Both religion and the arts provide access to desires and needs that are a part of being human. Will Willimon states how “God continually, graciously, gives himself to us and makes himself available to us through touched, tasted, experienced, visible means.” (Willimon, Worship as Pastoral Care, p. 151) By God’s grace knowledge arrives in many forms. This is precisely why the artist’s creative action also strengthens faith. Multifaceted art experiences helps establish concrete connections to theology. Art helps “flesh out” facts, data, concepts and makes them dynamic.
Art comes by exploration of ordinary human abilities. We notice, remember, speak sounds, listen, understand and recognize. Then, we take our findings, order them, create patterns, adjust and manipulate our resources. Matthew Crawford finds “moral significance” to this type “of work that grapples with material things.” For working with our hands, discovering the properties of materials, takes us “outside the self.” (Crawford, Shop Class As Soulcraft p.16) Perhaps this is why art is sometimes termed as transcendent, and consequently, why it can play a vital role in our spiritual formation. Art is not necessarily a distraction, but instead exercises our attentiveness. I remember defending my teenager’s doodling in a parent-teacher conference explaining how the drawing gave access to the listening.
Through the busy work of creating we also collect information that shapes the way we perceive the world and make sense of it. Juhani Pallasmaa states how “Artistic expression is engaged with pre-verbal meanings of the world, meanings that are incorporated and lived rather than simply intellectually understood.” (Pallasmaa, The Eyes of Skin, p.24) Art is a different way of discovering God and the world he set us in. Art can also be the medium that allows us to care for His creation. If John Patton’s statement that “The message of God’s care is inseparable from the messenger,” think of what our art work could deliver. (Patton, Pastoral Care and Counseling, p.95)
If the word became incarnate, God’s message of love and forgiveness found in the medium of Jesus’ body, we don't have an excuse to put the paint brushes down, forgo the dance class, tell ourselves art making takes too much time. Marilynne Robinson reminds us of “when people still had sensibilities, and encouraged them in one another.” According to Robinson folks “assumed the value and even the utility of many kinds of learning for which now we can find no use whatever.” (Robinson, The Death of Adam, p. 9) We learn from encounter with the world. Literacy is not just the ability to read information, but connects our embodied knowledge and histories with the words being offered.
You are the medium, and you have a message.