A blog post by Rev Dr Wendi Sargeant
We live in a visual culture. Ubiquitous screens displaying every kind of imagery: logos, icons, infographics, visualizations, photos, video and pictorial of all kinds are unmissable. The “selfie” is as pervasive as teenage insecurity. Facebook, Instagram, and Snap Chat are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the visual as the information communication choice of this generation.
Data graphic and information visualization guru, Alberto Cairo notes in The Functional Art, “The first and main goal of any graphic and visualization is to be a tool for your eyes and brain to perceive what lies beyond their natural reach.”
This language of art which goes beyond the natural reach of eyes and mind seems to offer an effective way for communicating the endless reach of God’s love.
Visual art is language communicating meaning through juxtapositions of form, symbol, colour, shape and so on. The visual has become the preferred language of the contemporary Western world. Yet, many of the images that flash across our screens as we work out at the gym or eat dinner in front of the TV are transitory, ephemeral and pass into the background of our consciousness. One image is repeated and fleetingly replaced by another that disappears just as quickly. Time-poor Western culture incites meaning-making which is fast paced, immediate, even perfunctory. This infuses a sense of superficiality into the pictorial, and even our visual language becomes shorthanded to logo tag lines and text slang. As Ossian Ward writes, in his Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art:
“More than ever before, looking has become a matter of Darwinian survival – only the strongest images make the grade, and even then we only give a cursory glance to what we think we’re seeing.”
Unfortunately, the visuals commonly used to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ, in recent years, have not always ‘made the grade’, to use Ward’s words. Sadly, many in the art world would agree. The art we corporately employ to glorify God must be as deeply rigorous as our very theology, able to withstand critical thought and genuine questioning. Too often we fall in with our society’s injudicious view of imagery, making do with kitsch clip-art Powerpoint displays and made-to-pattern banner-craft to decorate our sanctuaries. An artifact of enduring worth not only withstands but deserves attention, contemplation — time. In the same way that any language must be learned, so must the language of visual art. Art communicates powerfully, so we need to be careful what we say!