In a symposium considering ‘art appreciation’, it seems appropriate to consider its definition. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘appreciation’ involves ‘[t]he action of estimating qualities or things’, a ‘sympathetic recognition of excellence’, and ‘[p]erception, recognition, [and] intelligent notice.’ So within the definition of art appreciation is the ability to discern and understand quality art. I want to contend that art appreciation extends beyond what we ‘naturally’ like or dislike, and that it stems from something developed, either consciously or unconsciously.
In this post, I want to explore two ways art appreciation is developed – through education and through association/repeated exposure. I then want to apply these two means of development to a church context.
Art appreciation through education is perhaps the more common way by which we come to appreciate a work of art. In my own experience, I have observed that as my understanding of a work of art, an artist, or a time period increases, it changes the way I view a work of art. Education provides a context, a lens if you will, by which I can study, interpret, and appreciate the work of art before me. In some instances, education can completely change my ‘appreciation’ of a particular work of art. Works that I didn’t understand before become interesting and perhaps even brilliant when I understand the context within which they were created. Additionally, art training and exposure to elements of design such a line, form, and colour add another dimension that adds to one’s appreciation of works of art. Because I understand and have experienced the struggle and time it takes to develop one’s skill in the arts, I can look at a work of art and appreciate the technique I see displayed.
When applied to the church, there are very clear ways that education can be used to help congregants appreciate works of art. I grew up in a church that had a thriving arts ministry, and this ministry was intentional in helping to develop the art appreciation of its members. One of the ways this was done was through education. In addition to occasional lectures, a class titled ‘What Christians Need to Know about Art’ was regularly offered. The class was for artists and ‘non’-artists alike with the aim of learning about the role God has for the arts in the church and how to implement the arts within church life. This class was key in cultivating a sense of art appreciation within the congregation – the artists learned to appreciate how their gifts fit into church life while the congregation learned to appreciate art more generally as well as the gifts of the artists in their community.
While it seems self-evident that education is a valuable means of developing an appreciation for the arts, I want to explore a second approach. Art appreciation also develops through repeated exposure to works of art. Repeated exposure weaves art into the fabric of our lives almost to the extent that we don’t even notice that it is there, but yet we couldn’t imagine our lives without it. While education happens in the structure of a classroom, exposure is a less structured, though often still intentional, way of developing one’s appreciation for the arts. Let’s apply this second approach by considering a particular example.
St James Leith is a Scottish Episcopal Church based in Edinburgh. For them, the arts play a foundational role in the worship of their congregation. The arts are so valued here that the church has relocated their worship space to the church hall and reordered the interior to create a space that can easily be visually altered. For example, mounted panels are regularly re-painted by the congregation in line with a theme based on the liturgical season. The congregation then worships within their creation each week. What’s interesting to note is that through this repeated exposure, a by-product has been the development of an appreciation for art and the aesthetic within the congregation.
If art appreciation is important in the church, thought needs to be given to how this is best done. Education is a viable option and one that more churches could give their time to. However, without exposure and experience, how far can education really extend? How, as a church community, can we create an environment where the arts and the aesthetic seep into people’s experience, and thus create a place where the arts become a part of who we are rather than just what we do?
Image Credit: Carol Marples