Evaluating the Art: Criteria and Tests

One of the biggest mistakes in creating art for worship happens when no evaluation process is in place, either before the design is fabricated or after it has been installed. Not only should the committee examine the final design using formal criteria, the people in the assembly should be provided an opportunity to respond to it. Does it deepen their prayer experience? Is it worthy of its purpose? Does it make sense in the context of the community? Equally important is the process of the artist. Two methods of evaluation are provided here. Both should be included the creative process. To neglect either is to limit the scope of the arts affect.

A formal method of evaluation
When determining the suitability of a particular art installation certain criteria need to be met. In her book Liturgical Art for a Media Culture, author Eileen D. Crowley explores the implementation of media and technology in worship. While the medium in Crowley’s book differs from that of this guide, the parameters for art in worship spaces remain the same. Crowley’s four frameworks for committees planning media art* serve as launching points for the creative process as well as tests both for evaluation prior to fabrication and post-installation. The frameworks are adapted here for the purpose of planning temporary art for worship, however the addition of this book to the art committee’s resource library is strongly recommended.

Framework I: Understand the overall local worship context
For every art installation, the type of service, its function, the role of the assembly and the expected outcome needs to be identified. Equally important in planning art is familiarity with the demographic of the community, including age, economic factors, ethnicity, and so forth. Art created for this group will differ from art created for another group. The worship space itself and the ways in which an art installation will affect its function needs to be considered.
  • Test one: Will the art serve or enhance, or will it be superfluous to the service?
  • Test two: will the art speak to the community and their particular needs?
  • Test three: Will the art be such that it will not obstruct or interfere with the liturgical action?
 Framework II: functions of art in worship
The art being created should be seen as a liturgical element; it should function within the context of the liturgy in a way which is not already duplicated by another element. In its simplest form, liturgical art is capable of communicating with color the liturgical season or feast. On a deeper level it also communicates realities which are less easy to articulate. Liturgical art provides an portal through which symbolic elements of the liturgy take on new meaning and depth. Liturgical art adds a level of beauty that points to the beauty of God. Liturgical art can quicken the sense of the Holy. Care should be taken to understand varied local perceptions of beauty, particularly as regards representations of simplicity vs excess, rusticity vs opulence and all the nuanced variations between. Art should companion the community’s struggles, fears, joys and yearnings.
  • Test four: Does the art occupy a relevant role or is it redundant?
  • Test five: Does the art lead to contemplative thinking or is it quickly dismissed?
  • Test six: Is the art a good fit for the particular community?
Framework III: Aesthetics for liturgical art
What is pleasing about good art, and what is jarring about art that misses the mark is attention to basic elements and principles of design. The elements are line, shape, direction, size, texture, color, and value. The principles are balance, scale/proportion, repetition, contrast, emphasis, and unity. The whole of the art including the space into which it is installed needs to be considered.
  • Test seven: does the art exist as part of the whole liturgical space and is it relevant to the action? What about this art differentiates it from a secular installation?
Framework IV: Issues of Ethics and Justice
Art frequently takes on the role of the prophet. In a church setting, liturgical art is powerfully capable of summoning a response to the myriad issues of social justice, the voiceless and the oppressed, the state of the environment, poverty, and hunger. Each of these sorrows stands before the assembly in the words of the Gospels. Liturgical art is the light which exposes what is hidden.

The diversity of people that make up a faith community including various cultures, physical needs, should be represented both in the art and in the community that creates the art. If we are what we claim to be – a welcoming community – but depict art from a singular point of view we do a disservice to the liturgy as well as the Body. As such, gendered symbols and metaphors should be avoided when  referring to the Creator.

  • Test eight: Is the art challenging? Is it capable of prompting a transformation?
  • Test nine: Does the art represent diversity present in our community and in the world?

*Eileen D. Crowley, Liturgical Art for a Media Culture (Collegeville, MN, Liturgical Press, 2007) 59-88.