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

Does the church neglect the gift of artistic expression?

Written by: on September 13, 2015

I can’t say that I’ve ever been considered creative or ‘artsy’, beyond decorating and gardening. However, recently, my opinion on art has been shifting and I have begun to more deeply appreciate the personal reflection of the artists thoughts, feelings and ideas as portrayed in their artwork. Dyrness, in his book Visual Faith (Engaging Culture): Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, writes about the way that art has influenced and can be leveraged by the church. Art is an effective medium through which culture is influenced and people are drawn to a shared vision or understanding about a concept or idea.  Since it is such an effective medium, one would think that the church today would embrace this as a way through which to spread the Gospel message.  Although there are some individual churches where art is supported and appreciated, the protestant church doesn’t widely support and propagate art.

Theological reflection is simply the practice of naming and describing the major commitments that guide thought and action.[1]  Most people are influenced by things that they see, hear, taste, smell and experience. Have you ever walked into a church that is different than your own, and your experience is foreign even when the message preached isn’t significantly different? Like visual art, words and language are also a form of expression. “There are three ways people are drawn to God: through affliction, religious practices, and by the experience of beauty.”[2] Take, for example, the pastor that uses words like ‘wesleyan-armenian’ and ‘sanctification’ versus the pastor who uses words like ‘faith history’ and ‘transformed by Christ’. People respond differently based on their culture, experience, and exposure. I’ve grown up in both a formal Methodist church with stained glass windows and beautiful artwork depicting pictures of Christ. In many ways, this informed my knowledge of who Jesus was from the time I was a small child. Going to church was a formal affair, and we dressed up to show respect for Christ. Today, our church is very modern and people come to church dressed casually. The experience is musically and emotionally intense, but less visually intense than what I experienced as a child in the Methodist church. While there is a place for musicians to practice their art, there are few opportunities for artists of other mediums to practice and promote their talents.

Dyrness asserts that “the church and the experience of beauty and loveliness appear to be estranged and that the role of the church has been supplanted by art galleries (or theaters). The experience of worship— prayer, praise, and participation in the sacraments— provides for believers the opportunity of responding to the gracious presence of God with the whole of their beings.”[3]. I have a son that is musically gifted and motivated by his visual surroundings. Like his mother, he is inspired by his surroundings. His inspiration is found in a distinct connection with certain aesthetics that draw him. Instead of separating the art of the culture and his worship practice, he exercises his expression of art in all contexts and his faith is reflected in church and out of church. Faith is personal and therefore his art is an expression of the message the Lord has given him for the world. People come and are blessed each Sunday by the form of art that my son practices on Sunday mornings. He may not be painting elaborate murals, but he captures human and spiritual experience through his musical expression.  He is sixteen and beginning to explore avenues to prepare and help him pursue music as a career.   We have found that very few Christian colleges or universities offer the rigor and experience necessary for him to excel in music as a career beyond that of a worship leader. Those that do, have put many resources into their programs and have recognized that musicians need to connect with opportunities in the greater secular world beyond the church.  This is the same for other art programs.

Dyrness addresses an issue concerning the role of the church within the world of art. God has gifted certain individuals with the ability to spread His message through art. “A carefully wrought and intelligent object or painting, when it is patiently observed, opens up windows on the human situation in a way that other cultural products cannot.”[4]  Over time, support for those gifted in the various forms of art has dwindled. Preachers have the gift of motivating and captivating an audience, and appealing to their emotions through the spoken word. Painters do this through their visual representation; musicians through their song and sound. In all examples, the artist needs time and support in order to practice their craft. This requires financial resources and a venue in which to share their gift. This is where many churches are failing. A couple of years ago, I took a trip through the Vatican and was captured by the beauty of the art, and the way that it captured human emotions and drew me into spiritual reflection. In my own community, the Columbus Jewish Foundation (http://columbusjewishfoundation.org) and the Wexner Foundation (http://www.wexnerfoundation.org/blog/everyone-can-be-an-artist) place much importance on art, support artists, and propagate theology through artistic expression. In comparison, the protestant church has failed to adequately support the gifts and talents that the Lord has given so many of His people. Dyrness states, “God’s people need to recover their visual imagination.”[5]  I’m not sure that visual imagination is what is lacking, rather the church hasn’t resourced and supported artists so they have taken their art elsewhere.

[1] Dyrness, William A. (2001-11-01). Visual Faith (Engaging Culture): Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Kindle Location 1605). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Dyrness, William A. (2001-11-01). Visual Faith (Engaging Culture): Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Kindle Locations 388-389). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Dyrness, William A. (2001-11-01). Visual Faith (Engaging Culture): Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Kindle Location 401). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Dyrness, William A. (2001-11-01). Visual Faith (Engaging Culture): Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Kindle Location 401). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Dyrness, William A. (2001-11-01). Visual Faith (Engaging Culture): Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Kindle Locations 3057-3058). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

4 responses to “Does the church neglect the gift of artistic expression?”

  1. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, You definitely caught a key thought here … “There are three ways people are drawn to God: through affliction, religious practices, and by the experience of beauty.”[2] I too like Dyrness’s approach to bring art back on the radar although, like Mary notes, it seems biased toward more classical art than a broader era of innovation, creativity, and imagination that I think we are in today. In many church planting contexts, I am really seeing the arts as a means to connecting to and relating with culture and seeing God do some amazing things through more creatives than the past twenty years.

  2. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    “God’s people need to recover their visual imagination.” I’m glad you reflected with that quote. At some point last year, I remember Jason saying we need to recover our imagination. I had to ponder that for quite awhile as I asked myself what he meant. Then it occurred to me as you wrote about your son, someone similar to my artsy-creative daughter, that I re-learn imagination by watching my daughter and now my grandchildren who are uninhibited when it comes to that kind of expression. Most of what we learn comes by watching someone who has something that we desire (mimetic desire)….it seems art can touch some of those same core places in our heart and soul…drawing upon the imagination.

  3. mm Brian Yost says:

    “I’ve grown up in both a formal Methodist church with stained glass windows and beautiful artwork depicting pictures of Christ. In many ways, this informed my knowledge of who Jesus was from the time I was a small child.”

    Who would write a children’s book without visual images? Most kids can go through their favorite books and tell the story with remarkable accuracy. They remember and engage themselves in the story by following the pictures. I have watched children sit in a sanctuary with stained glass windows and stay occupied experiencing the story. The story told through art informs them more than a sermon that they do not understand. I wonder if we are robbing our children by removing the visual stories and art.

  4. Brian says:

    Hi there,

    Interesting article, but I noticed that unless you’re talking about Wesleyans who happen to be from Armenia, the phrase is “wesleyan-arminian.” 🙂

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