As the Art in the Church workshop concludes, I want to consider two recurring themes that emerged over the three weeks, providing a short reflection on what has been a rich and deep conversation:
1. Diversity & the importance of context. These two issues can be found in some form in most of the posts in the workshop. The worked examples from churches reveal a diversity of worship styles, art media, traditions and outcomes. This reflection of diversity reveals the importance of church context when desiring to integrate the arts and artists. The workshop reveals that there is not a one-size-fits-all model for art in the church, but rather that integration is dependent on location, who is in the congregation, and more specifically where the congregation is at when it comes to the arts. Art in the church requires the hard work of discerning not only where the Spirit is leading but also understanding what is most appropriate for the theological tradition of the church, as this impacts the way art is integrated into the church’s worship and its life (see Cole Matson and David Allsbrook’s interesting discussion in the comments of ‘Visual Art in Corporate Worship‘.)
The importance of context and the reflection of diversity also inform how we understand a church’s journey towards art in the church. As we mentioned in the introduction to the week, we chose the examples we did because they reflected differing ‘stages’ on that journey. Because each church is unique and situated within a particular context, movement towards integration of art in the church will vary. For those of us who are convicted that this is of importance, the seeming baby steps forward (that sometimes feel backward) can be frustrating, especially if one has a vision for what could be. Because there is not a one-size-fits-all application of art in the church, there is also not a one-size-fits-all journey of integration. The challenge is not to get impatient with the process and give up on the journey, but to take encouragement and learn from those who are a bit further along.
2. Art begets creativity and innovation. It’s not surprising to see a rich display of creativity in the works of art presented over the past three weeks. However, what I think is even more interesting is how the desire to integrate art into the church begets innovative and creative solutions to overcome one of the most commonly-mentioned challenges: the lack of money for the arts. While this tension is likely never to go away (and for good reason, as money spent reflects priorities), the lack of money can be a catalyst for new ideas. For example, the By/For project moves patronage beyond the economic and situates it as a gift for a community that includes both artist and church-as-patron, while commission4mission sets art commissioned for the church into a wider context of charity and mission. Additionally, in several of the posts, we saw the artists gifting their work back to the church, thus furthering the worship, mission, and spiritual formation of the congregations of which they are also a part. These examples give us a glimpse of how church arts patronage pushes beyond the economic model that the word ‘patronage’ usually evokes and reflects the communal and relational nature of the body of Christ. Luann Purcell Jennings expands on this by widening our understanding of how artists serve the church community they are in, challenging artists to take up positions of leadership that support and further the arts.
This is in no way a comprehensive list and many other themes could have been expounded upon – the process of appreciation, embodied participation, the difference between ministry to artists outside and within the church, the role of space in art and worship, how art begets community and conversation… Please feel free to add your thoughts on the workshop in the comments.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this workshop.
_____________ See Second Things Second, an interesting article by Luann Jennings about money priorities in relation to the arts and the church.