The Essential Art

Published 12:05 pm Saturday, October 17, 2015

by Andrew Book

What a person considers art varies a lot from person to person and culture to culture. The Greeks are still known today for their sculptures (often nude), the Renaissance painters are known for their classical style and modern artists have a variety of unique flairs that appeal to (or disgust) different groups. Tastes in music, theater, movies and all sorts of art vary similarly, but there is one art that is essential in every time period and every culture: the art of communication.

Now, some people might not consider communication an art, but I suspect those people are unaware of how often they are failing to truly communicate when they talk, text, email and even post on Facebook. The challenge of communication was brought home to me this week as part of our current search for a new director of Music and the Arts at Courtland United Methodist Church. Over the past month, we have shared the job description (available at, if you or someone you know might be interested in leading our music and drama ministries) and several people have expressed interest. As those conversations have progressed I have realized that somehow, despite carefully crafting the job description and other emails, central parts of the position had not been communicated. As I have thought about the miscommunications, I have been reminded of how much our assumptions play into what we hear and say. Communicating in a clear and compelling way is an art. It is hard. It takes practice, work and skill. Sometimes we fail, and just like a painting that needs to be set aside, we can look at those failures and learn something more about how to practice our art.

Ben Franklin was a student of the art of communication. His relationship with the preacher George Whitefield illustrates how highly he esteemed those who were artists in the area of communicating. Franklin was clear that he did not believe what Whitefield preached. He said, “we had no religious Connection. He us’d indeed sometimes to pray for my Conversion, but never had the Satisfaction of believing that his Prayers were heard.”

Despite his disbelief, Franklin frequented Whitefield’s sermons. The reason? Franklin enjoyed the art! He said that Whitefield’s practiced sermons were so enjoyable “that every Accent, every Emphasis, every Modulation of Voice, was so perfectly well turn’d and well plac’d, that without being interested in the Subject, one could not help being pleas’d with the Discourse, a Pleasure of much the same kind with that receiv’d from an excellent Piece of Music.”

Whitefield was not just enjoyable to hear but also effective as a communicator. Franklin tells of how, over the course of a single sermon, he went from his initial place of resolving not to support an orphan house to consenting to offer his loose change to, finally, emptying his pockets in support of the venture! Communication is an art to be enjoyed as well as a tool that allows us to impact the world around us.

The story of Ben Franklin and George Whitefield provides a great example of both the art and power of communication. Too often we think, “I said it, they should understand.” Yet, when faced with the challenges of truly communicating, simply “saying it” is often not enough. We need to be able to “say it” in a way that is going to connect with the person we are trying to communicate with. We need to get past the different assumptions we all bring to a conversation, work through the non-verbal part of communication such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures which have a major impact on what we hear from each other (think about the difference in saying “you really love me” in a sarcastic tone compared to a loving tone). Communication can be especially hard with family we know well. We have so much history together that we constantly read into what the other person is saying — even if our assumptions are wrong. In fact, a failure to study the art of communication plays a large role in why many marriages end in divorce.

At the end of the day, each one of us has to decide how important it is for us to truly communicate. Does it matter enough for people to truly understand you that you are willing to listen to what other people think you are saying and adjust your practice of the art of communication accordingly? After the recent misunderstanding about the director of Music and the Arts at Courtland UMC, I have the choice of saying, “I said it, they should understand,” or I can go back and review the job description and make changes so that I am communicating more clearly. I am hoping the edits I made will help the job description to communicate better.

I suspect there are relationships in your life that are suffering because of some communication failures. I hope you will take the time to think about how you can better practice your art of communication — I can promise you that your life will be better the more effectively you are able to communicate with those around you!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or