Visual Art in the Protestant Church

Calvin and many of the second wave of reformers, after Luther were dead set against visual art in churches. One only needs to read the creation of the tabernacle and the temple to know that God’s house should be more than a tent from K-mart or a box with benches from IKEA. While the Catholic church was sponsoring some of the greatest art ever produced the Protestant churches were white washing the walls. Calvin saw the propensity of men in his day to turn those images into idols and I understand why he took the position he did. But taking the extreme position he did is still felt today, and lost is a great tool for evangelizing, teaching and reflecting on God’s glory.

Even though there was a deliberate movement by the Catholic church to create more grand art to entice people to come to the catholic church, everything was not rosy . Federico Borromeo (archbishop of Milan) wrote of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (many years after it was completed) “Some artist so display the bending and joining of individual parts and limbs of the body, that it seems they would sooner exhibit anatomical illustrations for the treatment of wounds than incite devotion.”

Most Protestant churches are C&E Art churches in the USA. What is a C&E Art church? The felt art depicting the birth of Christ comes out at Christmas (C) and the felt art depicting the Passion of Christ comes out at Easter (E). Why not have these two most important stories made a permanent part of a sanctuary? I believe when done correctly three things will happen

Evangelism

The Sistine chapel is visited by 25,000 people daily, plus the painting s are available to view in countless books and on countless web sites. Many of you who will read this have been there and I am sure that almost all have seen pictures in books and on the web.

A question for those of you that have seen the Last Judgement in person. Did you have a priest, monk, nun or even a lay christian ask you, as you were looking at the fresco, “Where do you see yourself in the Last Judgement?” Going to Heaven or going to Hell, why?
25,000 Opportunities Lost.

It is unusual to see art in churches even the most unartistic person still appreciates art, people are visual, people ask questions, have the answers it has already happened to me numerous times with the narthex art and many of those times they have not even seen the carvings.

Teaching

Children are visual they will ask questions. One of the reason that my two sons know the Bible so well is because of the Action Bible. It is illustrated like a graphic comic book and it is very in depth with the content. We would read that bible 5 or 6 time a year. They are listening and looking at the pictures and associating the two together. With the art in the narthex I have heard mothers explaining to their children who each of the people are that are depicted in the carvings.

Devotion

Being the artist I have been involved in this more than anyone else, my faith was challenged as read Hebrew 11 and the reference passages over and over. Do I really believe these stories? Yes I do. I have a much deeper understanding of what happened on that mountain with Abraham and Isaac. I marvel at the faith of Rahab, who is a great grandmother of Jesus Christ. Samson a man who had it all but continually messed things up. Naboth who stood for what was right and was killed for it. I watch you the congregation looking at the carvings I have heard you explain to a friend or child what each one is, powerful images help make the stories concrete and real.

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WOMM – Up and running

After too many years in the cyber closet I have created a new website for my art work.  I am still fleshing it out but there is still some great pictures of the Hebrews 11 commission to view.

I will keep regular updates on the work in progress page of what I am working on.

Little will be off-limits on the Whats on My Mind blog; art history, life, techniques, art critiques, pop culture (from a baby boomers perspective) and anything that I find interesting.

Till next time let the chips fall where they may.

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