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08 June 2010

Daniel Cooling - Arts

Daniel Cooling - Arts

Daniel Cooling studied at the University of the Arts (Wimbledon), has a degree in theology and has done postgraduate work in the relationship between theology and the arts at St. Andrews University and the London School of Theology where he is currently a part-time researcher. He has previously worked as a desktop engineer, church researcher, artist, handyman, librarian and bursar. Hence, he considers himself a jack of all trades.

He lives in Oxfordshire and also works as PA to Kim Tan at SpringHill Management and occasionally preaches, teaches, lectures, serves in the musical worship team in his church and enjoys gardening in his spare time.

As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

A veterinarian. Then an architect, interior designer, visual artist, rock star, church leader, husband. I'm having the most success with the last one. This year is our 10th anniversary!

How did you get involved in the arts?

My childhood seemed to always involve making things and those are the times I remember most. I had lots of creative opportunities very early on, whether with Lego, drawing, writing, playing with instruments, drama, costume design, church music, building bivouacs or using my very own bright-yellow 110 cartridge camera! I just seemed to gravitate to the inventive, but I do have a very vivid memory of sitting in front of Matisse's The Snail, aged 7, and making a copy. I was also particularly attracted to objects like the musty unfinished bits in my Dad's Airfix collection, which I loved painting, and was fascinated by disassembling and reassembling his foot-high anatomical model from his medical training days. It was something of a cross between Hirst's Hymn and Virgin Mother and I think that may have laid the foundations for an interest in life drawing which I first took up through school, aged 16. That was when I first thought of myself as an artist.

What is your vision for the arts?

Generally, that they be thriving locally especially in schools, and that Christians keep participating in them. More specifically, that we evangelicals become more theologically literate both about what the arts are and our engagement with them. I'm encouraged by what's already happening.

How do you reflect theologically upon the arts?

I try to reflect theologically through the arts as well as upon them. It's often both. This is a creative activity rather than a prescriptive one! I try and make time to engage with the arts consciously as an act of worship to God. Fundamentally one has to be open to the wildness of the Spirit. It involves discernment and wisdom as one listens to the work, prays, calls upon the insights of others, meditates on the Bible and asks the Spirit to do something with it all in and with me.

What do you invest in the next generation?

I've tried to see the fruits of what I do by looking further than my contributions to the bigger picture; such as investing in healthcare, education, spiritual formation and aesthetic experience. In terms of direct influence, I hope I encourage lots of good things in the children I have relationships with and that they know what it is to be loved and living in God just a bit more because of knowing me.

Who has been the biggest influence in your work?

I see my work as quite diverse, and so also its influences. In some cases the negative example of a few Christian leaders has been as influential as the positive, but concentrating on the positive, my wife and parents are vital. My current employer and research supervisor have played important roles, as well as previous teachers. Artistically I would highlight Marc Chagall if I could choose only one.

What makes you angry?

Hypocrisy and abuse within the Church, and organisations branded 'Christian' without letting Jesus shape their employment practices. I'm deeply saddened that 'Christian' employment is so widely regarded, even amongst Christians, as a byword for shoddiness, malpractice and incompetency.

Martin Luther King Jr had a dream for society. What is yours?

I have lots, but one is that the number of children in the care system would be dramatically reduced.

What is the main hindrance to living the dream?

No doubt the reasons are manifold, but surely the breakdown of families and communities contribute at one end, and the failure of more people to adopt and foster at the other. I often wonder why adoption and fostering is not more normal amongst Christians, given its richness as a biblical theme describing life with God.

What would you do with a million quid?

Subject to the Spirit I'd pay off my debts, help a whole list of people and organisations I wish I could do more for, invest in social enterprises, fund time to practice art again and endow work at the theology-art interface.

How can the arts increase wellbeing in society?

The arts have an instrumental potential to bring all sorts of change to individuals and communities, such as giving pleasure, provoking positive action, changing minds, challenging prejudice and so on. The power they have to stimulate the imagination for good is significant. Yet there is also a potentially intrinsic value in engaging with the arts, both as creator and recipient, because of the virtues and habits that such engagement necessarily requires. There is something fundamentally humanising about the arts, even if individual instances may not appear so. They provide a space for personal and communal formation, and perhaps most importantly God sometimes mediates His presence through them.

Tell us a joke

Q: How many visitors to an art gallery does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One to do it and one to say "Huh! My four year old could've done that!"