The church’s long history of commissioning art began with the story of Bezalel and Oholiab putting together objects for the tabernacle, says Cindie Chaise, Art Curator at Tyndale University.
“There’s a sense that things can be created for God’s people to help them in worship, stewardship, and honouring God,” said Chaise.
“Art has a definite place in worship,” adds Toronto-based visual artist Sharon Tiessen. “I think the calling of the artist inside the church is essentially to know God and help others to know God,” Tiessen reiterated.
The element of creativity is a must. “I see a real connection with how God created us and how he invites us into creation,” said Chaise. “God is supremely creative and I think that everyone is inherently creative,” agrees Tiessen.
From an historical perspective, the church has had a strong connection with symbolism and visual imagery. A sweep of art history including the ancient catacombs in Rome, house churches in Syria, idolatry of saints during the Byzantium, and the “Triumph of Orthodoxy” (valuing artists for following a prescribed set of rules to portray biblical stories) provides a glimpse into art’s relationship with faith, lectures Chaise.
A visual vocabulary is important, supports Tiessen. “We need to be thoughtful and contemplative in the current social climate that we live in,” she says, because the deep-rooted relationship between art and faith extends to modern times. “I think that art elicits awareness and being alert in the present,” Tiessen continued.
“The arts present an opportunity to slow down and reevaluate,” adds Chaise. Conversation is essential “[whereby] groups and individuals are talking with each other and actually listening and responding,” she said.
“I would like to see churches get to the point in their Christian life where they really wrestle with what grace is, what it means to take risks, what it means to be human, fallen and simultaneously saints, and to engage in this world that God has given us to explore, play in, work in, experience, and tend.”
Article and photos of Cindie Chaise and Sharon Tiessen by Lia Kim
Artwork, top right: How to Catch a Fish, by Sharon Tiessen (mixed media on found wood)