Artist in Residence Series: Art and Hospitality

N-studio 2I often paint in order to know/see what I feel. Sometimes what I feel is not only impossible to say, but also seemingly impossible to know for certain. Paint, color, texture, shapes–physical stuff–can sometimes do a better job of getting at these subtler shades of emotion and imagination.

My first and best memories are visual and physical, and often still ring with the palpable emotional charge I felt while drawing or painting or simply gluing stuff together. Despite working many years as a college professor, I’m still not able to articulate the deeper feelings with words. So I paint.

I recently turned 61 (which seems a lot older than 60 for some reason) and I’m really no closer to being able to say most of the truly important things without sensing a certain futility in the effort. Certainly it seems impossible to communicate things of first importance to strangers–and yet Christ calls me to love and provide for the stranger. Making art has been the main way I’ve sensed that I can do this, and because I’ve been at it so long, there have been many opportunities to exhibit and publish my work to a fairly wide audience. Art making may, when all is said and done, be more about perseverance in the craft and trying to express the non-verbal aspects of our lives, and I’m grateful that I have been allowed to continue in the studio all these years.

In a recent post, Alfonse Borysewicz wrote of his growing doubts about his vocation as artist, along with the difficulty of continuing to paint in the absence of gallery or church demand for his work. Why fill the world with more images that no one seems to want? I doubt that he meant his essay as a plea for encouragement, but I wanted to say, “Keep painting … please.” Why? Is it because I need to know that others like me exist? Is it because I am an inveterate encourager even when the world seems to be so dark and pointless at times? Actually, I believe I want Alfonse to keep painting because the world needs genuine things made by human hands. And his work is genuine. And good.

The world needs handmade things.

D-shelvesBecause Meg and I believe this, our home is filled with such things, and everyone who has ever visited or stayed with us says the same thing: “We love it here. We sleep better here. Can we just come and live with you?” And a bunch of folks have done just that over the years. At one point it began to feel just a little too much like the hippie commune I lived on in the late 1960s!

I believe this response to our home has everything to do with the fact that I built it with my own hands and largely with local materials (actually, I built the house twice because the first one burned down from a severe lightning strike). I also believe that people are at ease in our home because the walls and shelves are covered with handmade things: children’s art, art by contemporary painters and sculptors, knick-knacks. There is a large piano, as well as guitars and an A-lvgrmaccordion, in a large open room, with an open invitation for anyone to sing, play, participate or just kick back and soak it all in.  By making things we discover not only what we feel, we also welcome others into our most intimate space of feeling, and in so doing, share insight into our shared humanity.




  • Bruce Herman is an artist and educator, serving as Lothlorien Distinguished Chair in Fine Arts at Gordon College ( His art has been published and exhibited widely, both in the States and abroad in Italy, Japan, Israel, England, and Canada -- and his work is housed in many public and private collections, including the Vatican Museums in Rome, the Armand Hammer Grunewald Collection in LA, the Cincinnati Museum of Art, the DeCordova Museum, and many others. (for more information visit his web site: )

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  1. says: Tim M. Allen

    Bruce – Thank you for this post, especially for highlighting the possible relationship between art and hospitality. First, I want to offer a comment of appreciation for your work and allowing us a window into your life and home! Your example is a great encouragement for us to think intentionally about the role of hospitality! Secondly, I was hoping you might offer some thoughts concerning ways that local churches can be more hospitable with the arts. From visual to musical arts, how can the church flourish as a place of hospitality? Thank you, again!

  2. says: Bruce Herman

    Thanks Tim — for the invitation to think with you a little…what you ask is too much for the small space of this blog and its comment section, but I will simply say that CIVA (Christians in Visual Arts – ) has a wealth of material available to help churches be proactive in both welcoming art and artist — and also a set of very practical tools for doing so. The next CIVA conference entitled “Come to the Table” is all about this, and I hope you and others can attend. Visit the CIVA web site for more information as the time for the conference draws near. I think it will be a powerful and wonderful time for artists and the church.

    1. says: Tim M. Allen

      Thank you, Bruce! I will be sure to find my way to the CIVA site! I appreciate this helpful resource! Thanks, again! Tim

  3. says: Helen Morley

    Hoorah for Bruce! And all artists that share their painty adventures on this site – I love to learn from both the academics and the makers, so thank you. I am a struggling sacred art type of painter and there seem to be few of us in the UK (I hope to be corrected and a wave of new contacts will reply and let me know I am wrong.) I have just moved to Bishop Auckland in the north east of England, and I am working at Auckland Castle which is developing some really exciting exhibitions on 5000 years of religious art, but it stops in the 1940’s. I am hoping to run some art workshops and even I hope, develop a studio as part of this, for recovering addicts. Perhaps we can make a contribution to the national contemporary sacred art scene (when I find it) As I am hopelessly in love, but struggling dauber myself (and recovering addict), I know the empowerment that comes from creativity, and what a spiritual practice is for. I hope the good folks of this site will follow us – we are new and packed full of ideas for regeneration, redemption and spiritual awakenings. I am astounded to find myself in the middle of it all, particularly as my art tutors told me when I did my degree in 2011 that painting was dead, and so was God. Boy. They were so wrong. The ability for human beings to make creative work is God’s gift to us. What we do with it, is our gift back; so there is no end in sight for either of the ends of that bit of string as far as I can tell. If there are any contemporary sacred artists out there, particularly in the north of the UK – please get in touch. or

  4. says: Jim Watkins

    Bruce, thank you for these thoughts on the relationship between art and hospitality. I resonate with the joy that you take in the handmade. I have also found that handmade objects have a way of facilitating community, or as you say of welcoming others into a shared community. One reason I think this is so is that we invariably experience the handmade as a gift because we can literally see the marks of the time and energy spent to construct it. And gifts are such an ancient way in which humans have formed and maintained communities (i.e. Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift”).

    I would be curious to know your thoughts on a couple of questions. First, do you think it is possible to make art that is inhospitable (i.e. that does not welcome the “other” in some way, or that does not share insight into a shared humanity)? Second, do you think that recent changes in technology, especially computers and the internet, shapes our experience of the handmade, and perhaps makes handmade objects even more valuable today?

    Thanks for this post, and for sharing photos of your home. It looks like a beautiful place!

  5. says: Bruce Herman

    Thanks Helen and Jim –
    I haven’t checked this blog site for a while, so I apologize for the delay in responding.
    On the matter of technology’s influence: as several historians of science point out, there have been key moments in the past when our capacity for moral reflection has been outstripped by our techne–our means of manipulating matter–technology. I suppose a simple way of saying this is that we’ve advanced our means beyond our cognizance of meaningful purposes toward which we might point them. As for art or handmade things that might be inhospitable, I think the historical record has many examples of this: in fact, during the Italian Renaissance a common practice involved commissioning art that was aimed entirely at punishing or humiliating an opponent. (Forerunners of the political cartoon or propaganda/ad campaign.)
    My own feeling is that technology is not entirely neutral, but it is also not the culprit. Electricity can be used to power a hospital or it can be used to execute a human person. Computers do shape/change our consciousness just as the printed word did after Gutenburg. I think the issue at hand is how we use this new wave of communication devices–and what the status of things marked with evidence of hand and heart might be as our lived and built environment takes on more and more of the virtual.
    I for one intend to stay abreast of the digital era while honoring the tradition of lovingly wrought things.
    Who knows–technology may advance to a point and our social understandings mature enough that a harmony and balance can be restored. At the moment I think we are overwhelmed by the enhanced agency of the current devices but we lack the self-restraint and wisdom as to a fitting etiquette and proper use of them.
    In the meantime I will continue to paint and make things with wood and precious metals and glass and canvas. I’ll also use my computer but hopefully not find myself used by my computer.

  6. says: Angelina Bong

    I stumbled on this blog while searching for missionary through arts. This is very encouraging. As a fellow artist and writer, I often question the possibility of using arts to reach out to people. Thanks for sharing.

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