Sunday, January 7, 2018
If you were just interested in learning to look at art, we could stop here. If this is to be a prayer experience, we need to go further. To begin, think about how we detect the presence of the artist in the artwork. First of all, we note the expression that lives on in the piece. Art is essentially a container which embodies the expressions of its creator. We also say the artist has spoken to us through the work. In addition, we talk of the artist having a characteristic style, which enables us to immediately recognize a Monet or a Renoir for example.
As creations of God, each of these three aspects of art can apply to us: God's expression lives in us, we are containers who embody the spirit of our Lord; God speaks through us; and we can say God has a characteristic mark or signature, which we are able to recognize - as Jesus tells us: "My sheep hear my voice." Each of these realities enables us to find God in each other.
To find God in art, we are joining these two premises together. God speaks through the artist, who speaks through the art. We are already accustomed to understanding this connection as we discover God in written words, especially scripture, but other sources as well. We listen for God in sermons, in hymns and music, in ritual and dance, and we listen for God in the visual arts. This Presence is detected easily where goodness and love are expressed. Elements of hope and beauty (as in Henri Matisse's "The Tree of Life"), justice (as in Mike and Doug Starns' "Lack of Compassion") and mystery (as in Mark Tobey's "Edge of August") also reveal God to us. God may be sensed as the source of life and energy (as in Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night"). Additionally, suffering and darkness (as in Pablo Picasso's "Guernica") may bring images of Christ to our minds.
As you look, be aware of this hidden voice of the Spirit in all of its varied manifestations. You might gain new insights or a broader view of your faith. You will certainly have many opportunities to increase your awareness of the inner realities of your fellow human beings as you listen to their stories from their viewpoint and know their joy, hopes and sufferings. Art allows for a special kind of window into the private, emotional world of another person. It is difficult to be truly intimate with others and not find God, since it is in the center of our being that God lives.
From Drawing to God, Art as Prayer, Prayer as Art, by Jeri Gerding
Jeri Gerding is a Roman Catholic adult mental health counselor, is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, and received a master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois-Urbana.