The Art Minister


For most of the past thirty years, up until I retired, I was an art professor. I taught drawing, color theory, art history, design basics, the lot. And, because it is part of a professor’s job, there was a certain amount of what in the UK is called, “Pastoral Care.”

Students would come to my office to talk about improving their perspective drawing, and end up discussing their perspective on education, and the job market. They would begin by asking for an extension on an assignment and end up talking about their father, who was dying of cancer. They would begin by asking for help with taking notes in class, and it would turn into a heartbreaking account of their breakup with their girl/boyfriend.

Sometimes they would come asking for advice on how to get along with a fellow member of faculty and we would end up discussing the use of tonality to describe lighting conditions, or the best type of charcoal to use for figure drawing. It cut both ways.

Then I retired, and just because it was a habit, I looked through the student reviews at the end of my last semester, and one particular comment made me smile. “Professor Becker is really very good, but sometimes times he gets a bit preachy.” I put the paper back into the Manila envelope and said, “There’s a reason for that, Sunny Jim.” Because the truth is, for the past twenty years or more I have been a preacher, a pastor, a minister. An Art Minister.

I have been an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church Monastery since 2013. Mostly because for years I have fought shy of admitting that although Art is central to my life and who I am, I’m not really sure if I can call myself an artist. Unless in the same way a Vicar of the Church of England is by definition a Christian*, as a preacher of art, I am necessarily an artist. I called myself an artist, but really I was something else. One of my friends says I have the soul of a Pastor. Trust me, I wish I didn’t. But I’m afraid he is right. Or, as my daughter put it, “You didn’t choose that dog-collar. It chose you.”

I do make art. I always have. But it seems that what I am really good at is helping other people make art. Mostly I help them become better artists, in a technical sense. What I try to do, though, is make them happier, better people, by being artists. But apparently it doesn’t stop at art. I seem to have this annoying habit of answering yes, when people ask me if I could do something for them. I said to my wife a week or so ago, “I wish I could be more selfish.” She agreed. But she also knows as well as I do that it’s quite hopeless. The reason my students came to me for help was because they knew they would get it. Unquestionably. The reason I worked myself to emotional and physical exhaustion as a teacher was because I was good at it. And no matter how much I protested, I loved it.

So now, instead of teaching art and doing a little Pastoral care, I intend to be a pastor, and do a little art teaching. Because for me, they are the same thing.

If you look at the home page of the Universal Life Church Monastery, you will find the following two sentences: We are all children of the same universe and Do what is right. Other than that it is up to the personal belief of the ULCM Minister. My take on these two ideas are we are all children of the same life, so let’s act like it. Embrace life fully. And as a natural result of this, Don’t Be A Dick.


*Something I have never really felt was quite necessary for C of E vicars.