Conversation: Ron Dicianni
Artist Ron DiCianni has collaborated on more than 50 book projects and is a six-time winner of the Gold Medallion Award for Excellence in Christian Literature. His credits include illustrating well-known covers for such books as This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, a compilation of works honoring 9-11 heroes and a portrait of President Bush. Ron and his wife, Pat, make their home in Southern California. They have two grown sons, Grant and Warren. AG News Editor Dan Van Veen spoke with DiCianni about the completion of four murals depicting the cardinal doctrines, or defining truths, of the Assemblies of God.
tpe: What was your reaction when you were commissioned to paint these key murals for the Assemblies of God?
DICIANNI: I received a call from AG Communications Director Juleen Turnage. After the project was explained to me, I knew God had brought this to me.
I spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation and seeking God as to what would deliver the four cardinal doctrines to this generation. I didn't want to do something that was merely documentary or merely beautiful, but something that would cause people to say, ÒI never saw myself in that situation, but I do now.Ó
tpe: What themes came to mind as you worked on each painting?
DICIANNI: As A.W. Tozer said, somehow, somewhere, we have replaced the message of repentance — ownership for the death of Jesus Christ and personal abandonment of our own wills — for a promise that God will become our railway porter, someone there to serve us. I wanted the salvation piece to show true repentance means you and I take responsibility for the fact Jesus had to die a cruel death on a cross for your sin and mine. What will we offer to God for that tragic act on our part? The only thing He will accept — that we believe Jesus was and is the only Son of God, and that salvation is found in Him alone.
Stories of the healing hand of God are abundant in the Bible. But sometimes healing doesn't come even when we cry and plead for what we know God can do. Rather, we should care about what God wants to do. I wonder what might happen if, as Jesus is passing by us every day, we might reach out with the faith that says, ÒI want Your healing, but only as You choose to give it.Ó I wanted that painting to illustrate total abandonment to God.
The baptism in the Holy Spirit described in the second chapter of Acts has been the subject of debate among Christians for as long as I can remember. But if we believe the Bible is true, the Holy Spirit is still working as only He can. We have been given the power of the Spirit, but too often we're content with limiting it to the evidence of speaking in tongues. That painting points to the Holy Spirit as longing to reveal himself in His full glory and power. We need to be a people who are anxiously wanting Him, not just the experience He provides.
The painting of the second coming of Jesus Christ points toward the event of all events. Does the thought thrill you or send shivers of fear down your spine? Whatever your answer, that is the litmus test of your life. There is no Ògray areaÓ or ÒI hope so.Ó If we truly believe Jesus is going to come again, how should we live?
tpe: You've said that you felt the Holy Spirit was with you through the 16 months it took to create the murals.
DICIANNI: There were times when I would step back from the paintings and look at them and wonder who did them. I'd see things and think, I don't even remember doing that. Many people don't know I have a torn rotator cuff in my painting arm. The pain can be excruciating. But I painted these 9-foot murals and there was no pain at all. In the middle of this project, my doctor told me I needed heart surgery. God spoke into my life, and I knew I had nothing to fear. I had had the surgery once before, and it took me seven months to recover. This time, I didn't even need a week for recuperation. God not only strengthened me, but He healed me.
tpe: For decades, the arts have almost seemed taboo in the church, with many Christians/churches shunning them for fear of possibly appearing worldly. How do you respond?
DICIANNI: I don't believe it's a fear of being worldly as much as a fear of going back to a stage where we have the abuse of worship of images and statues. Stained glass and statues were originally created to communicate to the pre-literate masses. Art is all about communication, not adoration. No one should adore my art, but adore the Savior — the point of my art.
The world now owns most of the visual media. Instead of the church using these media in the correct way, the church has abandoned them and the world has grabbed them. We've withdrawn from these major means of communication, and now we're playing catch-up.
tpe: What do you think about today's Christian art?
DICIANNI: There's no such thing as Christian art or movies. We all use the same medium. The paintbrushes are neutral — they can be used to paint foul things or be used to paint things that glorify God. Cables and cameras are neutral as well. Do you drive a Christian car? No, but you can drive people to church in that car. The key to glorifying God through your life is totally abandoning yourself to God. You can't live an immoral life and then paint a godly picture, or live like the devil and then preach a good sermon on Sunday.
tpe: How would you encourage Christians to become involved in Christian expressions of the arts?
DICIANNI: Oswald Chambers said, ÒAbandonment of ourselves is the kernel of consecration — not presenting our gifts, but presenting ourselves.Ó We are crying out today for people who are abandoned to God, and thereby their gifts come along. I can't abandon myself to God and hold my gifts back — they come along.
tpe: How do you overcome discouragement or artistic Òwriter'sÓ block?
DICIANNI: I can't paint unless I'm convicted, unless God makes it a reality in my heart. When that happens, it's like I have to run to catch up with God. When I find myself running ahead or falling behind God, then things don't jell. But one rule I have is that I never accept a project until I pray and get God's open door. When you pray, when you abandon yourself to God, it's funny how quickly those writer or painting blocks disappear. Yes, I have tough days and I do get discouraged, but I learned you work through those days on your knees.
tpe: Any final thoughts?
DICIANNI: If you are like me, you have been praying and weeping for God to help you impact those you care about, whether that be your family, friends or the people that cross the threshold of your church. In putting these cardinal truths of salvation, divine healing, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the second coming of Jesus Christ in visual form, God has given us a powerful tool that could potentially change the course of lives forever.
I recall the story of a lady who walked into a Christian bookstore only minutes after the owner unveiled my painting of ÒThe Prodigal.Ó She purchased it immediately. Stunned, the owner began to wrap it up, only for her to ask him to wrap it for shipping instead. He tried to explain that his store didn't ship things, but she persisted. ÒI want this to be at my son's casket tomorrow. He was a prodigal!Ó
Upon hearing the story, I can only wonder what might have been the outcome if her son had seen that painting while he was still alive. God is challenging His church in a new way, a visual way, which these paintings are part of.