Where does inspiration come from? Is it generated within the psyche of the artist, or is it something bestowed as a gift from the divine? Why do some artists who work with religious themes see their art as mission-driven, while other artists who take religion as a subject do not? Is there a role for art to play in advancing the faith and spirituality of the viewer? Of the artist? What is the role of art in faith, and of faith in art?
These and other questions can shed light on the mysterious and fascinating process of creation — the very first thing the Bible tells us God did — from paintings and installations to sculpture and collage. This edition of ReligionLink features background information and sources involved in both faith and art.
- Read Religion News Service’s “Was Blind, But Now I See,” an ongoing series on the intersection of religion and art.
- Read “The Role of Religious Art over 50 Years: An Assessment,” an undated essay by James Hadley that appears on the website of Faith & Form. The takeaway: Beauty is a language that can communicate religious values as well as transcend religious differences.
- Read “The Transmission of Faith Through Art,” an undated essay by Hamilton Reed Armstrong on the website of the Foundation for Sacred Arts. The takeaway: Catholic faith can be revitalized and reinforced by art in churches.
- Read “Painting With Jesus’ Tears — A Message for Palm Sunday from Mako Fujimora,” as posted on the website of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts, April 5, 2017.
- Watch “Art as a Spiritual Practice,” a TedxLehighRiver talk by Stephanie Smith, uploaded Oct 21, 2016. The takeaway: Smith has drawn over 10,000 mandalas and says it has made her more connected to something bigger than herself.
- Listen to “Art as a Spiritual Practice,” about an Australian art exhibit of the same name on a segment of the radio show The Spirit of Things, May 24, 2015.
- Watch “Altered Trailer — Innovative Art in Churches,” a short video dated May 2013 describing a program called “Altered” that brings contemporary art, much of it spiritual in nature, into local churches in England.
- Read “Believe It or Not” by Dan Fox for Frieze.com, Nov. 1, 2010. The takeaway: Religious imagery/content is more often a subject for conceptual artists than for fine artists.
- Read a review of the book The Return of Religion and Other Myths: A Critical Reader in Contemporary Art written by Mark Fisher for Frieze.com, April 1, 2010.
- Read “The Development of an Artistic Voice,” an essay by artist and evangelical Rondall Reynoso in an undated post on his website, Faith on View.
Museums/galleries that highlight religious art
- Altered is a British public art project that brings contemporary artists and their work into ancient churches in Lincolnshire, England.
- The Center for the Arts & Religion — Housed at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., the center’s Doug Adams Gallery regularly features exhibits tied to religion and spirituality.
- Church History Museum — The third floor of this Salt Lake City museum operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often includes contemporary art by Mormon and other religious artists. Its International Art Competition is always focused on a religious theme and attracts entries from professionals and amateurs around the world.
- Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art — With locations in Honolulu and New York, the foundation promotes art programs that link Muslim and non-Muslim cultures. The Honolulu site is a museum of Islamic art.
- Glencairn Museum — This Pennsylvania museum houses a collection of religious art and sponsors an annual Sacred Arts Festival, an interactive showcase of artists at work.
- The Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., contains the Dadian Gallery, which features religiously inspired art.
- The Jewish Museum — This New York City museum features art, historical and cultural exhibits focused on Judaism. Exhibits feature everything from ancient to contemporary art.
- Loyola University Museum of Art — This Chicago museum is associated with the Jesuit university and is dedicating to exploring the world’s faith traditions through art.
- Manresa Gallery — This San Francisco gallery features traditional and contemporary art inspired by faith or spirituality.
- Museum of Contemporary Religious Art — Located in St. Louis and affiliated with the Catholic St. Louis University, this museum hopes to promote interfaith understanding through arts exploring all religious traditions.
- Rubin Museum of Art — Located in New York City, the museum’s exhibits focus on the Himalayan culture, including Tibetan Buddhist art.
- Tribeca Synagogue — This New York City synagogue has an in-house art gallery that regularly features religiously inspired art.
Religious art organizations/centers
- Art + Christianity Enquiry focuses on visual arts and Christianity in Great Britain.
- The Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., educates artists in theology and theologians in the arts.
- Episcopal Church & Visual Arts promotes the arts in Episcopal congregations. It maintains a searchable database of artists.
- The Foundation for Sacred Arts is a Catholic organization that seeks to “stimulate a vibrant renewal in the patronage and production of Christian sacred arts” in pursuit of the transformation of the culture. It maintains a database of Catholic sacred artists.
- The Interfaith Forum on Religion Art and Architecture is a project of the American Institute of Architects.
- The New Renaissance Arts Movement is a Christian “arts movement” working to bring creativity and creative ministries into churches. It hosts “Creative Church Conferences” every two years.
- ArtsJournal is a website that covers all art-related news and events.
- Faith & Form is an interfaith journal on religion, art and architecture.
- Frieze.com is a web-based journal that covers contemporary art.
- Image is a journal that focuses on the intersection of Western art and contemporary art and literature.
- More resources can be found in “Religion and art: Talent and tension,” a ReligionLink source guide dated Nov. 15, 2016.
Salma Arastu is an artist and calligrapher based in Berkeley, Calif. Her subjects are frequently sacred texts and she believes her art is divinely inspired. Her works drawn from the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita and the poems of Rumi were the subject of a show called “Painting Prayers” at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art.
The Rev. Arturo Araujo is a Jesuit priest and an artist who works in printmaking and ceramics. He has had a solo show at the Manresa Gallery in San Francisco. Gallery notes for that show said: “Connecting closely to Pope Francis’ second encyclical Laudato si’, Araujo nuances and expands upon the spirit of an earthly tradition, pointing to contemporary religious, political, and cultural practices in his work.” He is on the faculty at the University of San Francisco.
Helene Aylon is a visual, conceptual and performance artist whose work is sometimes focused on what she calls “rescuing G-d.” Her artist’s statement reads, in part, “I realized early in the 90’s that G-D (whatever G-D may be) had to be liberated from patriarchal projections and that I had to deal with my orthodox identity issues.” Her memoir, Whatever Is Contained Must Be Released, links her Orthodox Jewish childhood with her work as an artist.
Francoise Bissara-Frereau is a French artist and sculptor whose subjects are frequently religious and include St. Joan of Arc, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Family and the Last Supper. Contact via the form on her website.
Darrell Black is an American artist who is based in Frankfurt, Germany. His abstract acrylics and oils are frequently inspired by faith, and he has spoken about using art to bridge the gap between Christianity and Judaism.
Beth Grossman is a San Francisco-based artist who primarily works in sculptures of wood and metal. Much of her art that involves religious subjects or themes is in the form of vessels or household tools, including The Sabbath Has Kept the Jews and Our Mother Mary Found.
Ivan Guaderrama is an artist in Los Cabos, Mexico, who says his work is inspired by God. He paints angels, interpretations of Bible verses, crosses, Bible characters and saints.
Catherine Kapikian is a tapestry artist and the founder of the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where she remains an artist-in-residence. She designs and creates tapestry, fiber and wood installations that have been displayed in houses of worship of every major Christian denomination. Many of her tapestries are large and are created with a community of workers practicing what she calls “participatory aesthetics.”
Brian Kershisnik is a contemporary artist and Mormon whose faith-based work is featured on a tour of the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City. He has described his subjects as people engaged in “workaday holiness” and lectured about the intersection of faith, inspiration and art at the Art, Belief and Meaning symposium in 2008. He is based in Provo, Utah. Contact via the form on on his website.
Bernard Maisner is a contemporary artist and master calligrapher whose works were collected in a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He is internationally famous for his illuminated manuscripts. His artist’s statement for that show describes his art as a doorway to the spiritual. He lives and works in New York City.
Richard McBee is an artist and writer who writes and lectures frequently and widely about Jewish contemporary art. His own paintings are frequently drawn from Jewish scriptures and include numerous characters from Old Testament stories — Esther, Moses, Sarah, Abraham and many more. He lives in New York. Contact via the form on his website.
Alyssa Mumtaz is a mixed-media artist based in Charlottesville, Va. She describes her work as exploring “the intersections of abstraction, contemplativity and artisanship.” She is a 2017-2018 artist-in-residence at the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion in Washington, D.C.
Paola Pivi is an Italian artist who lives and works in Alaska and India. One of her recent projects, “Tulkus 1880 to 2018,” is an attempt to photograph every living Buddhist “tulku” — the living incarnation of a Buddha. The project has been displayed at the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, Italy, and at Le Bains du Nord in Bourgogne, France.
Israel Tsvaygenbaum is a Russian-born Jewish artist who lives and works in Albany, N.Y. Some of his canvases depict Jewish life and history and Torah themes and stories.
Judith Tutin is an Ireland-based artist whose paintings frequently address Catholicism. Her artist’s statement describes viewing art as a spiritual experience.
James R. Blaettler
James R. Blaettler is a Jesuit priest and director of the Manresa Gallery in San Francisco. He has curated or co-curated several art shows at Manresa, which emphasizes art and religion, including “The Spirit Within,” a collection of contemporary Native American art.
Claudia Gould is director of the Jewish Museum in New York City. She has a strong background in contemporary art and her appointment to head the museum in 2011 was a move to emphasize contemporary art and contemporary perspectives on the museum’s collection of Judaica.
Omar Kholeif is a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, where he will curate the 2019 show “Many Tongues: Art, Language and Revolution in the Middle East and South Asia.” The show will examine “shared histories of colonization and migration, and religion and tradition.” Contact via Elena Grotto in media relations.
Shauna Lee Lange
Shauna Lee Lange is an artist, illustrator and designer who is also a liturgical arts adviser to churches and other sacred spaces. She has identified trends in North American contemporary sacred arts that include a return to organic materials, a focus on mysticism and exoticism and a preference for minimalism. She is based in Connecticut.
York Lethbridge is executive director of the Mercer Union, a center for contemporary art in Toronto. He curated the center’s 2016-2017 show “Astral Bodies,” a group show in which artists explored “the nature of divinity and how we fit into the universe.”
Kiki McGrath is curator of the Dadian Gallery at the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where she also teaches a course in creating art as a spiritual practice.
Helen Molesworth is chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. She can discuss how contemporary artists, especially those whose work is not explicitly religious, confront questions usually tackled by religion. Contact via Priyanka Fernando, communications assistant, or Emily Rose, her executive assistant.
Under Molesworth’s curatorship, the museum presented a video installation by Arthur Jafa titled Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death that was set to the gospel-inspired hip-hop music of Kanye West.
Natasha Ritsma is curator of the Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago, where eight galleries feature religious art. She can discuss the importance and impact of religiously inspired art and what role faith can play in the life and work of an artist.
Daniel Siedell is a professor of art history and criticism at King’s College in New York City. He is the author of God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art and is an expert on modern art and theology.
Deborah Sokolove is a painter, a visual arts professor at Wesley Theological University in Washington, D.C., and director of its Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion. She is the author of Sanctifying Art: Inviting Conversation Between Artists, Theologians, and the Church. She teaches four courses on religion and art, including one on art and worship and one on art, symbol and ritual.
Menachem Wecker is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes frequently about art and religion/spirituality for many publications, including The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Religion News Service. He can discuss contemporary artists whose subjects are inspired by faith or religion, especially Jewish and Christian artists. Contact via the form on his website.
Ashlee Whitaker is the curator of religious art at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art in Provo, Utah. The museum has a significant number of works, both antique and contemporary, that deal with religious subject matter and themes.
She can discuss the source of inspiration for Mormon artists, whose church leaders have encouraged them to explore their faith through art.