How to Use Art in Worship

I was an art major in college. It’s not a muscle I get to flex much these days if you don’t count the amazing crayon art I do with my kids. I’m kidding. I draw stick figures, just like you.

But because I was an art major and art was formative to my younger years, I see visuals first. I see color and images when it comes to an idea. If I can’t picture it in my mind, it isn’t quite real for me. And of course, art is more than just visual imagery but it is the one that we tend to know least what to do with in our churches. We hang art and create banners. There is art on the covers of our bulletins and our powerpoint slides but it is rarely something we engage.

There is nothing wrong with any of these options but there is more that could be done with art to enhance our worship experience. That’s what I was thinking about when I offered a suggestions for artwork in Our Whole Hearts. (There’s more about this new resource for Lent here.) I wanted there to be some elements of worship that were beyond words and pushed all of us deeper into the shackles of our hearts to find meaning. There is a very brief description about how to use art in Our Whole Hearts and there’s a lot more to say that extends beyond the season of Lent.

Center with art

Use an image to begin your worship whether that art is printed on the front of the bulletin or a powerpoint slide or you are lucky enough to have an artist share their work in your sanctuary. Put that art work on display, play some soft liturgically-appropriate music and invite the community to enter into praise through the art.

Pray with art

Art can also be a conversation partner in our attempts to talk with God. It can be a place of to wonder about where we are in the art and find ways to tell God about what we see. There are a zillion different ways that this could happen.

It might be simple enough to offer the art in the time of prayer as with the centering above but imagine Sir Terry Frost’s It is True being used as a confessional prayer.

The image and title would be shared but then nothing else but a series of questions for each worshipper to explore on their own.

Questions might include:

  • Where is your heart in these hearts?
  • Which is God’s heart?
  • Why or why not does it feel so blue?
  • What might you tell God about your heart right now?

As with the centering above, I’d allow music to play for the 5 or 10 minutes that these questions are shared. You know, dear pastor, how much time your people need.

You might also offer paper and crayons for doodling during this prayer. There may be some that don’t know how to answer these questions without drawing if and there are still others that just need their hands to be busy.

Experience the art

Art is in the eye of the beholder and so it should always be offered as an invitation. We should resist the temptation to point to a work of art and tell anyone else what to see. We don’t do this with music anymore than we do this with the other prayers in our worship. We invite the gathered community to experience this thing and trust that God will reveal what most needs to be revealed.

Experiencing art is, however, new for so many people. We are prone to decide if we like it or not without really taking in what there might be to behold. Some ways to share in this experience might include:

  • guided meditation between art and scripture
  • small group conversation centered around one or two questions related to the art
  • individual wondering about the art after scripture is read

Create with art

This could be the most intimidating invitation of any of these possibilities or the most liberating. As we are each invited to behold the art, there is something we also each have to offer. There is some creative spark within each of us that invites us to make something.

Here is one example where I would actually give printed handouts of the image and encourage people to doodle upon the image itself.

For near the middle of Lent in Our Whole Hearts, I chose to suggest Bansky’s Girl with a Balloon. It’s one of those popular images that appears in lots of other places than the wall where it was first spray painted.

Looking closer at the art, you might notice that someone has added a few words. Maybe in chalk that will wash away in the next rain. Or maybe with their own can of spray paint. As you watch this heart float away, what words might you add to the wall?

I love the possibilities that Artful Parent offers even if you don’t have kids like I do. I especially love the process oriented options which has no concern for what it looks like in the end but is focused on what it feels like to make something. These simple art experiences invite the very young (and very inhibited) to make collages and drawings and even sand art like the great masters. The internet is a treasure trove of wonders if you’re looking for a way to engage with an artist’s creation. Google the title of the art work with the search term kids and see what you might find.

Whatever you do to share art in worship, let there be a spirit of play and possibility because God is always at work and creating with us. There is always something new to explore.

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