Art is Holy Work

Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.  ~Pablo Picasso 

Basically there can be no categories such as “religious” art and “secular” art because all true art is incarnational, and therefore “religious.” ~Madeline L’Engle
Creating art is holy work, simply because God is, in fact, an artist. God called his defining work adam, referring to the medium (earth, in Hebrew adama) from which he formed it. This work, was something of a self-portrait, being created ‘in God’s image.’ Like all art, God’s creative expression made visible what often goes unseen. In this case, God brought God’s very self into our perception, making visible the invisible.

This showing forth the invisible is always the project of true art. As Picasso said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” Art gives us eyes to see reality in new, fresh ways, but art always invites us to discover genuine reality. It challenges us to experience reality with our inner beings, our hearts, imaginations and spirits. Art is revelatory, or as L’Engle says “incarnational,” giving flesh to non-corporeal reality. Thus art is judged both by the profundity of the subject it treats and by the proficiency with which it enfleshes this truth. Good art opens us to what is unseen around us, or even better, within us, but truly great art illuminates the life’s deepest realities–the mysteries with which faith is concerned. Saint Paul speaks as to artists when he describes Jesus as the “image of the invisible God.”

As God’s perfect self-portrait, Jesus is history’s quintessential masterpiece. His life dramatically reveals reality’s most sublime and fundamental truth – the very existence and nature of God. But then, where does a book of angel art fit within the shared revelatory ambitions of art and faith? Angels are, in a lesser way than Jesus, bearers of the veracity of God. Nearly all the authors of the Bible speak of angels. Heaven is filled with worshiping seraphim and cherubim, but when they come to earth they serve as messengers and warriors, commissioned for the benefit of God’s people. The author of Hebrews asks rhetorically: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? “ (Hebrews 1:14).

In recent decades, fascination with angels has led some to ascribe affection to them that can only be described as worship. The temptation is real, for even St. John was compelled to it. Instructively, his angelic host through the visions of Revelation refused, saying “Do not do it. I am a fellow servant like you...Worship God!” (Revelation 22:9) We would be wise to remember this. Many contemporary representations of angels fall short of art, striving not to reveal what is real, but rather—like a cartoon of the Easter Bunny—only to reiterate the empty inspiration of unreality through visual cliché. In stark contrast, the art in these pages is an invitation to open your imagination and experience the mysterious reality of God’s presence and activity through the presence and activity of his holy angels.  

This is the foreword I wrote for a book of angel art titled Angels: Artists Imagine the Invisible, the work of Arts of the Covenant. This book is available for viewing and purchase here.

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