Scripture Engagement Through Visual Art - Resources
The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
Every piece of art is intended to impact its viewers, and every viewer is impacted differently by each piece of art. In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen describes how God was able to touch his heart and change his life through the work of Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. Years of meditating on this one painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, allowed Nouwen to make many discoveries about himself and his Father and see his heart and calling in a new light. As readers we are guided through his thought process and development and we are able to see the impact Scripture may have on us through art, if we allow God to speak through the artist’s work directly into our lives. This is perhaps the most well-known book exemplifying the process of using art to help us engage with a Scripture passage.
Timothy Botts – Calligrapher
The Book of Psalms
Portraits of the Word: Great Verses of the Bible in Expressive Calligraphy
Artist Timothy Botts has spent his career illuminating biblical texts, hymns, spirituals, and poetry in vibrantly hued calligraphy. His artwork is predominately text and expressive colored backgrounds, giving viewers the opportunity to engage with the written words of Scripture not only mentally but also visually. The meaning of the passages is expressed not only through the language itself but also through the forms and colors of the words. Believers will find themselves drawn deeper into their favorite texts of Scripture through the artwork of Timothy Botts. The books listed above are just a selection of Timothy Botts’ work, recommended for their excellence and their sole presentation of his Scripture calligraphy.
Annunciation, Last Supper, Crucifixion, and Descent (Collection of 4)
Annunciation. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2000. Print. (The story of Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus)
Crucifixion. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2000. Print.
Descent. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2000. Print. (Jesus descending from the cross)
Last Supper. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2000. Print.
Each of these beautiful books with their metallic covers and brightly printed pictures contains hundreds of artistic depictions of the biblical event noted in the title. Each print is labeled with its title, date, and artist. Some pages contain insights into the symbolism or information on the history of the painting. The experience of viewing, in sequence, depictions of a single event by various artists throughout time allows us to see the story from many points of view. We can gain new insight and sense a connection with believers from the past as we examine the many interpretations.
Who Are You My Daughter? Reading Ruth Through Images and Text by Ellen Davis and Margaret Parker
Davis and Parker collaborated to create this beautiful and thoughtful illustrated translation of the book of Ruth. Twenty detailed woodcut prints appear alongside Davis’ personal translation of the complete Hebrew text and her inductive insights into the meaning of the passage. Once the last page is reached, the reader is left with the feeling of having both read an illustrated story book and accomplished a detailed study of Scripture. This is an outstanding resource for any teen or adult wishing to engage with Scripture through art.
Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer by Juliet Benner
Juliet Benner leads readers through a process of reflection and prayer similar to what Henri Nouwen practices in his contemplation of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Each chapter focuses on a single piece of art and encourages the reader to consider the biblical passage depicted in new ways. Readers may enjoy the biographical information about the artists included in the book. A Bible should be kept close at hand while reading this book, as passages are referenced, but not directly included in the text. Contemplative Vision is a good source for someone who wishes to engage Scripture through art with an author guiding him/her through the process.
The Through Artists’ Eyes series includes three devotional guides, God’s Word through Glass, God’s Word on Canvas, and God’s Word in Stone. Each chapter leads readers through a thoughtful and prayerful process of contemplation on a specific work of art. The series is designed to inspire conversation about the works of art and the scriptural accounts they depict. Small groups would find these books particularly useful, as the studies are meant to spark discussion.
Dwelling with Philippians: A Conversation with Scripture Through Image and Word by Elizabeth Halstead, Paul Detterman, Joyce Borger & John Witvliet
While most Scripture-based art depicts images of narrative portions of the Word, the ideas and concepts of a passage can be difficult for artists to express visually when it comes to other biblical genres. However, the authors of Dwelling with Philippians have created an intricate collection of high-quality art, poetry, prose, and quotations that will help the reader to engage visually with Paul’s deeply theological writings. Not all art pieces in this book are strictly based on biblical accounts, but all have been chosen for inclusion for their spiritual themes and value for personal reflection. Having previous study experience in the book of Philippians may be helpful, but this book is a significant source for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of and connection with Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
The Book of Revelation by Matt Dorff & Chris Koelle
This exciting artistic rendition of the final book of the Bible will interest many teens and adults alike. Matt Dorff’s adaption of the entirety of Father Mark Arey’s and Father Philemon Sevastiades’ original translation of Revelation is accompanied by artist Chris Koelle’s visual interpretations of the text in the format of a graphic novel. This is neither traditional artwork nor a resource like any other recommended for Scripture engagement through art. However, the full text of the highly abstract and prophetic book of Revelation may be better grasped by readers when woven into the thrilling pictorial depictions by Koelle. Readers should be forewarned that the imaginative illustrations are often graphic and disturbing, and parents should use discernment before placing this book in the hands of older children or young teens. Mature readers who enjoy the graphic novel medium will greatly appreciate this high-quality work.
Beauty Given by Grace: The Biblical Prints of Sadao Watanabe by Sadao Watanabe & Sandra Bowden
Watanabe, Sadao, and Sandra Bowden. Beauty given by grace: the biblical prints of Sadao Watanabe. Baltimore, Md.: Square Halo Books, 2012. Print.
Artist Sadao Watanabe once said of his prints, “I would most like to see them hanging where people ordinarily gather, because Jesus brought the gospel for the people.” Through his work, in which familiar Scripture narratives take on a beautiful Japanese flavor, believers are able to see faith traversing cultures. While the four essays in this book are primarily focused on biographical information on the artist and critiques of his work, over 80 pieces are presented in vivid colors alongside corresponding passages from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
Art that Tells the Story by Christopher Brewer & Michael Witmer
Brewer, Christopher R., and Michael E. Wittmer. Art That Tells the Story. Grand Rapids, MI: 2011. Print.
“The Christian Scriptures, like every good book, has a plot.” So begins the first essay leading into the four sections of Art that Tells the Story. The book, in its entirety, gives believers a birds-eye view of Scripture through art, quotations, and corresponding verses. Beginning with a section depicting Creation, the story continues on through the Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. Artistic mediums range from pencil sketches to sculpture and styles from abstract to highly realistic. Intriguing essays on the importance of art in evangelism and Christian faith in general are combined with the art work to make Art that Tells the Story an excellent tool for Scripture Engagement through Art.
ONLINE BIBLICAL ART SOURCES:
This is a fascinating website that has as its goal to create “the world's largest multi-disciplinary illuminated Bible with a piece of visual, performing, or literary art covering every passage of the Bible.” On the website, contemporary musical, visual arts, performance arts, writings (e.g., poetry and short stories) and mixed media (e.g., short videos) resources are available on selected biblical passages. The resources are of excellent quality. The artistic styles of the artists on the website are diverse. The selection of biblical art on this website is continually growing.
The ArtWay website contains an enormous collection of artworks by Christian artists. Not all the pieces are strictly scriptural depictions (though many are), but all are distinctly biblical in that they portray Christian values, concepts, and spirituality. Mediums included on the site range from painting and sketching to sculpture, and even architecture. Anything from classics by Van Gogh to modern art pieces are included. Most pieces include an article on the artist and/or a reflection on the work.
He Qi is a Chinese Christian artist seeking to make Christianity, which can seem Western and inaccessible to the Chinese people, more relatable by creating accurate visual representations of biblical passages using Chinese art forms. There is much value in these works for Western believers as well. With the majority of Scriptural art that we are familiar with being created by Western artists, we are able to gain new perspective on the accounts by allowing ourselves to see the Bible through the eyes of people of other cultures.
Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) is an organization that supports Christian artists and provides opportunities for other believers to engage with these artists’ works. Little actual art is available for viewing on the site, but there are resource pages containing extensive lists of books pertaining to faith and the arts as well as locations and dates for CIVA galleries and exhibitions. Podcasts, articles, and a blog are also offered, all on the topic of Christianity and spiritual development through the arts.
This museum in New York City is dedicated to emphasizing the influence of the Bible on modern culture. Though the museum has no collection of its own, special exhibitions change every few months so visitors can enjoy a new experience on each trip. Tours are available weekly and options for educational opportunities are provided. The Museum of Biblical Art is open Tuesday-Sunday and admission is free.