This is a continuation of an interview conducted with writer/actor Cameron Strittmatter. See Part 1 if you haven’t already.
You know we talked a lot about your faith and the gospel. How does your faith influence your art, if at all? Which I believe you mentioned that it does. A follow up question to that: You said that what intrigues you is darkness and mystery and that at the center of your artistic voice comes the fact that death has been conquered. How does your faith coincide with your intrigue of darkness and mystery in your art?
Not another painting by Cameron Strittmatter
Yes, so. Part 1: My faith, has influenced my art insofar as, as I come to understand my purpose as a human. Being called to make disciples and to become more like Jesus. That seems to be the big thing, the big deal that everyone’s talking about in those gospels. It takes you back to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” So as an artist or as anything – And I think that I’ve been given this fun archetype as “eccentric person.” – People will believe me if I say I’m an artist.- To pursue that to excellency. That anything less, is being bad at being a human. You’re wasting something. You find yourself at an odd impasse knowing that everything will be restored and everything will be wonderful. And then at the same time worried that you’re not going to provide something wonderful. It’s a curious juxtaposition. So yeah, my faith directly influences that, in that not only do I want to create but I want to get better. And I know that that’s a process that will never stop. Which is cool. And I don’t think that there will ever be a finally christening moment but only that we’ll be getting better as we become more like Jesus. And I don’t know what infinity looks like but ahh!
*Head explosion gesture*
I just had an aneurism. My nose might bleed as I think about these things. So yes, a call to excellency is one thing, and as a christian, we have the freedom to do what we do best. Because it’s impossible to not communicate the gospel. That’s another thing, As far as your terms “Implicit vs. Explicit”, Implicit faith within work of any sort results in communication of the gospel.
Whether that’s art, or labor, or craftsmanship, any kind of care shown. If you have faith, it is displayed and a person comes to know who Jesus is by your actions. That way I think that its our obligation, but it’s not really an obligation because there’s no stopping it, the more you thinking about it, and reading about it, and praying, you just start broadcasting the gospel! Faith, art, yes.
Without faith, art even lends itself to, because I remember before that, my art had very little direction and wasn’t very good, not to say that those without faith can’t make good art, that’s just ridiculous, but that art speaks on the absence of it. There’s no escaping the central conversation of Who is Jesus? And your art will display your answer to that regardless of your faith. Yeah so. That’s polarizing.
Your second question was how does darkness… what?
Expound upon the relationship between your interest in the darkness and mystery and, what you stated earlier as, “At the heart of death lies an empty tomb.”
Yes. And so given that purview, that death, while frightening, doesn’t have to be avoided. And I think, having the hope of the gospel, allows you to kinda take off your life jacket, when contemplating darker things, and go for a swim. And even if it does – I’m not saying that it can’t destroy you – You will not be lost, And I think that’s a thing that the non-believer is at risk of doing. When you contemplate these things, when you look over the edge of your boat and you try and figure what’s swimming down there for too long, eventually something is going to investigate you. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s a creepy image.
I just think that being a believer there is less to fear in examining your fear and communicating it. And, I just like scaring people.
I love being scared. I think that we are created to have an awe, and a holy fear of God. And little tiny fears especially when are created for a pleasure response, (which is a weird thing) lend themselves to that itch we can’t quite scratch. Again, I’m interested in a Cosmic fear. Sort of a Lovecraft-ian just uh, bigger than terror sort of thing. Again, it ultimately reflects a creator that we cannot know, at least not completely, but we do know that he loves us. And that there is security and therefore just a lot of fun to play around with uh things that normally have fangs and horns. Yeah.
Awesome, that’s exactly the type of answer I was looking for.
Are you recording this?
What is the last good film you have seen?
Oh, that’s easy, The Grand Budapest Hotel. I loved it. Oh my gosh. Have you seen it Dan?
I have seen it! What did you like about it?
Ralph Fiennes performance is just so outstanding. And he’s this bizarre pansexual deviant. He never denies his homosexuality, while at the same time he openly displays himself as a brutal slayer of old woman sexually. And just really enjoys sexually satisfying old ladies. So, you’re at this intersection of where his sexuality is really a non-matter. You learn all of his flaws: his quick temper, his willingness to permit murder so he can escape prison. At the same time you see a love and a camaraderie form between him and Zero.
All of his (Wes Anderson) films I really enjoy because they’re pictures of these people that refuse to live the way the world has ascribed to them. And it’s about everyone’s reactions to that one special person who lives the life that they seem to envision is correct and everyone else is like “This doesn’t seem to match up with what I’m observing!” So I think his movies are about crazy people. And I really identify with that, because as long as you’re persuasive enough you can convince everyone else around you that something incredible is happening.
And just in his love for zero, what was his name? M. Gustave?
I think so.
Yeah, the way he acted out his love and affection for the people he held dear, was weird and christ-like for me.
But he knew that he was probably going to get shot on that train and just like did it anyway. Because he was like “This is a non-issue!” Anything that he had he just gave up. And I just thought, “This is a really weird, and beautiful communication of the gospel.” God uses broken and bent sticks to make straight lines. It really reminded me of that. And then there’s the inherent charm in any of Anderson’s films.
Oh yeah. He always has a wonderful cast. I love good acting. I love good directing. When you put those together, you’re going to have solid work.
I love how, even if he says they’re foreign, that if the actor can’t do the accent he tells them to not even try. Like Ed Norton who’s just like “Hey guys.” It’s kind of childish that way in that these nice american people are like “Yeah, I’m from… Berlin.” There’s a wonder in his films to beauty and to peril.
I have a friend-he’s a musician- and … it’s actually my roommate, Justin. He was talking to me the other day and he said, “ The great difference between children and adults, is…” And this goes back to the topic of insanity, “For kids, anything can happen!”
You don’t know what to expect in a day. That expectancy? Pffft. I don’t know! Starts to dim as you get older. So when it happens it goes from being interesting to upsetting. I wrote about that a little in the ghost story. I was reflecting. It’s semi-fiction. I was just dealing with weird stuff going in my house. And I was like “This is scary.” Because I didn’t know!
To bring it back, Anderson, his films are just full of awe and wonder. And he has his adults behaving like children. But in a splendid way, not a childish way.
Now two: Divergent.
(Here cameron goes on a huge tangent on the film divergent, which is worth noting someday but in fact is very long and tedious and not exactly on topic. So we will save it for another blog post.)
What music are you listening to?
Right now I’m listening to Beck’s latest album (Morning Phase) .
It’s really good.
One of his finest. Again, it just really stands out, because there’s this feeling of mastery. That he’s taken this thing of senseless lyrics and just trippy music and combines them. I think the secret with him is he’s always been expressing something. He just hasn’t be using the english language to do it. Not the traditional way anyway. And this one seems less random. The lyrics seem pretty random. But I see mastery budding up, also its just weird to be inside the head of a 3rd generation scientologist when they’re an amazing artist. It is bizarre. I don’t know how seriously he takes it, but that always occurs to me.
But oh gosh the album rules, you’ve heard it?
Yeah. I like it.
Usually when I write I listen to music but if the lyrics are too prevalent I tune it out. That’s why I don’t like christian music, it seems as though they turn the vocals up a few notches.
I know exactly what you mean.
They’re right in the front, and I’m like bluh okay! Yeah so for Beck, it’s not important what he’s saying as long hes making the mouth noises. I think he does for english what Sigur Ros does for icelandic.
That’s funny you say because that’s who I’ve been listening to. There’s an emotional truth that they can communicate through their music that doesn’t require me to understand what they’re saying.
Yeah, totally. Also I like Beck’s album because its horrifying. It’s filled with horror, and I mean again like the awe of something terrible coming. And it’s reflected through the monastic chanting sound to it. You know what I’m talking about.
Okay. So I’ve been listening to Beck, and just a lot of rap.
I’m not even joking. Ellie Goulding is like my number 1 when it comes to just delicious to listen to. She’s not rap, but still good. Do you know who Andy Mineo is?
My favorite thing is, looking around, culturally we’re at a really weird time where – I thought this tension would take a little while before it started to snap back. But a spiritually starved community starts shooting out spiritually charged artwork. You got like, NOAH, other films, and like good christian rappers who can take on most mainstream rap artists.
It’s certianly surprising to me to see how many talented rappers are coming out and producing great stuff.
Yeah! So Andy Mineo, and guilty pleasure stuff like Will.I.Am. One of my favorite lines from his songs is “I look in the mirror and I say ‘you’re the shit, you’re the shit’ g*ddamn it, you’re the shit, you’re the shit.”
Wow. Does he really say that?
Yeah. It’s great.
How do you worship?
There’s only one form, and its where you stand in church and sing along in with a band.
That’s what I do. Can I tell you this? Ever since I was going to church with you and Tim back at Reynolda, when I wasn’t even a christian yet, somehow I made a decision that I was never going to be the guy with his arms in the air. Like while now I think emotionally and spiritually about the past restraining thing. It turns out I just don’t do that. But I am jamming really hard.
But worship, I think, kind of ties into true religion is this: to care for the orphans and the widows. You know what I mean? Worship is how you live. Back to love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind. Worship is inescapable as a Christian, you can never be not worshipping. I think not worshipping is in fact just bad worship. There’s no such thing as no worship, you’re just doing a shitty job of it. How many times have I said “shit” in this interview?
It’s implicit in everything that you do. Which takes us back to art, and I think one of my favorite ways – even in how I pray, because sometimes I have a hard time just closing my eyes and thinking out whole sentences to God. Sometimes if I just write it out like a letter, but not even letter, just like spoken conversation, I’ll just write without perceiving some sort of spiritual understanding or response, because I never hear a booming voice that’s like “YES, CAMERON, GET A TOYOTA CAMRY.” I find that that sort of time for reflection works. I think that we are designed differently in that we should worship however we’re good at.
That’s what’s so weird. There are so many people out there and everybody is good at something. Even if its something stupid. I think that as a Christian you should figure out what you’re really good at and get even better at it. And use that as your main focus of worship. Don’t worship it. But use it to worship because then it will do amazing things no matter what it is, art or otherwise.
One last question: Does God like your art?
So, scripture says that when he looks at me, all he sees is Jesus. Because of what Jesus did. So I am bound to think that God likes what I’m up to. When it glorifies him.
Is it in revelation, where it talks about even the boats of tyre being brought into the new kingdom of God? But the gist you see is the best that mankind had to offer is accepted and brought into the new creation so what you see is people working hard at what they’re best and offering it as their first fruit to God and God going “Nailed it, keep going.” You see at the beginning he goes, “Okay Adam, be creative, name all these things. I made em, you’re going to name ‘em. What are they called bro?” and Adam going “Uhhh… Leaches.” And God going “Great!” and leaches being “Yeah! leaches!” I just wanted to use the most alienating animal as an example. You see this joy that God has in watching us act like him creatively. So as an artist, it is mandatory for us to create if we are to look like proper Christians. And the So I think that God likes what I’m doing as long as I’m focused on him, because I mean the art is good but it falls second to who he is. My art would be meaningless without Christ. While I am hardwired to do art, I am not my art. That’s another hard thing as an artist, but that’s for another talk.
I had such a blast talking to Cameron. He is a fantastically creative fiend and a huge encouragement in my artistic pursuits. You can check out his writing at his blog here.