(Notes) On Art into Faith

jan richardson books

“It is time for religions to open the eyes of a world that believes it has seen everything.”—Daniel Kantor, Graphic Design and Religion.

I recently heard artist and writer Jan Richardson at a conference. I’ve appreciated and admired Jan’s work for many years and I leapt at the chance to hear and see her and I wasn’t disappointed.  Jan’s paper collages have inspired me as I think about fabric art.

One workshop was led by Jan and her husband Garrison Doles on “Art into Faith” and I was nudged again to think how artists and “the arts” can become integral to faith communities. Here are my notes from the workshop and I want to emphasize these are my notes and I may have misheard or misunderstood Jan and/or Gary.

Jan pointed back to medieval cathedrals that used a “multimedia” of art forms to embed the biblical Story into and for the medieval congregants to ultimately embody the Story in their lives.

We need to reclaim the language of “symbol” and how symbols become a part of our existential being—and this is how the Story gets into our bones and we embody the Story of God’s love. Jan said there is a difference between reciting the Story and telling the Story, that is, we live into the Story and develop the skills to tell the Story through all forms of the arts and culture. It is a significant way to tell our story to God and to tell our story to each other. Yet, how can we, with our brokenness and our beauty, tell the Story (and tell our stories?).

These are the things we need:

1)     Engaging people in the creative process, including people who don’t think they are creative. We are co-creators and collaborators with the Creator so we do have creativity. But we have become a culture of spectators so we let the professionals present to us.

2)      We need to develop the talent and skills in people—like developing the “farm league” of a particular medium.

3)     Decide to seek out those who have developed the facility to tell the Story that creates new doorways into the Story.

4)     Art doesn’t happen in isolation but needs community, a fertile soil that provides cross-fertilization, and is focused on the process of telling the Story rather than a final product.

5)     Discern who are the “culture makers” in the congregation and can lead into the mystery of the Story rather than a literal interpretation that limits another understanding of God’s love and interaction with humanity.

6)      Challenge this statement: “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.” Ask: why don’t you know much about art? Are you afraid of it? Are you choosing to be illiterate? Explore: How does art communicate with people?

7)   Art jars us out of a particular way of seeing, understanding, and knowing. Art is always a dialogue—what happens in the heart of the artist and the heart of the other. Sometimes art can help us talk about the Story in ways that we haven’t been able to before.

Find the line between the telling of the Story in a powerful and meaningful way and a place of emotional manipulation.

At the end of the workshop, Jan distributed a recommended book list:

Janice Eslheimer, The Creative Call: An Artist’s Response to the Way of the Spirit

Makoto Fujimara, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture

Robin M. Jensen, The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community

Daniel Kantor, Graphic Design and Religion

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art

Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom

Luci Shaw, Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection on Creativity and Faith

Dick Staub, The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite

W. David O. Taylor, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts

Sister Wendy, Joy Lasts: On the Spiritual in Art


What are your experiences of integrating art into faith?



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