Behold All Things New

visual art in response to issues of concern

Crossing   Painting by Brie Dodson

THE CALL WENT OUT for artists to send in images of their work that were influenced by today's political, social or economic issues for this time of Advent preparation and Christmas celebration. I am interested in how artists reflect in their work the suffering of our world and the judgment and hope of our faith. And I am interested in seeing what Episcopal artists are saying to the Church and to the world about anguish, compassion, hope, and reconciliation.

DO WE FIND ARTISTS in the church who speak in their visual language about such deep concerns? Do we have anything to say about the painful issues of the world? Or is it that we have lost faith in the ability of our art to capture imaginations and make a difference in the world's discourse as we stumble into the future? Have artists found no legitimate arena opening up within our Christian tradition where visual art can speak with as much force as a sermon, a lecture, an essay or a book? Does the lack of visual art reflecting our concern for today's issues reveal a deep despair among artists, viewers, displayers and buyers of art, which says that visual art is unable to reach passionate thoughts and emotions and become vehicles for visions that could change the world? Do people shy away from the questions visual artists might be asking? Do visual artists shy away from asking questions that no one wants to take time to consider? Has photojournalism preempted painting and sculpture and captured in our time the appetite of our eyes.

OUR ARTISTS HAVE SUBMITTED a wide range of images reflecting their grief, their judgment and their outrage as well as their longing for beauty, hope, love and thanksgiving. They are seeking to reflect and reveal their concern for hard issues in the context of dynamic faith in visual forms silently fashioned by their hands and seen with our eyes. Look at these images: hope and longing, grief and joy, prayer and gratitude, outrage and compassion. Some artists offer them quietly to God; some hold them raucously up for the world to see. Some are rich in the Spirit's innuendo, others are alarming in their forceful proclamations. Sense what their works are saying to us and to our world in our time of Advent preparation and the celebration of the Incarnation in our midst. And ask questions for yourself about what visual art in our time might contribute to the world and to those on a faith journey who seek to deepen their trust in reconciliation and hope as well as to enliven their compassionate engagement in the world.

IN TIMES OF ANGUISH sometimes our hands lift our heart's grief, joy, and outrage into outward forms of quietness and reverence that do not directly engage the viewer with the issues of the world. Creating art can be the outward expression of weeping in our soul for countless issues in our time that birth our tears. With deep awareness of tragedy around us I modeled a sculpture of dancers emerging from the downward bending of their spirit into leaps of exuberance. At another time I wanted to enter the struggle with my art and I modeled a head, which I called Holy One, reflecting anger, grief and an all seeing eye of wisdom. After 9/11, sensing outrage and grief, I modeled a sculpture of a mother/Madonna grieving over a child and a city. These can be seen in the curator's corner of this show.

WHILE WE HOLD SERIOUS QUESTIONS up to our artists, we also must hold serious questions up to our churches. How are we supporting visual artists? Do we subtly keep them outside the big red doors, or do we welcome them in, letting them speak to us with the work of their hands? Do we require that they fit into the church's molds and into our more verbal traditions? Do we allow the visual artists to be overshadowed by our words, our music and our books? Do we really recognize the treasure within our midst that our visual artists are giving to us?

I CONTINUE TO QUESTION MY ROLE as an artist in our culture. In the back of my mind I hear the words spoken to me in the Civil Rights Movement many years ago. "A person who is not a visionary for human transformation and social change is simply living off our culture and not seeking to contribute to its transformation." Could these strong words be said of me and other artists? Could they be said of Christians as well? And could they be said especially during this season when we celebrate the birth of Love who came into the world so that we may "have life and have it abundantly." In the words that we speak and write and in the works we create and display, I believe that we are called to help bring God's vision into human hearts so that, inspired by the spirit of loving transformation, we may behold all things new.

WE REJOICE in this Advent and Christmas season that we can deeply touch one another with our inquiring faith and our searching eyes and come together by acknowledging the Spirit working within us in surprising, incarnational ways.

The Rev. Gurdon Brewster, Sculptor

Rev. Brewster is the Founding Chair of the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts and curator of "Behold All Things New". His work may be viewed throughout the ECVA website and at www.gurdonbrewster.com.

© 2005 The Episcopal Church & Visual Arts