What is art is faith?
For those of you who have visited the Grünewald Guild, you are no doubt aware of the countless (and often interesting) conversations that occur. We have found that if you get enough people together from various walks of life and faith backgrounds and journeys, the result is an interesting and rich tapestry of dialogue. Often times these conversations revolve around the themes of art and faith…which makes sense given that our mission is to be a place where people can explore the intersection of those two practices. However, I have begun to wonder if one side of the art/faith conversation is easier to have (or explore) than the other.
“What is art?” can be a common question during a person’s time here at the Guild as they explore the elements of the field and work in clay or paint or paper or fiber or photography. And through their class and under the guidance of the teacher, people learn to explore themselves through their art-making. And sometimes the question may arise: “Is this art? Does it count?” A variety of responses may be offered up, often times the matter never fully settled (which isn’t a bad thing).
But maybe a lesser asked question is: “Is it faithful?” or maybe more appropriately, “What does this have to do with our journey of faith?”
For example, I was watching the following BBC clip the other day which asks the question, “Can prosthetics be art?” And perhaps there is a somewhat clear framework for that discussion as we can use the elements of design to gird our discernment process and discussion. However, as I watched the video, I wondered: “Assuming the answer is yes…how then does this art serve as an instrument of faith? What does this exhibit/show mean for our faith?”
As another example, my personal interest lies in the keeping of aquariums and terrariums, which has an art form all its own. Now, walking through the gallery it might be easy to translate each piece through the filters of line, shape, form, balance, etc. However, would you be able to dialogue the place these aquatic cubes have in your life and exploration of faith and spirituality? Would they “count?” Would they have a place in your church foyer or sanctuary? Or is art only pertinent to the life of faith (or life of a faith community) in so much as it serves an obvious purpose…that it is utilitarian to our practice?
If the answer to that last question is yes, then portraits of Jesus and literal depictions of the Stations of the Cross make a lot of sense to place within a church building or our homes. But an aquarium? A prosthetic limb with bundles of fiber optic cables emerging from one end? THESE things are challenging. They cause us to dive deeply into life and meaning and experience and perspective. They are not easily consumable or understandable. They challenge us to wrestle with the piece, to engage in a grappling match with both ourselves and the Divine.
What does it mean to be human?
What does it mean to hurt?
What does it mean to perceive beauty?
What does it mean to mourn?
What does it mean to create?
What does it mean to tend?
What does it mean to love?
What does it mean to be raw?
Who am I?
Who are you?
Who are we?
If we’re seeking a holistic journey where life and art and faith all intermingle, where all are interwoven aspects of the same experience…are we conscience of the ways in which we keep them, however unintentionally, separate?