For reflection and devotional purposes, works of art can be utilised in a range of ways. For example, one painting of Jesus Calms the Storm (Matt 8:23-27) could serve as stimulus for a discussion on: storm experiences, who’s afraid of whom and what in the story, life’s storms, the storms that seem too much to handle, where do you seek help? to whom do you go? when clouds darken life does the Son still shine? why might it feel like He is asleep....?
Or, a theme such as Light could be followed, with several artworks chosen to demonstrate the diversity artists bring to such a subject. Relevant Biblical texts could be read, aloud or silently, prayers could be constructed around the theme, and Bible commentaries could be consulted for additional background material. Some ideas for interaction with and leading a discussion based on visual art can be accessed in the Devotional Resources collection.
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Allowing time to internalise a work of art builds analytic and critiquing skills while heightening overall personal, emotional and spiritual experiences for the participant/s.
Inviting them to describe what they can see is a good way to start. The composition can be discussed in basic terms of colour, line and shape.
Once they have familiarised themselves with the subject/image/s a deeper analysis can be encouraged. How has the artist made the painting look the way it does? There are several elements of art that can be utilised for this purpose. They are: colour, line, shape, texture, form, space, value (lightness – darkness). The principles of artcan also assist here. They are: unity, contrast, variety, movement, balance, proportion, rhythm, emphasis and repetition. Artists utilise the elements and principles of art as they construct their works and the message/s they wish to convey. It is through analysis that connections between the construct of the work, the biblical and theological themes and/or concepts, and artist interpretation can be made:
- What elements and emphases of (the story) are depicted?
- Are there any elements that are not? Why might this be?
- How has the artist captured the mood that is conveyed? Is this consistent with the story?
- Why might or might not the artist have chosen to represent the story in this way?
- How has the artist used the elements to contextualise (the story)?
- To what extent does rhythm and movement work for the painting? Against?
At this point participants can be given an opportunity to share responses and to express their feelings about the work, drawing on their own life experiences and interpreting this through their encounter with the painting.
Based on their analysis and interpretation of the work, participants can be invited to make a judgement about it. Being able to describe and justify one’s opinion about the work is an important skill, as is the ability to hear and respect everybody else’s views. Not everyone will feel the same way about it! Nor should they be expected to.
Below are some websites that can be used as starting points for using visual art and reflections for devotions...
The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts website has an exhibitions archive that will take you on a virtual tour of each past exhibition. The site has potential themes already well-developed because of its archival nature. A click on each of the exhibition archive images will take you to the thumbnail gallery (all of the images for the relevant exhibition) and the curator’s notes that will provide helpful background material. Several exhibitions lend themselves to Advent and Christmas themes. Other themed possibilities include: self, Christ’s presence in the world, rhythm of the church year, Holy Spirit, prayer, icons, reconciliation and hope, art and faith journeys, the way of the cross, the cross. Suggestions can be found here
Searches on The Text This Week website can be conducted from three fronts: by the index according to biblical/liturgical subjects, by scriptural text, and/or by lectionary date. Whichever way you go, a click on the theme will bring up a related listing which will link you to other websites. Sometimes there are notes accompanying the works of art.
Matt Stone’s blog, Glocal Christianity, has Christian art categorised by Continent, including an Indigenous Australia link, and a host of other categories as well, from animated to feminist to esoteric to Christmas. In style, they range from now to ancient, animated to static. The diversity is immense. It is a rich site for sourcing multicultural perspectives of biblical narrative and theological concepts.
The Canadian Heritage Information Network has constructed a virtual exhibition, “Anno Domini: Jesus through the Centuries”. On entering the site, select any image from the circle of images of Christ to begin your journey. Each image brings up a theme. There are artworks to contemplate, Bible verses and, as you scroll down, related readings for selection.
CIVA, Christians in the Visual Arts website, is an image and information-rich site. Exhibitions can be selected, eg ‘contemporary expressions of faith’, from the list under the main menu on the left hand side of the screen. This brings up a summary of the exhibition and a VIEW EXHIBITION icon appears on the right hand side of the screen.
Chrysalis Seed Trust is dedicated to the intersection of art and faith. At the bottom of the screen there is a link to the Image Gallery.