I’ll admit it. I’m skeptical of live painting in churches. Like sticking a square peg in a round hole, it often makes for an awkward fit with the worship service. But, whatever one’s knee-jerk reactions may be, it cannot be denied that spontaneous performance Jesus painting (SPJP; or whatever you want to call it) is popular within the contemporary Christian church.
What is SPJP? Quite simply it is a live painting in front of a church or Christian group made for the purpose of leading others in worship. Typically, there is a worship band (or some kind of music) accompanying the painting. From start to finish it usually lasts about 5 minutes, and the finished product is often a portrait of Jesus (though sometimes other images are painted).
It must be said that the ‘theology and art’ conversation is not always as aware as it could (or should) be of what is actually happening in contemporary churches. Not only can one find videos of these performances at dozens of venues (see links below), but one can also visit the websites of artists who regularly paint live during worship services (see links below). SPJP may never be discussed in an academic journal, but it is still worth our consideration.
What exactly is the appeal of SPJP? I have three suggestions for your consideration. First, the ‘point’ of these paintings is the process and not the product. Sure there is often applause when the painting is finished, but the main interest is watching to see ‘how’ the artist paints. Second, the dramatic tension of SPJP often relies upon either a gimmick (such as making the painting upside down) or the artist’s unusual and baffling skill. In both cases, the expected response when the painting is finished is surprise and wonder. Third, the emphasis upon the unexpected and spontaneous process (esp. when coupled with dramatic lighting and music) suggests to me that SPJP relies upon Romantic notions of artistic inspiration and genius to achieve its full effect.
There is certainly more that could be said, but I want leave you with the question: is there a place in Christian worship for SPJP? I think there probably is, even though it makes me cringe a little. There is actually very little new about SPJP. People have been using visual aides in Christian worship and teaching for ages, and I wonder if these are really little more than sunday school felt board stories dressed up in modernist robes. It could be easy to write off SPJP as insignificant or as more ‘Christian kitsch.’ But, instead, let’s take it seriously. What do you think about live painting as a part of Christian liturgy?
Jesus Painting (over 3 million views on YouTube)
Six Boxes (this one has a unique twist)
He Reaches For Us (with Michael W Smith)