Art as a Spiritual Director and Teacher

A funny thing about creating art is that the end result rarely meets the artist’s original intention. Art is a spiritual practice. It can’t be forced. The artist creates most powerfully when he or she makes him or herself vulnerable, releases expectations, and attends to the materials. Indeed, one of the most enriching aspects of creating art is found in its lessons. Nancy Chinn’s practice is to dialogue with the finished and installed work. “I look at it for as long as it takes and ask ‘what do I have to learn from you?’ I assume the work itself is something beyond what I intended. For me, it’s important to be formal and say “what is your lesson for me?” Using physical words such as teasing, pulling and seducing to describe the practice of interpretation, Chinn explains, “The art will teach you.” [1]

As part of the collaborative process, art committees that adopt Chinn’s evaluative posture as student-of-the-art will experience a continual spiritual enrichment capable of feeding future projects.

Other criteria: In A Place of Encounter: Renewing Worship Spaces, author D. Foy Christopherson suggests the following criteria for judging the worthiness of art for worship:

Theological soundness:

  • How does it serve or enhance the liturgy, devotion, season, reflection, or whatever it is there for?

Pastoral sensitivity

  • Will it foster prayer?
  • Will it foster encounter? [2]

Aesthetically pleasing

  • Does it whisper or does it shout? It must not overwhelm the liturgical action. [3]

[1] Nancy Chinn, in discussion with the author, April, 2014.
[2] D. Foy Christopherson. A Place of Encounter. Renewing Worship Spaces. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2004) 63.
[3] D. Foy Christopherson, A Place, 53.

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