including myself. He used to give me one of those belly-aching laughs when you’re laughing so hard that your face turns red but no sound is coming out of your gaping smile. His death spoke to me that chaos and destructiveness is still very prevalent in our society, and much of it exists at a subterranean level, buried well below the apparent view of others. And sometimes, the chaos carries on with a level of profundity that alludes the comprehension of most, even its bearers. So I resonate with Picasso and L’Engle that the creative works have power to construct and reverse chaos. They have the power to re-create beauty in brokenness. But we also ought to be wary of the potency of creativity to bring harm and destructiveness. I resonate with my son, that beauty helps the heart. As creative folks, we have a calling to be diligent in sharpening our craft and creating substantial content. We have to dig beyond superficial perceptions or presumptions, which means growing in our own thinking. We have a responsibility to be disciplined, to conquer procrastination, distraction, or complacency. We should be sociologists, psychologists, historians, philosophers, and scholars to understand our city, our culture and our world better in order to know how to speak into it. And, we have to not merely generate great ideas which remains in the private realm of the dreamer’s mind, but we have to sacrifice time, energy, and resources to do the hard work of creating in order that others can experience what we envision. We, artists, move along a continuum of culture. Sometimes we’re in the center of mainstream culture, but more often we have to function from the margins, for that’s where we are most effective. It’s like the ancient prophets who spewed wisdom from the edges of society. Artists function from the margins of society in order to see what others are not seeing, say what others do not want to say and point to a light that others are not perceiving. In so doing, we help our city grow as a community and become a better place. Imagine a painting that constantly brings a sense of joy and hope to an office. Imagine a song that helps someone understand their pain so they can begin to heal. Imagine a story that helps someone navigate through their depression. Imagine a fashion designer creating a piece of clothing that helps someone feel the deeper meaning of their humanity. Imagine an actor incarnate a character that helps someone capture the person they can become. Imagine a poem that helps someone grasp hope amidst their dark space. Imagine a creative project that makes the light come on for a classroom of kids. Imagine a citywide arts festival that reminds everyone there is beauty and good in this world, despite what the hardships they’re experiencing. I would say to our Burbank community, which I love being a part of, let’s nurture creativity from the schools to the streets and from the galleries to the offices. Let’s raise up the arts of all media. Let’s create an aesthetic environment of what is seen, heard, tasted, and felt in order to cultivate beauty in the souls who dwell in this place
To find out more about Brian’s work, visit https://brianseechan.com/