Fuller graduates use their degrees to pursue callings as scholars, theologians, psychologists, and leaders in mission and ministry. But many have heard God calling them to other arenas. For alumnus Don Hatfield (MDiv ’73), that arena has been the visual arts. Based in Napa, California, Hatfield is, as expressed by one art gallery, “one of America’s greatest living impressionist artists”—with paintings displayed in galleries in several U.S. states, as well as corporate and private collections around the globe.
For Hatfield, painting is not merely a hobby or even a job; it is his God-given vocation. Moreover, it is one that he heartily enjoys: “Most of the time I am so happy I can hardly stand it!” he declares. But he is the first to point out that the path to discerning his calling was a long and difficult one.
The seeds of Hatfield’s art were planted during his time at Fuller, when he befriended a local portrait painter who took him under his wing and affirmed his artistic gift. Despite this fruitful mentorship, however, Hatfield felt the need to leave art behind upon graduating from seminary, focusing instead on pastoral ministry and providing for his family.
“Art just disappeared from my life,” he recalls, “but I continually went to museums and looked at art books.” Then, almost 10 years after his graduation from Fuller, Hatfield experienced a life-changing moment at the Art Institute of Chicago while viewing a painting by artist Giambattista Tiepolo. The beauty of that painting evoked in him an epiphany: Art was still his central passion, and he felt called to become a full-time artist. Relocating his family from the Midwest back to his native California, Hatfield obtained more training, and diligently worked for several years to achieve the impressionistic style for which he is now known.
Reflecting on the winding road leading to his present vocation, Hatfield recalls a painful time of rejection from pastoral roles that, he says, “fueled my anger at God and man” and caused a confused sense of his calling. After a season of healing, he now identifies himself with Moses, who in his youth was “spiritual, discerning, and anxious to follow God’s will. He cools down for 40 years, and then returns as an old dude to Pharaoh’s court with God-given authority,” describes Hatfield in his straight-talking style. “Like Moses, I have the beard—a goatee; I have the holy stick—my art; and I have God-given authority—the Holy Ghost!”
Though he acknowledges the difficulty of following God in the face of doubts and a lack of understanding from others for so many years, Hatfield says that through the challenges, he has grown in his vocational discernment. “It’s a slow learning curve,” he believes, “but the end is greater than the beginning in our great quest for Christian vocation.”
Hatfield now sees his life through the lens of grace, acknowledging that mistakes are part of the process. “Don’t let your failings disqualify you from your God-appointed vocation,” he urges those who are still seeking their call. “Vocational discernment is a state of grace and may not lead to a nifty job tag. It is about keeping your mouth shut and doing the ‘big obvious thing’ in your life—all else will follow.”
Reflecting on the twists and turns in his own personal path that led him to impressionist art, Hatfield describes God as the initiator and himself as the receiver all the way. “I did not seek God in this life—he sought me,” he affirms. “I did not believe in God—he believed in me. God discerns us—we don’t discern God. It is God who aligns us with himself.”
For this, Hatfield feels both humbled and grateful: “How God gets through to us is a mystery and a miracle, isn’t it?”
To see Don Hatfield’s art, visit his website at www.donhatfield.com.