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Speaking of Faith with Art

Oil painting by Sara Joseph of a landscape with a waterfall and a single human in the middle ground.
Seeking the Source, Oil in Canvas, Sara Joseph

When speaking of faith with your art is there a way to make your creations more potent and memorable?

As Christian visual artists, faith weaves through our work like fibers in a tapestry. Everything our hands touch creatively expresses our faith, unless of course we preoccupy ourselves with copying the work of others!

If you're reading this, I'll assume that you're seeking your own voice in art in order to better express your faith.

Are there clues in the Bible to do this more effectively?  As I was pondering this, I was reminded of the verse below.


Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. Ephesians 5:1


How does God teach us about Himself and impart faith?

I have often begged God to simply speak to me in an audible voice—LOUD and CLEAR!

"Talk to me", I've petulantly demanded, "so that I can easily believe."

What better way to settle any confusion and build my faith!

Then I grew up and learned that it is not the obvioius or spectacular that builds faith. Life itself is a continual miracle and yet not everyone living it believes in God!

God is the master of subtlety. He accomplishes His purposes by suggesting and not stating.

Creation offers clues to His generous, caring nature and His quirky sense of humor. Surely the waddle of penquins, the curiosity of kittens or the antics of lemurs make you smile? He provides subtle hints of His character and leaves us to fill in the blanks. And He seems to delight in paradoxes!

In vivid examples throughout the Bible, God almost seems to play a game of Hide and Seek in order to express truths about His nature. He sent Jesus, whose humanity was relatable, to draw us to Himself. Even so, to really understand our world and our role in it, we have to invite Him into our lives and be guided by His truth. Experiential knowledge, with the kind of power and meaning that we seek, is only acquired by actively engaging with Him.

Jesus did not only state facts about our heavenly Father, His actions also suggested aspects of His character.

His statement, If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” John 14:7 is a profound example of this concept. His parables proffer ideas for us to draw our own conclusions.

In His clever handling of the adulteress, we are universally and without exception, left with a sinking sense of our own sin, as well as granted a simple remedy to be freed from its devastating shackles.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” John 8:11 speaks to our hearts, although none of us are addressed directly.

His elusive method of teaching is deliberate, because He understands human nature. He demonstrates a vital principle that we can imitate when speaking of our faith in art.

As flesh and blood humans, we only grasp, retain, and treasure, what we discover for ourselves.

God delights when we stumble on His majesty, encounter His kindness unexpectedly or experience His provision in a moment of helpless lack. His joy stems from knowing that each experience we assimilate forms the fabric of our faith.

So in speaking of faith in our own art we must remember to suggest, rather than state.

Creating art in a way that describes every detail completely, even if excellently depicted, leaves out the element of mystery. The viewer is deprived of the thrill of connecting the dots and making discoveries for themselves.

What is worse, the work may satisfy at first glance, but it will leave no lasting impact. Like the rush of a sugary dessert, it will, without exception, quickly leave you hungry. So go ahead and plant a few unanswered questions in your work.

Those who've collected my art over the years are now quite comfortable with coming up to me with the "Tell me more about this artwork" request. They expect a story with every artwork I create. Knowing the story is not essential, but rather something that enhances their enjoyment of the work.

When creating art that flows from your faith, every stroke of the brush, every choice of color, every decision of line or texture... takes on greater significance. There ought to be nothing casual about the process.

Pretend that there's a pesky child peering over your shoulder asking you, "What is that? Why did you put that in? Why did you pick that color...? Why did you not add...?"

Of course you could simply turn around and snap "Shut up! I felt like it!"

But then your art quietly slipped from being a tool to be used with reverence before God, to a casual anecdote in your daily life—rather like wearing blue, simply because you felt like it!!

On some days you may want to just flex your artistic muscles with work that merely responds to thrilling sensory chocolate. That's okay, as long as you recognize it for what it is, and return with gravity to the task at hand—the task of speaking of faith with your art. The highest privilege of this adventure of being a Christian visual artist is that every moment is meaningful because of our partnership with Him.

As for my childish request, if God ever spoke to me in an audible voice it would terrify me. I would then struggle to believe that He was also kind, gentle and merciful!

I prefer His ways of wooing me with the faintest nudge, encouraging me with a whisper and leading me with His still, small voice. He leaves me eager for rewards graciously hidden along His paths. Each day offers another chance to seek Him, to pursue with the expectation of finding just that little something that makes my journey worthwhile!

Join me, there is no more worthy pursuit!

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