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This is an ongoing work, last updated 23Jan17

  • Art can give us a sense of peace.
  • Art can provide relief, shelter, and order in a world plagued with disorder.
  • Art can soothe our physical, mental, or spiritual distress.
  • Art can illumine our faith.
  • Art has the ability to move our heart, inspire our soul and form our mind.
  • Art invites us to sing of the greatness of our God.
  • And most importantly, art can enable a spiritual encounter.

Taking in the glory of nature at the top of a mountain peak, joining in a song of worship or viewing a breathtakingly beautiful piece of art are some of the experiences that fill us with awe and make us feel most alive. And according to new research, moments like this are both spiritually invigorating and good for our physical and mental health. [Huffington Post].

“He to whom Nature reveals her manifest secret, yearns for Art, Nature’s worthiest interpreter” – Johann Goethe

The dynamics of the natural world ensure that our landscape is in constant flux, but we can also alter it by changing our point of view. Whether observing an ecosystem up close or hiking through vast fields, viewing the natural world through a microscope, or raising butterflies in the pollinator garden, we can seek out new ways of seeing and translate our discoveries into artistic and communicative works.

“If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable.” – Rainer Marina Rilke

Nature, as both subject and object, has been repeatedly rejected and reclaimed by artists over the last half century. With the dislocation of disciplinary boundaries in visual culture, art that is engaged with nature has also forged connections with a new range of scientific, historical, and philosophical ideas. Developing technologies make our interventions into natural systems both increasingly refined and profound. Advances in biological and telecommunication technology continually modify the way we present ourselves. So too are artistic representations of nature (human and otherwise) being transformed. [MIT]

“The production of a work of art throws a light upon the mystery of humanity.” – R.W. Emerson

For many people nature is a gateway to feeling the presence of God, exploring spirituality, or deepening in faith. Similarly, when we are immersed in a creative flow we can feel God moving through us. In the stillness of meditation we feel the many qualities of God- peace, love and joy. Spirit, Art and Nature- what happens when we combine these three powerful vehicles for experiencing God’s presence? We relax deeply into the Divine. We fill our souls at the eternal wellspring.

“Your handwriting.  The way you walk, which china pattern you chose.  It’s all giving you away.  Everything you do shows your hand.  Everything is a self-portrait.  Everything is a diary.” – Chick Palahniuk

Environmental art, landscape art, land art, and/or sustainable art (ecological art) are growing movements evolving all the time. Which, makes it a little tricky to nail down a precise definition; much like art itself. Essentially though, it’s when artists use natural materials to create works of art. Most of the art is created ephemerally, meaning it’s only temporary. And some of it is created to call attention to environmental issues. All of it, however, is stunning.  Just take a peek at the work of Patrick Doughtery, Andy Goldsworthy, and Agnes Denes [PBS]

“…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”  ― Vincent Van Gogh

Nature is a theme that is very present in art. We need only think of depictions of animals made in prehistoric times, the landscape paintings produced since the Renaissance or, more recently, works of Land Art, to realize how pervasive the subject is. Nature has long been viewed as a model to be imitated, and observations of it have satisfied a desire for knowledge. Representations of nature therefore reflect the general state of knowledge, so much so that the role artists play in familiarizing people with discoveries is comparable to that which philosophers and researchers in the natural sciences have performed from Antiquity to the present day. [CHIN]

“I think having land and not ruining it,” Andy Warhol once mused, “is the most beautiful art anybody could ever want to own.”

A method often employed for bringing order to the perceived chaos is to recognize the cycles or rhythms sustaining flora and fauna. With time, the energy of the wild is grasped bit by bit. Each passage of the sun alters the character of the view. The cadence of the stream in the dry season is placid from headwater to terminus; in the season of flood turbulent and ruthless. Today the breeze is gentle; tomorrow a tempest. The seasons change. The leaves drop snowfalls the wildlife migrate and hibernate. Spring brings new life in abundance. It is all a rhythm; up and down, in and out. The heart beats, the blood circulates we breath the pulsating rhythms of life. [Hyde]

“If a commission by an earthy king is considered an honor, how can a commission by a heavenly king be considered a sacrifice?” – David Livingston

Art makes sense from a psychological perspective too. Art harnesses what Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls our “System 1” mind, our instinctive, intuitive and emotional mind that works by association rather than reason. We see art, and we ‘feel’ it and are moved by it. Art works by emotional association, so it stands to reason that brand-sponsored art that makes us feel good, makes us feel good about the brand as well…By connecting with us intuitively and emotionally rather than using persuasion and reason, art represents a marketing ‘direct hit’ to the heart. And as market research continues to confirm, it is this kind of artful System 1 marketing that evokes emotional rather than rational responses and is particularly effective. [Paleschuck]  All to say, inspired art works.

“Art takes nature as its model.” – Aristotle

The Art Evangelist aims to unfold and display a sensitive type of culture that relates to nature as a source of inspiration and a measure of available resources.  The ultimate goal is to unveil intimate links with all living organisms and to develop a more resilient and vital coexistence – in which humans would not be conceived as separate from, but part of, nature.

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” –John Muir

Nature questing is not therapy and not religious. However, nature questing does have an eye and an ear for the psyche in psychology that is eco-bent–toward seasons of change, living and dying with more integrity, growth, sustainability, movement and vitality… And stepping one foot in foot in front of the other into a ceremony with nature can engage spirit in ways that are visceral and unexpected. [Sipowicz]

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir

People of faith differ on how much concern we should pay to the culture at hand, questioning what good can we really do engaging in a broken world. Can we really make a significant difference? Does God share these concerns? Every generation must answer these questions in the same way creatives, artisans, industry and civic leaders have done for two millennia. [Q]

“Art is Nature in combination with the will of man.” – Anonymous

Imagination is often accused of being out of touch with reality. In reality, imagination is the capacity to see beyond reality to an alternate reality. Imagination is the key to navigating, deciphering, and transcending the reality that meets the eye so that we can recognize unseen reality. Imagination is not foolishness.

“It is not too expensive to invite artists and artisans, builders and craftsmen, to adorn the worship locale with color, light, and images that convey the mission, vision, and values of the community. Simplicity does not mean plainness, and good stewardship includes aesthetic leadership.” – Charlie Self

Albert Einstein asserted that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” When a young mother asked Einstein what she should read to her son so that he could grow up to be a brilliant thinker like him, he replied, “Fairy tales.” When she asked what she should read him next, Einstein replied, “More fairy tales!” [Loyola]

Einstein said, “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”

Art students may go on to be practicing artists, but they may also go on to make breakthroughs in technology, to work with health professionals, to improve outcomes for children in rural areas, to create collectives that support the work of minorities, to provide social commentary through journalism or film, to use their empathy to make a difference in human rights organizations or not-for-profits. Artists and creatives often present incisive socio-political commentary, offering new perspectives that are necessary for advance, driving change and sparking movements. [Wilson]

“Art opens up God’s world in all its varied richness, celebrating its glory wherever it can and lamenting its brokenness whenever needed.” – Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin

But the idea that art can be quantified and qualified by an objective, empirical process completely misunderstands the nature of art. And the scheme itself will require even more form-filling for hard-press arts orgs that just want to get on with making art. [Lebrecht]

“Art must take reality by surprise.” – Francoise Sagan

Worship visuals and liturgical art do not refer to simply “decorating” the sanctuary to make it attractive, though the sanctuary may indeed look stunningly beautiful when the visuals are installed. Liturgical art is art as proclamation, prayer, and praise. Its purpose is not to strive for beauty, though beauty may indeed be a byproduct. Neither does it aim to produce a “wow” experience that appeals to the crowd. Much like preaching, liturgical art strives to be faithful to Scripture. Using symbols, colors and textures instead of words, worship visuals interpret the good news. They are a means of “preaching the gospel at all times.” [Kincannon]

“Religious art or sacred art is artistic imagery using religious inspiration and motifs and is often intended to uplift the mind to the spiritual. Sacred art involves the ritual and cultic practices and practical and operative aspects of the path of the spiritual realization within the artist’s religious tradition.” – Wikipedia

Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use. (SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, 122)

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” — Albert Einstein

Thirty-eight years and two editions ago, Walter Brueggemann published a groundbreaking book titled, The Prophetic Imagination. The Old Testament scholar conducts a thorough treatment of a sweeping vision through the biblical narrative to imagine the astonishing alternative life we are to live into. Brueggeman puts forth a powerful call to Christians to “keep alive the ministry of imagination,” because it is in creating good art that we stay renewed in a sustainable and subversive hope. [Brandt]

“One in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons, the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon with discomfort.” – Loren Eiseley

Why pursue ‘community-made’ Art for Worship? Why venture into the process of art-making with community? Tremendous potential exists to open up an avenue of personal faith expression for all Christians, not just ‘talented’ artists. Worship is an ‘equal opportunity’ occasion for expression of faith and praise to the Triune God; just as community ‘sings’ their praises during worship, with the help of a musician, community also has the potential, with the help of an artist-facilitator, in pre-worship, to express their faith visually, that is, create a corporate work of art. (In some cases, community may express their faith visually during worship, as well.)    [Godecke]

Great art picks up where nature ends. – Marc Chagall

The Church Garden – Art and Healing

Most of us artists are environmentalists at heart.  And most artists hold that sacred space where stories and spirit are given back.

Out of the ground the LORD God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. – Titus 3:5

Normally churches and sacred spaces have at minimum one of two types of gardens, the reflective/prayerful space and the community food producing plot.  Traditional community gardens provide hands-on learning about food-growing and nutrition to congregants and the general public, while increasing access to fresh, local produce for food insecure people.  One church in Durham, NC recently used a traditional garden as lessons in ecology and horticulture with a focus on preserving local bees.

“All indigenous people incorporate Mother Nature into their traditions,” he said. “Certain features of the landscape and the colors tell stories, like that of our four sacred mountains ­— and our rivers have stories, too.” [Scott]

The prayerful garden may include memorial spaces for those who have passed. This story outlines how one congregation paid tribute to one of their parishioners in a meaningful and healing manner, transforming the memorial into a form of welcome for all.  Adaptive reuse of existing space can really make a difference in the lives of the community.

“My people will sleep for 100 years and when they wake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” – Dylan Miner

In some settings, educational workshops have been held on gravestone art.  In 2016, author and illustrator Paulette Chernack of “Lasting Impressions: Art, Symbolism, and History Found in Graveyards and Cemeteries,” shared her extensive collection of hundreds of gravestone rubbings and photographs.  This described how to decode the iconology found on New England gravestones.  Workshops included a beautiful book concentrating on the art, symbolism, and history found in graveyards and cemeteries, as well as technique and conservation tips.

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” (Leonardo da Vinci)

More about land art, ecological art, and environmental art appears in this excellent article examining our relationship with the subject.  This next article is about land art that is temporary in nature and made to disappear.

“Part of the role of the church in the past was – and could and should be again – to foster and sustain lives of beauty and aesthetic meaning at every level, from music making in the village pub to drama in the local primary school, from artists’ and photographers’ workshops to still-life painting classes, from symphony concerts to driftwood sculptures. The church, because it is the family that believes in hope for new creation, should be the place in every town and village where new creation bursts forth for the whole community, pointing to the hope that, like all beauty, always comes as a surprise.” Tom Wright1

If you are interested in the historical details of the relationship between the church and the arts, How Christianity Changed the World is a good overview of how Christian faith shaped art, architecture, music, and literature, as well as science, medicine, education and so on.

Ray Bakke has said that “The poor need beauty as well as bread.”

In Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts, Philip Ryken says that art is capable of appealing to our longing for beauty. It communicates to Christians and others a portion of God’s beautiful creation. It draws our attention to parts of God’s creation that we may never personally see, or notice even if we do see it. Art can therefore be a subtle outreach to our culture. A lot of today’s art is created from a pessimistic view of the world and represents values at odds with Christian values, Christian art could have a more positive view based on different values, celebrating the positive world that God created and is re-creating through Jesus Christ. [Source:  Canadian Council of Christian Charities]

 Pope Benedict XVI’s Address to Artists, 2009

 Pope Benedict XVI’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007

 Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, 1999

 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Truth, Beauty and Sacred Art (2500-2503), 1997

 Pope Paul VI’s Address to Artists, 1965

 The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963

 Encyclical of Pope Pius XII on Sacred Music, 1955

 Pope Pius XII’s Address to Artists, 1952

 The Council of Trent, On the Invocation, Veneration, and Relics, of Saints, And on Sacred Images, 1563

Art & Creative Placemaking

“We define creative placemaking as projects that are focused on community planning and development,” Torres said, “and that leverage or deploy arts and culture to create place-based change.” – Javier Torres

 

Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. Exodus 25:3