“Abba Father’ 16″x20” acrylic on canvas © by Donna Gonzalez
I read an interesting article last month By the Book posted November 17, 2016 from the Winter 2006 Issue: Cultural Jigs in Cardus by author Tish Harrison Warren on whether prayer can be called an art or craft that shapes us toward God. While reading this it got me thinking whether or not art can be used by God to bring us closer to Him. Of course God uses whatever He choses but it made for an interesting pondering. The quotes (except the scripture) are all from the author with my reflections. You can read the full article here or click on the link below.
This article was first published in Comment magazine, a publication of Cardus. https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/4982/by-the-book/
“If prayer is primarily self-expression before God, then we figure it should come naturally; it should be our words.”
Agreed. And isn’t that what artists do they have a specific message or feeling they want to communicate to their audience? Artists strive for authenticity in their work. As a Christian expressing my every feeling or mood in my art doesn’t come natural to me, it’s risky, whereas painting a fact is quite safe. Criticism of my artwork isn’t the problem the problem is that my emotions and feelings are not always accurate because feelings change.
Yet self-expression before God is different. It’s also different from painting a biblical fact to convey a message to the viewer. The message isn’t about the artist at all. We understand art can point others to God, give a deeper richer understanding to His character and even praise and glorify Him. But is there something more art can do?
Art during the Byzantine era and even down through the Renaissance was quite fixed, spontaneity was not in vogue though limiting the artist’s personal self-expression in conveying what he really wanted to say. Though some artists like Michelangelo did in fact, succeed in this. Instead most artist’s were commissioned by wealthy patrons or the elite. Master artists were commissioned and dictated by the Church not only what to create but how it was to look including communicating the precise message the Church wanted the viewer to understand. Much has changed today. And yet, that’s not it either.
This quote from Tish resonates with me: (emphasis mine).
“One particularly instructive prayer practice for me has been using set prayers to pray for enemies. When I’ve been deeply wronged, the prayers that come naturally are for my own vindication or that God would show the other guy what a jerk he’s being, but those prayers do little to shape me into a person capable of loving my enemies. But praying inherited prayers inches my heart toward forgiveness and love, even in spite of myself.”
Agreed, we see this kind of art down through history even more so today. For example, Francisco Goya’s “The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid“, c. 1814, oil on canvas, was painted to show the truth of the war in Madrid, communicating to the viewer the injustice and horrors of the French massacre of Spanish freedom fighters. Its rich use of symbolism, color and perspective in this painting along with the artist’s emotion is a constant reminder never, ever forget what happened in Madrid.
As Tish states through experience:
“It turns out that expressing every emotional impulse, however genuine it may be in the moment, did not form us into the kind of spouses capable of loving each other well, or even the kind who could stand to be in the same room together.”
I admire the courage and willingness of artist’s who can express their emotions to the audience through their work. As artists we should strive for consistency in our work and that our artwork doesn’t seek to violate or cause harm to another person.
“But what if prayer is more than simply self-expression? What if prayer is a kind of craft or exercise that shapes us? What if God uses prayer to “act back on us,” to form us? What if set liturgical prayers are an ancient tool that reframe our perspectives and desires so that we might learn to pray in ways that are beyond us?”
Does God ever use art like prayer as a tool to form and shape the artist? Yes, He can and He has. In my previous January Newsletter I share how God was using my own painting to teach me a deeper knowledge of what He was doing in my life that at that time was unbeknownst to me until I started writing that newsletter.
God uses art like prayer to shape us into His image and brings us towards Himself. To begin art in prayer asking Jesus to direct and manifest Himself in my art means He increases, He leads and I get out of the way. John 3:30. My self-expression before God in my artwork isn’t based on what emotion or message I want to convey but seeking what He wants to communicate to others through my artwork. That involves trusting Him and being obedient to Him even when I don’t understand or it doesn’t make sense.
It is freeing not having to wait for a “right moment” or to be lead and controlled by an emotion to begin a painting. By faith using my God-given gifts and talents that were prepared in advance for me to do in Christ Jesus I am in fact, giving Him honor and worshiping Him Ephesians 2:10. Because worship is much more than praising Him with words it includes our entire lives and how we live unto Christ. Focusing on Jesus gives me the proper perspective to be humble before Him recognizing that in order to do any good works that please the Father I must abide in Jesus John 15:5. God can use what He choses to make us more like Christ and sometimes He uses art. Praise God! He indeed is good!
Be blessed my friend!