Saturday, April 23, 2011
I've had so many hits on my post about Akiane Kramarik that I thought I'd revisit the subject. I've been watching with interest some of the interviews posted with her and looking at some of her art again. It's a very interesting story, and part of the intrigue is the mystery surrounding her and her family's beliefs.
Akiane Kramarik is an incredibly talented young artist whose paintings can now sell for millions of dollars. She has been featured on Oprah, CNN, Good Morning America and many others. Part of the intense interest around Akiane is due to the spiritual nature of her art and her claims to have received her inspiration from visions and dreams, beginning at an early age. As a 3-4 year-old girl, she would try to explain to her mother what she was seeing. Finally she began to draw what she had experienced.
Her mother, seeing her obvious talent, began to provide her with the tools she needed to develop. By the age of 8, her work had begun to win her recognition. For samples of her work, listed by age, go here. What is really remarkable is that Akiane's parents were atheists, she was also home-schooled and her family didn't own a television. Yet Akiane continuously provided a stream of spiritually themed art. This plus her continued insistence on her encounters with God eventually lead the whole family to convert to Christianity, according to her mother.
This spiritual journey seems to have changed between this interview in 2006 and 2010. In a wide-ranging video interview in 2010 Akiane spoke of her family's spiritual journey, referring to her own beliefs as non-denominational, and stating that she has always believed in God, and still does. She has painted Jesus, angels and heaven. Much of her art is about people, and is often blended with her poems. She would probably not refer to herself as a Christian but as "spiritual." She writes of other dimensions which she has visited in her visions and dreams, and often puts these visions onto canvas; she says that she has been given glimpses of the future and of the past.
As a pastor, I'm often asked for my opinion about Akiane and people like her. Is she for real? Does God really show her visions of heaven and other dimensions? Has she seen Jesus? Is this what He really looked like? These last questions come from the mention of Akiane's painting in the book, "Heaven Is For Real." This is a book about a young boy who had a near death experience and began to share things with his parents which they hadn't shared with him. He also claimed to have visited heaven and seen Jesus. The painting of Jesus that he claimed was authentic was the one that Akiane had painted at age 8.
Setting that aside, here are some thoughts. Firstly, the modern church has had a hard time knowing what to do with the arts. Generally speaking, the church has tried to put people into molds and keep them there. If artists don't fit the mold, they're often treated very harshly. This seems to have happened with Akiane, as she has received very sharp criticism of her work, even when she was a little child. She refers to some who have told her that her artwork is "demonic" because it has dark shadows in it, and she should burn it. On almost every website you'll find sharp criticism from very outspoken "Christians." Seeing this, I'm not sure how I would react as a new Christian if people told me my creations were demonic. This may help explain her continued spiritual searching. She seems to be saying what Mahatma Gandhi said: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Secondly, I do believe that Akiane is gifted with natural talent, and the Bible teaches us that every good and perfect gift comes from God. What we do with that gift or talent is our responsibility. It seems that Akiane is a sincere young lady, trying to make the world a better place. I also believe that children seem to have a much keener sensitivity to God, and much of her earlier work reflects that innocence.
Finally, and here is the part that I hope is not misunderstood, anyone who makes truth claims will be called upon to defend those claims. As Akiane gets older, her belief system will, no doubt, be refined. It is one thing to say that you were inspired to paint a certain work of art; it's another entirely to say that God has revealed some new truth to you for the benefit of the world. When you make a truth claim you will inevitably bump up against others and that will cause friction.
The question is, does Akiane's art reflect God-revealed truth or is it the product of a fertile imagination. My guess is that it is a little bit of both. As a Christian, my frame of reference is Scripture. The same Jesus that Akiane painted as an 8 year old stated clearly, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) This is clearly a truth claim. It's also a large part of the reason that other religions have such a hard time with Christianity, it doesn't lend itself to compromise.
I, for one, will be watching Akiane's career with interest. She is a very gifted artist - who is doing very well for herself - and, no doubt, has a bright future. I do fear that her very narrow frame of reference (home-schooling, self-styled spirituality, and small management team) will keep her from having her beliefs tested. I believe in the spiritual principle that "iron sharpens iron," and that our experiences and beliefs need to be tested. I won't be rushing to judgment, however, it seems that there are enough people doing that.
Is Heaven For Real?
Book Review - "Heaven Is For Real"
Iron Sharpens Iron
What Is A Christ-follower?