Example #3 Art and Beliefs

What if art helped children to communicate important feelings, thoughts and beliefs?

Justin wanted his Primary class to see art as one way of making invisible things visible. He saw this as part of helping them to express their own ideas and beliefs and also helping them to understand others. This gave learning about different art forms a purpose and made art more personal, relevant and relational.

“The children sat in a circle, at the centre of which I placed a large box labelled 'The Invisibility Box'. We talked about invisible things; our unexpressed thoughts, feelings and beliefs. I started with some examples: ‘My beliefs are invisible as long as I only think them. I believe God loves us but you can't see my belief until it gets expressed in some way, like writing about it. Perhaps I am happy – you see that when I express it in a smile or the way I walk.’

“I asked each child to think of a feeling, belief or thought they could 'put' in the box that they would be happy to share with others. When everyone (including me) had mimed adding something to the box we looked and it was still empty. I explained that we can use art materials as one way to make visible the invisible things in the box. We might do this by drawing, taking photographs, by using clay or fabric. Children took their invisible things and chose a simple way to make it visible, for example, by drawing a smiley face and colouring it yellow for happiness. I made something to express my own thoughts and beliefs.

“This is the beginning of a series of lessons that explore different ways in which artists make the invisible, visible. We went on to look at portraits, sculpture, landscapes and other art forms and how artists show more than what they superficially see. I wanted this introductory lesson to set the framework for what was to follow.”

What’s going on here?

Justin saw art as relevant to his pupils' inner lives, as a way of understanding others, and as a way in which beliefs are embodied.
 
He engaged the children in focusing their attention on art in connection with belief (the box and initial art activity) and helped them see within a new framework (making the invisible visible in order to understand and express). The children were engaged in sharing of feelings and beliefs.
 
Justin reshaped his practice by setting the context for the class's interaction (the circle), by using a focal object (the box) and a focal idea (visible/invisible) to frame the lesson, and by making his own artwork as part of the lesson, modelling the engagement he was looking for by joining in.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

One aspect of art is that it can be about artists and viewers communicating, drawing people into a relationship. Christianity is at heart a relational faith and God is the great communicator. Another aspect is that it is informed by our beliefs and convictions – we are whole people and faith is not separate from our other activities. Justin included a faith example (invisible beliefs made visible in our work) in an art lesson where it fitted naturally, demonstrating that faith is related to all areas of life. He developed skills with a purpose – to communicate and to understand others – an expression of love and hope.

What difference does it make?

By seeing different art forms as a way to express thoughts, feelings and beliefs as well as a means to understand others better, Justin was not only making both art and faith more relational and relevant, he was giving children an overarching concept to organize their exploration of different art forms.

Where could we go from here?

Teachers could explore with pupils what thoughts, feelings, and beliefs they see expressed in works by various artists. They could consider whether they share those feelings or agree with those beliefs, and why, and how they might have designed the art work differently if they feel or believe differently.

Digging deeper

Christians have faith in a God who is driven by love to communicate with his people and draw them into a relationship of love (Hebrews 1:1). The Bible is the story of that communication through creation, through events in history, through the prophets and finally by coming in person in Jesus (John 3:16).
 
In Jesus the invisible God became visible. God takes on human form and lives among us. He knew family life and friendship (Luke 10:38-42), grief (John 11:35) and tiredness. When asked what God was like by his disciple Philip, Jesus replied, "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
 
That communication continues through the Holy Spirit and through the Bible. God used material things to communicate: creation, events, writing, people. Artists reflect a little of that process by making their invisible beliefs, thoughts and feelings visible in paint and stone, fabric and glass.
The sun meets not the springing bud that stretches towards him with half the certainty that God, the source of all good, communicates himself to the soul that longs to partake of him. William Law
Communication between people and between people and God is imperfect now, but the Christian hope is that one day people will know God as he knows each person (1 Corinthians 13:12). Communication holds out hope to many who feel isolated in society. Believers can learn to communicate their faith, hope and love using the things of God’s world, making the invisible, visible.

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1Long ago in many ways and at many times God's prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. 2But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will some day belong to the Son. 3God's Son has all the brightness of God's own glory and is like him in every way. By his own mighty word, he holds the universe together. After the Son had washed away our sins, he sat down at the right side of the glorious God in heaven. 4He had become much greater than the angels, and the name he was given is far greater than any of theirs. 5God has never said to any of the angels, You are my Son, because today I have become your Father! Neither has God said to any of them, I will be his Father, and he will be my Son! 6When God brings his firstborn Son into the world, he commands all his angels to worship him. 7And when God speaks about the angels, he says, I change my angels into wind and my servants into flaming fire. 8But God says about his Son, You are God, and you will rule as King for ever! Your royal power brings about justice. 9You loved justice and hated evil, and so I, your God, have chosen you. I appointed you and made you happier than any of your friends. 10The Scriptures also say, In the beginning, Lord, you were the one who laid the foundation of the earth and created the heavens. 11They will all disappear and wear out like clothes, but you will last for ever. 12You will roll them up like a robe and change them like a garment. But you are always the same, and you will live for ever. 13God never said to any of the angels, Sit at my right side until I make your enemies into a footstool for you! 14Angels are merely spirits sent to serve people who are going to be saved. This great way of being saved
1There was a man named Nicodemus who was a Pharisee and a Jewish leader. 2One night he went to Jesus and said, Sir, we know that God has sent you to teach us. You could not perform these miracles, unless God were with you. 3Jesus replied, I tell you for certain that you must be born from above before you can see God's kingdom! 4Nicodemus asked, How can a grown man ever be born a second time? 5Jesus answered: I tell you for certain that before you can get into God's kingdom, you must be born not only by water, but by the Spirit. 6Humans give life to their children. Yet only God's Spirit can change you into a child of God. 7Don't be surprised when I say that you must be born from above. 8Only God's Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going. 9How can this be? Nicodemus asked. 10Jesus replied: How can you be a teacher of Israel and not know these things? 11I tell you for certain that we know what we are talking about because we have seen it ourselves. But none of you will accept what we say. 12If you don't believe when I talk to you about things on earth, how can you possibly believe if I talk to you about things in heaven? 13No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from there. 14And the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as that metal snake was lifted up by Moses in the desert. 15Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life. 16God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. 17God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! 18No one who has faith in God's Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn't have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God's only Son. 19The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light. 20People who do evil hate the light and won't come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done. 21But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do. Jesus and John the Baptist 22Later, Jesus and his disciples went to Judea, where he stayed with them for a while and was baptizing people. 23John had not yet been put in jail. He was at Aenon near Salim, where there was a lot of water, and people were coming there for John to baptize them. 25John's followers got into an argument with a Jewish man about a ceremony of washing. 26They went to John and said, Rabbi, you spoke about a man when you were with him east of the Jordan. He is now baptizing people, and everyone is going to him. 27John replied: No one can do anything unless God in heaven allows it. 28Surely you remember how I told you that I am not the Messiah. I am only the one sent ahead of him. 29At a wedding the groom is the one who gets married. The best man is glad just to be there and to hear the groom's voice. That's why I am so glad. 30Jesus must become more important, while I become less important. The one who comes from heaven John continued: 31God's Son comes from heaven and is above all others. Everyone who comes from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all others. 32He speaks about what he has seen and heard, and yet no one believes him. 33But everyone who does believe him has shown that God is truthful. 34The Son was sent to speak God's message, and he has been given the full power of God's Spirit. 35The Father loves the Son and has given him everything. 36Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them for ever.
1Later the Lord chose seventy-two other followers and sent them out two by two to every town and village where he was about to go. 2He said to them: A large crop is in the fields, but there are only a few workers. Ask the Lord in charge of the harvest to send out workers to bring it in. 3Now go, but remember, I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves. 4Don't take along a money bag or a travelling bag or sandals. And don't waste time greeting people on the road. 5As soon as you enter a home, say, God bless this home with peace. 6If the people living there are peace-loving, your prayer for peace will bless them. But if they are not peace-loving, your prayer will return to you. 7Stay with the same family, eating and drinking whatever they give you, because workers are worth what they earn. Don't move around from house to house. 8If the people of a town welcome you, eat whatever they offer. 9Heal their sick and say, God's kingdom will soon be here! 10But if the people of a town refuse to welcome you, go out into the street and say, 11We are shaking the dust from our feet as a warning to you. And you can be sure that God's kingdom will soon be here! 12I tell you that on the day of judgment the people of Sodom will get off easier than the people of that town! The unbelieving towns (Matthew 11.20-24) Jesus continued: 13You people of Chorazin are in for trouble! You people of Bethsaida are also in for trouble! If the miracles that took place in your towns had happened in Tyre and Sidon, the people there would have turned to God long ago. They would have dressed in sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. 14On the day of judgment the people of Tyre and Sidon will get off easier than you will. 15People of Capernaum, do you think you will be honoured in heaven? Well, you will go down to hell! 16My followers, whoever listens to you is listening to me. Anyone who says No to you is saying No to me. And anyone who says No to me is really saying No to the one who sent me. The return of the seventy-two 17When the seventy-two followers returned, they were excited and said, Lord, even the demons obeyed when we spoke in your name! 18Jesus told them: I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19I have given you the power to trample on snakes and scorpions and to defeat the power of your enemy Satan. Nothing can harm you. 20But don't be happy because evil spirits obey you. Be happy that your names are written in heaven! Jesus thanks his Father (Matthew 11.25-27; 13.16,17) 21At that same time, Jesus felt the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, and he said: My Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I am grateful that you hid all this from wise and educated people and showed it to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that is what pleased you. 22My Father has given me everything, and he is the only one who knows the Son. The only one who really knows the Father is the Son. But the Son wants to tell others about the Father, so that they can know him too. 23Jesus then turned to his disciples and said to them in private, You are really blessed to see what you see! 24Many prophets and kings were eager to see what you see and to hear what you hear. But I tell you that they did not see or hear. The good Samaritan 25An expert in the Law of Moses stood up and asked Jesus a question to see what he would say. Teacher, he asked, what must I do to have eternal life? 26Jesus answered, What is written in the Scriptures? How do you understand them? 27The man replied, The Scriptures say, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. They also say, Love your neighbours as much as you love yourself. 28Jesus said, You have given the right answer. If you do this, you will have eternal life. 29But the man wanted to show that he knew what he was talking about. So he asked Jesus, Who are my neighbours? 30Jesus replied: As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had. They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road. But when he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. 32Later a temple helper came to the same place. But when he saw the man who had been beaten up, he also went by on the other side. 33A man from Samaria then came travelling along that road. When he saw the man, he felt sorry for him 34and went over to him. He treated his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said, Please take care of the man. If you spend more than this on him, I will pay you when I return. 36Then Jesus asked, Which one of these three people was a real neighbour to the man who was beaten up by robbers? 37The teacher answered, The one who showed pity. Jesus said, Go and do the same! Martha and Mary 38The Lord and his disciples were travelling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. 40Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, Lord, doesn't it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me! 41The Lord answered, Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, 42but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her. Prayer (Matthew 6.9-13; 7.7-11)
1A man called Lazarus was sick in the village of Bethany. He had two sisters, Mary and Martha. This was the same Mary who later poured perfume on the Lord's head and wiped his feet with her hair. 3The sisters sent a message to the Lord and told him that his good friend Lazarus was sick. 4When Jesus heard this, he said, His sickness won't end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son. 5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother. 6But he stayed where he was for two more days. 7Then he said to his disciples, Now we will go back to Judea. 8Teacher, they said, the people there want to stone you to death! Why do you want to go back? 9Jesus answered, Aren't there twelve hours in each day? If you walk during the day, you will have light from the sun, and you won't stumble. 10But if you walk during the night, you will stumble, because you don't have any light. 11Then he told them, Our friend Lazarus is asleep, and I am going there to wake him up. 12They replied, Lord, if he is asleep, he will get better. 13Jesus really meant that Lazarus was dead, but they thought he was talking only about sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, Lazarus is dead! 15I am glad that I wasn't there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me. Let's go to him. 16Thomas, whose nickname was Twin, said to the other disciples, Come on. Let's go, so we can die with him. Jesus brings Lazarus to life 17When Jesus got to Bethany, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was less than three kilometres from Jerusalem, 19and many people had come from the city to comfort Martha and Mary because their brother had died. 20When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22Yet even now I know that God will do anything you ask. 23Jesus told her, Your brother will live again! 24Martha answered, I know that he will be raised to life on the last day, when all the dead are raised. 25Jesus then said, I am the one who raises the dead to life! Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. 26And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die. Do you believe this? 27Yes, Lord! she replied. I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God. You are the one we hoped would come into the world. 28After Martha said this, she went and privately said to her sister Mary, The Teacher is here, and he wants to see you. 29As soon as Mary heard this, she got up and went out to Jesus. 30He was still outside the village where Martha had gone to meet him. 31Many people had come to comfort Mary, and when they saw her quickly leave the house, they thought she was going out to the tomb to cry. So they followed her. 32Mary went to where Jesus was. Then as soon as she saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 33When Jesus saw that Mary and the people with her were crying, he was terribly upset 34and asked, Where have you put his body? They replied, Lord, come and you will see. 35Jesus started crying, 36and the people said, See how much he loved Lazarus. 37Some of them said, He gives sight to the blind. Why couldn't he have kept Lazarus from dying? 38Jesus was still terribly upset. So he went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone rolled against the entrance. 39Then he told the people to roll the stone away. But Martha said, Lord, you know that Lazarus has been dead four days, and there will be a bad smell. 40Jesus replied, Didn't I tell you that if you had faith, you would see the glory of God? 41After the stone had been rolled aside, Jesus looked up towards heaven and prayed, Father, I thank you for answering my prayer. 42I know that you always answer my prayers. But I said this, so that the people here would believe that you sent me. 43When Jesus had finished praying, he shouted, Lazarus, come out! 44The man who had been dead came out. His hands and feet were wrapped with strips of burial cloth, and a cloth covered his face. Jesus then told the people, Untie him and let him go. The plot to kill Jesus (Matthew 26.1-5; Mark 14.1,2; Luke 22.1,2) 45Many of the people who had come to visit Mary saw the things that Jesus did, and they put their faith in him. 46Others went to the Pharisees and told what Jesus had done. 47Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, What should we do? This man is performing a lot of miracles. 48If we don't stop him now, everyone will put their faith in him. Then the Romans will come and destroy our temple and our nation. 49One of the council members was Caiaphas, who was also high priest that year. He spoke up and said, You people don't have any sense at all! 50Don't you know it is better for one person to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed? 51Caiaphas did not say this on his own. As high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation. 52Yet Jesus would not die just for the Jewish nation. He would die to bring together all God's scattered people. 53From that day on, the council started making plans to put Jesus to death. 54Because of this plot against him, Jesus stopped going around in public. He went to the town of Ephraim, which was near the desert, and he stayed there with his disciples. 55It was almost time for Passover. Many of the Jewish people who lived out in the country had come to Jerusalem to get themselves ready for the festival. 56They looked around for Jesus. Then when they were in the temple, they asked each other, You don't think he will come here for Passover, do you? 57The chief priests and the Pharisees told the people to let them know if any of them saw Jesus. That is how they hoped to arrest him. At Bethany (Matthew 26.6-13; Mark 14.3-9)
1Jesus said to his disciples, Don't be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. 2There are many rooms in my Father's house. I wouldn't tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. 3After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. 4You know the way to where I am going. 5Thomas said, Lord, we don't even know where you are going! How can we know the way? 6I am the way, the truth, and the life! Jesus answered. Without me, no one can go to the Father. 7If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him. 8Philip said, Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need. 9Jesus replied: Philip, I have been with you for a long time. Don't you know who I am? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. How can you ask me to show you the Father? 10Don't you believe that I am one with the Father and that the Father is one with me? What I say isn't said on my own. The Father who lives in me does these things. 11Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. 12I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father. 13Ask me, and I will do whatever you ask. This way the Son will bring honour to the Father. 14I will do whatever you ask me to do. The Holy Spirit is promised 15Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will do as I command. 16Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. 17The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don't see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you. 18I won't leave you like orphans. I will come back to you. 19In a little while the people of this world won't be able to see me, but you will see me. And because I live, you will live. 20Then you will know that I am one with the Father. You will know that you are one with me, and I am one with you. 21If you love me, you will do what I have said, and my Father will love you. I will also love you and show you what I am like. 22The other Judas, not Judas Iscariot, then spoke up and asked, Lord, what do you mean by saying that you will show us what you are like, but you will not show the people of this world? 23Jesus replied: If anyone loves me, they will obey me. Then my Father will love them, and we will come to them and live in them. 24But anyone who doesn't love me, won't obey me. What they have heard me say doesn't really come from me, but from the Father who sent me. 25I have told you these things while I am still with you. 26But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you. 27I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid. 28You have already heard me say that I am going and that I will also come back to you. If you really love me, you should be glad that I am going back to the Father, because he is greater than I am. 29I am telling you this before I leave, so that when it does happen, you will have faith in me. 30I cannot speak with you much longer, because the ruler of this world is coming. But he has no power over me. 31I obey my Father, so that everyone in the world might know that I love him. It is time for us to go now. Jesus is the true vine
1What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others. 3What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burnt alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. 4Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or 5rude. Love isn't selfish or quick-tempered. It doesn't keep a record of wrongs that others do. 6Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. 7Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. 8Love never fails! Everyone who prophesies will stop, and unknown languages will no longer be spoken. All that we know will be forgotten. 9We don't know everything, and our prophecies are not complete. 10But what is perfect will some day appear, and what isn't perfect will then disappear. 11When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we stopped our childish ways. 12Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don't know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us. 13For now there are faith, hope, and love. But of these three, the greatest is love. Speaking unknown languages and prophesying