Terry Glaspey: I’ve been interested in writing almost as long as I remember. In grade school I created little 12-page illustrated stories that I sold to classmates for a quarter. And writing papers was the part of high school and college that I enjoyed most. I got started writing books when someone asked me to turn a talk I had given into an article for their magazine. They liked the results, and I wrote several more for them, which eventually became my first book, Children of a Greater God. That was over twenty years ago.
ECH: How did you become involved in the subject matter of 75 Masterpieces?
Terry Glaspey: I’m someone who found his life enriched by the arts—by literature, music, the visual arts, and film. And I have always been interested in the intersection between faith and creativity; by the way that religious commitment can be reflected in various art forms. I appreciate the way that art has a way of giving fresh perspectives to the message of faith.
ECH: What was your research and writing process for 75 Masterpieces?
Terry Glaspey: When anyone asks me how long it took me to write a book this large, I usually answer: “about thirty years!” Although the actual writing was accomplished over a two year period, the research was made up of notes I’d been taking on books, films, albums, and paintings for years. There were a few pieces represented in the book that required starting almost at zero on the research, but the majority of them were pieces I had known and loved and thought about for years. And I’ve always been fascinated by the stories behind works of art and by understanding the spirituality of the people who created them, so I definitely had a head start when it came to undertaking the project.
ECH: What were your goals and intentions in 75 Masterpieces?
Terry Glaspey: I wanted this book to do a couple of things: First, I wanted to introduce readers to the amazing creative heritage we have as believers. So many modern Christian books and movies and paintings are rather cliché-ridden and more about propaganda than craftsmanship and artistic nuance. I wanted people to understand that we have a heritage of artistic work that is much richer and deeper and more creative than they may realize. And I wanted to help send a message that the Christian perspective of the world is profound and real and that it can be the impetus for truly great art. Second, I wanted to encourage Christian creatives that they are part of an amazing tradition, and give them a sense of the various ways that faith has been manifested—whether clearly and subtly—in the various forms of art. Third, I wanted to do all this in such a way that the average interested person could understand and enjoy it. And maybe begin to learn to look and listen and appreciate art in a new way.
ECH: What did you learn from writing 75 Masterpieces?
Terry Glaspey: One of the things I learned in writing the book was to appreciate the great variety of ways that faith can be seen and expressed in artistic form. Sometimes it seems almost an act of worship, sometimes it consists in making the sacred story come alive, and sometimes it is about recording the honest act of struggling between faith and doubt. The greatest artists manage to find fresh ways to accomplish these things by letting us see through their eyes. The other discovery was that there was a faith element behind the works of some of the artists of which I had not really been fully aware before I began the study. For example, I knew Jane Austen was the daughter of an Anglican minister, but I didn’t realize the importance that faith played in her life, even if it was only subtly reflected in her novels. In fact, I discovered a small collection of prayers she had composed for use in family devotions that were very beautiful and not widely known. I arranged with a publisher to create a small book that contained these prayers and a short essay I wrote about Austen and her faith. This little book, entitled The Prayers of Jane Austen, was kind of a wonderful by-product of the larger book, and it is now in print as well.
ECH: What was the hardest part of writing 75 Masterpieces?
Terry Glaspey: The hardest part of writing the book was deciding what I had to leave out. I had started with a list of 101 works, and had to make cuts to fit the publisher’s page limitations. Each work I left out was a painful decision. (In fact, just for fun, and in the unlikely event I might be allowed to write a sequel, I recently created a list of 75 more masterpieces. And truly there could be another 75 beyond that!) The other challenge I faced was the difficulty of limiting myself to about 2000 words on each work. I could have easily written 20,000 words on most of them! But the brevity hopefully will draw in the more reluctant reader, who hopefully will later decide to explore further for themselves.
ECH: What books are you reading right now?
Terry Glaspey: I always have several books going at any one time. At present I am reading the latest book by theologian N.T. Wright, a book on the art of filmmaking, a book on how the theology of the Franciscans affected the growth of realism in Renaissance painting, and one on how the great “iconic” pieces of art earned that reputation. I’m also preparing to crack open the latest novel from Mark Helprin and want to revisit Susan Howatch’s “Starbridge” novels about Anglican clergymen.
ECH: What are your future projects?
Terry Glaspey: I’ve got several ideas that are nearing the stage of pitching to publishers, but I never like to say too much about them until I actually start writing them. One is about how beauty and the arts can be used in the apologetic task, another is on the spirituality of wonder, and a third would look at the different ways that artists have expressed their faith. The last is based on a talk I have given several times called “A Cloud of Creative Witnesses.”
ECH: How can readers keep in touch with you?
Terry Glaspey: You can keep up with what I am doing and read my blog posts at terryglaspey.com. I continue to be interested in writing about the intersection of creativity and spirituality, and this is one of the things I am blogging about on a regular basis. Thanks so much for your interest.