Encountering Jesus Through Art

Farley Sanderford

The relationship between art and faith, specifically my faith is Jesus, has been a difficult one for me. For so much of my life, my passion for art and my love for Christ have not been intermingled in any kind of way. There wasn’t a clear place for the artist and art lover in my church. I wasn’t shown any ways in which I could use my creativity for the worship of God. Being a shy and introverted child (and now a shy and introverted adult), I never quite figured out how I fit in within the evangelical church. Even as late as college, I didn’t truly understand how I could use my gifts and talents without trying to completely change my personality and demeanor. I felt as though I had to become a gregarious extrovert, constantly speaking to strangers about Christ in order to be used by God for the furthering of His Kingdom. So for me, both my passion for art and the introverted way in which God has created me are irrevocably linked. When I began to understand that I did not have to force myself to be any other way, and that this was not only okay, but also part of living out God’s purpose for my life, I felt a freedom like I had never known.

A friend recently lent me a book by Henri JM Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which is a story of a priest’s intense interaction with Rembrandt’s painting by the same name. I still have not yet finished the book, but it’s already stirring so many thoughts for me about the ways in which art can be used not only for mission, but also personal connection with our Creator. What particularly interests me is that for the vast majority of art, I have viewed the pieces in a secular setting, more specifically, in an academic context. Although I have been fortunate to see many works of art in their intended environments, which certainly adds another layer of meaning, I have seen most art either projected on a screen in a classroom or hanging in an ornate frame on a museum wall. When I think about the art that has impacted me in a powerful way, I am struck that most of those works were introduced to me in a secular environment, and that most are also created by unbelieving persons. And yet, these paintings, drawings, and sculptures still mirror the heart of my Creator and show me His beauty. The simplicity and color of a Piet Mondrian painting, the expansiveness of the high ceilings in Chartres Cathedral, and the rough surfaces of an Auguste Rodin sculpture, for me, all point to the Creator God of the universe, the One who spoke all things into existence, and in whose image we are made. We are made in His image, so with that, we share His desire to mold and shape the world and materials around us, and we can both look at the works of His hands through us, and appreciate and marvel at their beauty.

However, as a person who believes in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior from sin, art not only points my heart toward the Creator, but it also has a purpose in sharing the Gospel of grace with others. A beautiful painting can bridge a gap and open up opportunities for spiritual conversation that might not otherwise exist. Art can create space for engaging with others who would not enter a Sunday morning service or attend a Bible study. Christ Himself has charged us with sharing the Gospel with others, and if I can share with the unreached through art, I am glad that worshippers may be added to the Kingdom through the Spirit’s work in this way.