DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Art as a Change Agent

Written by: on October 18, 2018

This era of hyper focus – and even addiction – to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and google images reinforces Dryness’ premise that visual images are their own substantial narrative.  Dyrness, in his work Visual Faith (Engaging Culture): Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue focuses on the importance of introducing/reintroducing the visual experience as a tool in worship.  Much like Pink’s writing in Doing Visual Ethnography, both authors recognize the value of visual images and advocate for their integration into all facets of our daily life.  “Science shows us that our brains are wired to respond first to visual input. Images are the pathway to human emotions, and emotions govern how people make decisions.”[1]  Isn’t it interesting, then, that China has blocked all forms of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter)?  Clearly, the Chinese government has an understanding of the power of images coupled with a fear that what is shared on social media could disseminate information and images which are harmful to the Chinese culture (social order).  For example, “China banned the photo-sharing platform (Instagram) after pro-democracy protests rocked Hong Kong in 2014”.

I struggle to understand the rationale behind the decimation of art in the reformation – “The Protestant Reformation during the 16th century in Europe almost entirely rejected the existing tradition of Catholic art, and very often destroyed as much of it as it could reach”.[2]  Readings on the reformation imply that art was nearly banned because of iconoclasm, which is defined as:[3]

the action of attacking or assertively rejecting cherished beliefs and institutions or established values and practices.

the rejection or destruction of religious images as heretical; the doctrine of iconoclasts.

I question how much social control the protestant reformation was trying to exert, and why?

As someone who has a deep appreciation for all things art, I appreciate Dyrness’ efforts to educate on its importance in the faith journey.  “A large body of research indicates that visual cues help us to better retrieve and remember information. The research outcomes on visual learning make complete sense when you consider that our brain is mainly an image processor (much of our sensory cortex is devoted to vision), not a word processor. In fact, the part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images.”[4]  Not only are visual cues important, but tapping into all five of the senses can be even more impactful.  This reading by Dyrness connects well to concepts in Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God by Gary Thomas.  Thomas shares nine sacred pathways (spiritual temperaments) which help human beings connect to God in unique ways (listed below):

  1. Naturalists — love God best outdoors. These people worship in the midst of God’s creation. They celebrate His majesty and discover spiritual truths through nature
  2. Sensates — love God through their senses. These people worship through sensual experiences — sights (like art), sounds (music), smells, and more
  3. Traditionalists — love God through religious ritual and symbols. These people worship through traditions and sacraments of the Church. They believe structure, repetition, and rigidity, like weekly liturgy, leads to deeper understanding of God and faith
  4. Ascetics — love God in solitude and simplicity. These people worship through prayer and quiet time, and the absence of all outside noise and distraction
  5. Activists — love God through confrontation, fighting for godly principles and values. They worship through their dedication to and participation in God’s truth about social and evangelistic causes
  6. Caregivers — love God by serving others, and worship by giving of themselves. They may nurse the sick and disabled, “adopt” a prisoner, donate time at a shelter, etc.
  7. Enthusiasts — love God through mystery and celebration. These people worship with outward displays of passion and enthusiasm. They love God with gusto!
  8. Contemplatives — love God through adoration. These people worship by their attentiveness, deep love, and intimacy. They have an active prayer life
  9. Intellectuals — love God with their mind and their hearts are opened up to a new attentiveness when they understand something new about God. These people worship through intense study, apologetics, and intellectual pursuits of their faith.[5]

Thomas believes that all people fall into one or more of the above temperaments in how their deep connection with God occurs. The first two temperaments (Naturalists and Sensates and maybe even the third Traditionalists), are all directly connected to visual images and all five senses.  Emotions can be dramatically evoked by tapping into senses – everything from anger and fear to joy and sadness.  If I were to label myself, it would be as a naturalist.  I find deep spiritual experiences in God’s creation – especially mountains, wilderness, and wildlife.  Even though it’s not a piece of art per se, it is a visual feast of God’s creation.

Imagine the impact of media portrayals (via images) of the Somali refugees resettled in Columbus, Ohio.  The Christian community is deeply divided in their political beliefs surrounding refugees, and images and videos may drastically alter thoughts and opinions.  It is a disservice to refugees around the world when images are not being utilized to empower and embrace refugees, rather to show their struggle and anguish.

Images are powerful – are you in any way complicit to utilizing images in a way that harm rather than help?  Do you recognize the impact and importance of images (and do you use them in your ministry)?  I personally will self-evaluate to ensure that images I use fully represent the heart of Jesus.  “Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster than politics.”   Victor Pinchuk







About the Author


Jean Ollis