A Painter's Story
"Like the story of the prophet Jeremiah, mine began before I was born. My mother, now eighty-four, tells me that while pregnant, she had decided to terminate the pregnancy. Before the doctor had the chance to begin the procedure, apparently with an injection, she said she heard God 'speak' to her, telling her that He had a plan for the baby inside her. She pushed the needle away at the last moment, walked out, and never looked back.
"While she was not a Christian at the time, my grandmother, who lived with us, was. I have to believe that my grandmother might have been praying from the moment my mother left the house that day.
"Throughout my growing years, God began to make my artistic gifts and His calling to use them for Himself clear to me. Once, at a youth evangelistic meeting with probably 1,500 - 2,000 teens in attendance, the evangelist picked me out from the middle of the auditorium and called me to the front. He asked me if I was aware that God had chosen me. I said 'yes,' wondering how I was to explain this to the other kids on the van ride home.
"In 1967, I met a girl who would later become my only date and my wife, now of twenty-five years. Pat kept reminding me of the call for my life and demonstrated her belief in it by giving me my first set of paints and an easel.
"In 1970, after high school and one year of college, Pat and I decided to take a leap of faith and enroll me in the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Since my parents could not afford the tuition, Pat and I worked after school to pay the yearly fee. I was a church janitor, while Pat worked for an insurance company. By God's grace, I was accepted into the school. Pat and I agreed to test our decision with a six-month trial period. After six months, the instructors applauded my hard work and invested themselves in me. (I will always be particularly grateful for the years I spent under the teaching of Bill Parks, who to this day continues to monitor my career). Pat and I decided I should stay for the three-year course.
"God honored our decision with heavenly help, since it was shortly after this that my father died. I was called into the office about a week later and was told by the president of the school, watercolorist Irving Shapiro, that someone had donated money to the school, and they wanted to apply it to my next year's education. I thanked him in light of what had happened to my dad, feeling that his gracious offer was out of sympathy, to which he replied, 'I didn't know your father had passed away.' Looking back, I realize that God was providing a way to keep his plan for me on track.
"In my first year, one of my instructors who was a Christian shocked me when I told him that someday I would devote my talents to the Christian community in hopes of being involved in a second Renaissance. His response was, 'It will never happen.' He explained that, in his view, the Church was uninterested in aesthetics and that there would be no budget or support for my art there. I would be better off taking my talents to the secular industry (ad agencies and such).
"For the next eighteen years, I found out, sadly, that my instructor was right. The Church had no apparent interest in using art for anything more than decoration. My career consequently went in the secular direction and prospered beyond my wildest dreams.
"Although I had left agents in Chicago, I had the privilege of acquiring the Leff Agency to represent me in New York. God blessed me with this husband-and-wife team who were very devoted to me and to this day remain friends. (Thank you, Jerry and Wilma. You will always hold a special place in my heart.) Through their representation, I began doing paintings for some of the world's largest and best-known companies.
"I was awarded the honor of being the official illustrator for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The agency that hired me for the work came to Chicago to pick up the painting and told me that '99 percent of America will know your name after this.' Surely this was God, I thought. A few months later, as Pat and I were watching television, a news bulletin interrupted the program and President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States would boycott the Olympics because of international human-rights issues.
"Pat and I sat there in total shock and disbelief. That was to be my year, and that's not exactly what I had in mind! But we later found out that God is in even the seeming reversals of our lives. Had the Olympics gone through, I would almost certainly have chosen a different road and missed God's plan for me. I must admit, I couldn't see that at the time, but that's why I have come to regard Proverbs 3:5-6 as one of my life verses: 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight' (NIV).
"My career continued, and my work was now starting to travel internationally and mounting more than I could have ever believed. While I was certainly pleased with my success, there was always a longing to do what I had known was placed in my heart twenty years earlier. That passion had not abated. Little did I know that all of the work I was doing was merely the training ground for what was to come. Ten years ago, that all changed for me.
A Clear Call
"In one of my quiet times before the Lord, I distinctly heard His 'still small voice' saying that now was the time I had been waiting for. Since I was so consumed with prior commitments — and a little stunned to suddenly hear God say, 'Now!' - I made a feeble attempt to move in that direction. In fact, I responded with a casual request: Would He put the plan together (in a big way, of course) so that I could step in at my convenience? My personal observation on obeying God's call: If ever things are going too well for you and you would like that to change, then, by all means, give God the response I did, and things will certainly change! God humbled me and brought me to my knees in repentance.
"When I came back to my knees in the spirit of obedience and servanthood (about two months later), I told God that I was willing to do anything He wanted. (That was the pain talking, you realize!) Nevertheless, I was ready for marching orders.
"Then God impressed the thought on me: 'What if it isn't even you I am choosing for this Renaissance?' I came back to my knees and asked the Lord to at least give me the privilege of ringing the doorbell of the one He had chosen, and I would bring His artwork back. God gently spoke to my heart and told me that I was the one but that I was not the only one He was choosing.
"Since that time I have spent years doing all I could to disciple other excellent Christian artists who are successful in the secular market. One of the fruits of that commitment was the MasterPeace Collection, which I cofounded and oversaw for a number of years. Our new company named Art2See is an expansion of that original vision God had given me.
"I believe that Scripture is filled with enough creative and imaginative eternal subject matter to keep an artist or filmmaker busy for many lifetimes. One of my favorite verses to fuel my creative juices is John 21:25: 'Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have have room for the books that would be written'.
"To my dismay, I have not always sensed that the Church is convinced that God is in favor of the arts a legitimate way to communicate the things of God. I am comforted when I read Exodus 31:1-6, which records God's desire for the arts in His tabernacle. 'Then the Lord said to Moses, See, I have chosen Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts — to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver, and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you' (NIV). It makes sense that the Author of creativity can impart that to His children. In Ephesians 2:10 we are called God's 'poems' (poeima). Imagine God using an artistic term for His own creating!
What It's Going to Take
"In the Renaissance, the arts were effectively used by the Church. Because the Church was the major producer of art in society, godly messages pervaded that society. God was visually declared with each work of art. Look around today. Can you think of a society that could use a dose of that more than ours? Experts say that sight and sound have become preferred means of learning, apart from entertaining us. Isn't it time we saturate our society with messages worth seeing and hearing? Dr. Calvin Seervald said, 'Whatever arena Christians withdraw from goes to Hell.' The arts for the most part have. We need a second Renaissance. This certainly is one of the untapped resources to fulfill Mark 16:15, where Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel.
"In order to spread the Good News through art, we need to honor some foundational principles. Passion for the mission and our world's needs. Christian artists often ask me what they are supposed to paint, hoping for a 'marketing' clue to good sales. I answer with this question: 'What makes you weep when you are on your knees before God? That is what you are supposed to address in your work!' N.C. Wyeth said, 'You can only paint out of conviction.' After my first two decades of painting for money, I have found this to be true.
"I believe that if you have been gifted with artistic ability, you are responsible to develop it to the fullest. Anything less for the Author of Excellence is not acceptable. In fact, I believe that many times the Gospel is rejected, not because of its content, but because of its poor presentation!
The Right Focus
"I believe that painters and every other kind of artist have a choice when executing the finished piece. They can either cause you to focus on what they painted or on how they painted it. They cannot do both with equal power. It has often been said that Norman Rockwell (one of my favorites) always caused you to see what he painted, instead of how great his craftmanship or technique was. It would be rare for a person to view 'Doctor and Doll' or 'Saying Grace' and be more struck by the fancy brushwork or creative use of composition that by the emotion of the scene. Similarly, I hope that my work will make you look, but more important, make you see! As a speaker aims to tell you the truth, I am to show you the truth.
"Recently a kind lady said, 'Do you know what I consider you are doing your work? I think God is using you to give us another translation of the Bible! Just as we have different versions of Scripture, you are putting it in a visual translation!' I nearly fell off my chair. May it be so, under God's perfect timing!
"It is my hope that as you read this Beyond Words
, your view of God will be as lofty as He deserves and that His presence will be closer to you than ever before.
"Please pray for me and all artists when you can."
-- Ron DiCianni