This is part 2 of a series on art as worship. You can find the first one here.
Before I begin, I’d like to clarify: I am not talking about representations or images of God in this article. That is a necessary debate, but not one I am going to undertake at this time. This blog is about utilizing artistic expression in worship. Images of God is a different subject. For a full discussion on that topic, see J.I. Packer’s wonderful work: Knowing God.
As stated in the first article of this series: modern church culture has diminished the value and beauty of art. That is not to say art does not exist in churches or is not utilized. Many churches have embraced performance arts and strive to create atmosphere through lights, worship backgrounds, and décor. However, few have sought out how to engage and lead their congregations to worship in and through art. Yet artistic expression offers the pastor/leader a powerful tool to engage and shepherd the congregation. As I see it, there are at least four different reasons art could benefit our worship.
First, art has the ability to engage mind and heart simultaneously. When a person truly engages with art, the mind and heart are both engaged. Art has a special way of conveying emotion and expression that can be interpreted by the viewer. The interpretation is seldom directed, though good art delivers a clear but profound message. Artworks (both performance and static) are observed, seldom explained, and invitational. Good art invites the reader to interpret as they observe. As such, the observer must enter into engagement with the work. Indeed, the Psalmist exclaims God’s greatness through admiration for The LORD’s art in Psalm 8 (c.f. Psalm 92, 102, and 143). When we consider the “work of the hands,” our mind are called to think about what the work communicates. Our heart must search for the application of the work. We find ourselves engaging with the work and responding accordingly. We become the interpreter of the effort and thereby engage in worship.
Second, art offers an expression that is unique and can express the heart of the individual in a powerful and deeply personal manner. From the artists’ perspective, the production of art allows for individual expression of worship. All people are different. All people are given different gifts (c.f. 1 Cor. 12). A brief study of the tabernacle will reveal that there were many artisans God called and empowered to build and design the tabernacle (Exodus 36). Think about how powerful it would be if churches empowered the artists in their midst to produce art as an act of worship! We would add yet another method to worship the Triune God. We are a vast and multi-talented cast of worshipers! Worship should not be restricted only to those who sing and speak. Local churches ought to reflect the talents that God has given in praise to His name.
Third, art offers a mode of expression that engages senses differently than merely singing, speaking, or listening. In a typical church, there is music and speech. If your church is wealthy enough to add graphics and lighting, there will also be some supportive artistic expression. Graphic arts and setting the atmosphere for worship are valued to some degree in some churches. However, they are seldom considered an act of worship in themselves… only support to worship. It is my contention that churches should think deeply about the art they produce and consider going beyond simply utilizing worship backgrounds. Produce art that can hang and be observed and engaged with. There was a time when even the windows of our churches were efforts to praise God! Produce art that is performed and can inspire the soul. When someone sings, the hearer and the singer are blessed with the beauty of the music, the meaning of the words, and the joining in the song. So our hearts and minds are engaged through our ears and voice. We can do more. We can engage through sight, smell, and touch as well. Art can provide an avenue in which to do that.
Fourth, art allows for new corporate expressions of worship that can be blended in a tangible and powerful illustration of the Christian life. When I was a student pastor I used art as an instructional tool to teach students about corporate worship. (You can read those articles here: part 1, part 2.) Painting a large canvas together is a unique way to teach about worship and to train your people to worship well. It stretches our sensibilities to engage in worship with these unique means. We serve a great and transcendent God! Our worship should stretch us. Artistic expressions that stretch us are powerful opportunities for worship.
Art is beautiful in its uniqueness and presentation in a way that no other expression could be. We should produce art as worship for the sake of praising God through beauty. Artistic expressions in our congregation ought not to be diminished but heralded. We must raise the bar for worship. There are expressions that are tremendously powerful and that can ignite the soul that are being under-utilized because we have become artistically illiterate. This can change and our congregations will be the better for it.
If you would like to examine some stretches in worship, I have a few suggestions:
First, check out my friend Natasha Miller’s work. She has written a devotional journal that is accompanied by music. The work journal itself is beautiful and the music that accompanies it is inspiring. You can purchase her work here.
Finally, I would encourage you to examine the works of Makoto Fujimura. His art will certainly stretch you. A word of warning, his work requires that you linger and let your eyes settle on it in order to adjust to the layers and beauty of the piece.
O, Christian… Stretch! Stretch yourself in this way, you will be more powerful as a worshiper if you do.