Art + Theology

I just finished up helping with a class on Theology, Art and Film. Interesting loot at art and artists using film as a lens into the life of the artist and the creative process. Of all the classes I help out with, this is the one that I know the least about because I’ve had no professional art training. I like being able to sit in class and learn right along with the students and here the conversation that comes out of our studies.

I loved being able to look at both art and theology as meaning making systems that are both attempting to make sense of life. There is an attempt by each to shed light on what it means to be human and how we interact with the world and with the divine. Art provides opportunities and challenges to our beliefs that are often missed because we approach art with a mindset of aesthetic like or dislike. Most of my favorite art is because of the reaction it inspires inside me. I love the photographer Andres Serrano because of his provocative nature and how the images challenge my preconceptions of the subject matter. (I’ve included some of his work below… be careful if you google search his work) Theology is similar to art in that it words to create meaning and understanding of what it means to be human in a world created by God. Where it differs is that theology has achieved this primarily through reason, following patterns of consistency in order to form a rational systematic theology.

This is where the primary area of tension between art and theology comes into play. We have a tendency to try and fit art into our prescriptions of how the world works when art does not function or live withing the realm of reason. Instead of having our theology inform how we approach and understand art we would be better served to bend our theology to encompass and embrace the arts. Here are some of my favorite works that have challenged my theology and understanding of the divine.

Francis Bacon – Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Andres Serrano – Madonna and Child

Marc Chagall – White Crucifixion


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