Art vs The Church

Richard Littledale asks an interesting question on his blog about this piece of art by Alfonso Ossorio.  He wanted to know “How would you feel looking at this image on a Sunday”?  As you can see, this is a mural placed behind the altar in a church.  As the Eucharist is celebrated this image dominates the scene.  Personally, I love it.  It conveys such vivid imagery and deep theological meaning.  I wonder if I could find a good quality image of it for use on Easter Sunday Morning.

In the past I have seen the problems that a piece of art like this can cause.  The stained glass window at a new-build church I have sporadically attended in the past caused major controversy when the church was first opened.  It is still talked about whenever I visit.  What was the major heresy that the person who placed these pieces of coloured glass together had committed?  Firstly, the glass used was in modern vivid colours.  This in itself could no doubt be over looked but this is just the first of the window’s crimes.  The image itself depicted Jesus as a dark-haired, distinctly “foreign” looking gentleman.  Shocking I know!  To compound this, the Sacred Heart wasn’t not shaped like a Valentine card, it was shaped like a…. heart.  Unbelievable!!  Jesus sacred heart is shaped like an organ that pumps blood around the human body?  Shocking!! 

Many people do not want to be challenged by their faith, they seek to be comforted by it.  A faith that challenges demands action and possibly even change.  For many people this brings feelings of insecurity and this can be a troubling experience.

Having discussed the window, it would seem that people would have been much happier with a stained glass window depicting a nice blonde King Arthur holding a valentine’s card.  These things highlight that there is a disconnect between those who control many of our churches the reality of the society in which we serve.  Many of those who are in a position to make decisions about the direction of a church would like to perpetuate the memories of youth.  The church organises village fetes reminiscent of the 1950’s.  We commission art that is in a style of 100-200 years ago.  We seek to create a modern version of Victorian stained glass.  We ask our musicians to write music reminiscent of centuries gone by as it is reminiscent of a shared childhood experience from early in the twentieth century.

So what are the implications of this?  If we don’t allow our artists to create and perform their art within the church they will do it elsewhere.  If we chase everyone out of our churches and into the big wide world we will need to be prepped and ready to turn the lights off in our buildings and lock the door for the last time.


8 Responses

  1. I know it wasn’t what you were intending but can’t help but wonder if that last paragraph might be a positive outcome – Church in the big wide world rather than in a building might not be so bad ???

    Love the painting myself – and would love to see your stained glass – where is’t ?

  2. Jo – I agree, the church in the world is a great thing. It frustrates me every week when I say “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” and people sit down. We have a lot to do.

    I think what I am trying to get at is the rejection that often occurs because “modern” rocks the established order. I remember the youth group I used to lead 10 years ago. The Sunday school leader asked “Can you show them how they can do grafiti and skateboarding and live a Christian life”. Radical thinking.

  3. I agree with you – but I also think that too often we do a poor job of introducing art to our congregations. The fears are there, so we must deal with them. With proper contextualization and the opportunity for discussion I have seen very staid congregations accept the most astonishing works of arts, so I know it’s possible!

    Yes, our churches need to continue to push toward new expressions – allowing doubt to fuel our faith and admitting that God often confounds rather than explains. But we also need to be shepherds and care-takers of our congregations.

    Thanks for the post – it was a good opportunity for me to do a little added thinking. I’ve just started a blog entitled “thinking worship” ( – drop on by for a little conversation!

    • Thanks. That is a great response.

      I agree that we need to be careful shepherd when it comes to the arts. There are people for whom any change will be resisted.

      I wonder what the conversation was like when they took the plans for Durham Cathedral and people saw the ostentatious pillars for the first time.

  4. I’m sure there were donors that drew back from the project – isn’t that always the case? 🙂 There’s a fair bit of fear surrounding art. People are afraid of not understanding, afraid of looking stupid, afraid they might be looking at, watching, or hearing something that is subtly moving their mind toward evil…. it takes some careful planning to surmount that, doesn’t it?

  5. Rob, I think you are spot on. Percy Dearmer was saying the same thing at the beginning of last century. He was saying that artists had left the church and how the church needed them. It seems the issue continues.

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