The Theological Art of Youthwork

“Art gives us a taste of creation and restoration, of the beauty that was God’s original intent for the world. Art that points back to creation and forward to redemption is thus truer that merely imitates our fallen present. The values embodied by art are inescapably religious; art makes theological statements”  (Vanhoozer 1993 (on Calvin), in Vanhoozer 2002)

“Youthworkers do not merely deliver youth work, they define it, interpret it and develop it. It is what youthworkers think, what youth workers believe and what youth workers do in practice that ultimately shapes the kind of experience and learning that young people get” (Kerry Young 1999)

“Works of art that are not remote from common life, that are widely enjoyed in a community, are signs of a unified collective life. But they are also marvellous aids in the creation of such a life. The remaking of the material of experience in the act of expression is not an isolated event confined to the artist and to a person here and there who happens to enjoy the work. In the degree in which art exercises its office, it is also a remaking of the experience of the community in the direction of greater order and unity.” ( and good?) (John Dewey 1934;84)

“Art re-creates the creative principle of created things” – Boal on Mimesis  in Poetics (2008)

In a way, that final word, Mimesis is something to consider at length, in regard to this whole discussion. If Mimesis is to ‘re-create’ and Youthwork as a performance of art is a mimetic action – then what does the youthworker re-create in their artistic performance. Id say that goes back to Kerry Young, its values, philosophies and beliefs that are re-created as actions in the moments with young people.

In Ricoeur (2010, trans 2013) – in relation to hermeneutics, Ricouer describes Mimesis as not the duplication of reality, a copy, but a Poiesis, that is “fabrication, construction, creation” (p62)- which on one hand he goes on to say that Mimesis is the non-ostensive reference to the literary work, in other words the greek term for the disclosure of a world (ibid). 

If a poem creates a world ( Ricoeur p62) and this requires a language that preserves and expresses its power in specific contexts, what then the artistic youthworker created in a world, using spoken text, language and power in a specific context?

Thus the Youthworker as an artist, could be said to be mimetically creating, or disclosing a new world which is shaped by the philosophy of youthwork; common good, human flourishing, equality, education etc, a world that requires interpretation by young people, or at least understanding of meaning. In 1960 the albemarle report stated that the youth service should not offer something packaged, – a ‘way of life’ a ‘set of values’ a ‘code’ as though these were things which came ready-made, upon the asking, without being tested in living experience..if they feel the need, young people must have the liberty to question cherished ideas, attitudes and standards and if necessary reject them” (HMSO 1960;141,142)

In the way that values shape the art of the youthworkers performance, so it is that young people ask, critique, reflect on the world that is created by the youthworker in that space. It seems a long way from the outcome focussed desire that is put on youthwork today, where it exists at all in this way.

Moving swiftly from the philosophy of youthwork to the re-creation of the performance of the Theo-drama, Kevin Vanhoozer would also argue that this the church, ie the people of the church, are meant to be far from an exact copy of Christ, and a memorial to Christ, they are instead to be an “active mimesis of the body of Christ” – that is to be active worshippers and imitators of Gods grace in gratitude (eucharist) and the reality of the already/not yet presence of Christ in our midst. (Vanhoozer 2010; 410) The Sacraments act as mimesis, a mimesis of word and Spirit, enabling participation in the eschatological action, being drawn into the action, whilst also enacting past events in the present. (Vanhoozer 2005:413)

In considering Mimesis – the artistic re-creation the creative principle, im drawn again to the 5 acts of the Theodrama, as in the first we have the creative acts of God in Creation, second the God who covenants, the third the God of presence, intimacy and specific place in Jesus, the fourth the God who empowers, sends and becomes universal through his Spirit, and fifth the God who restores and reconciles once and for all. For Christian youthworkers, to perform mimetically is to re-create, re-improvise according to the Biblical acts of Gods whole story to his created people, to do theological art, to disclose new worlds.  Disciples who play Christ in new places must therefore be not replicators, nor innovators but improvisers, performers of parables of the kingdom.









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