Example #67 Art and Attentiveness

What if studying art involved loving attention?

Jess’s art class had all been asked to watch some TV adverts the night before and to come ready to share an advert that caught their eye. They were also asked to time the adverts. The adverts were shared and the average time worked out along with some criteria for why these particular adverts had been eye-catching.

"I wanted the students to give a painting serious, loving attention, not glance at it like an advert. I wanted them engage with the contrast between a painting and an advert. Advertisers have to get their message across in seconds but paintings need the long gaze.

Van Eyck - Arnolfini Portrait"I projected The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan Van Eyck for the average time of an advert then I masked the screen. I asked how would this painting rank as an advert? Did anything ‘catch the eye’? Were any of the criteria from advertising present? We went on to talk about how we looked at adverts and how a different type of looking was needed for paintings. We spent a long time looking at the painting, taking it in as a whole and looking at the details. We looked from a distance and close up using the zoom facility. We tried using our imaginations to explore different parts of the painting: textures, smells, tastes, sounds. We noted the affect the painting had on us. Only when we had spent time with the painting did we start to ask questions and use these to guide our research.

"After we had researched the painting we discussed ways in which different people’s responses and our research affected how we saw the painting, and what difference it made to look at it together with others. We discussed if the painting had a message like an advert and how we responded to it. We finished the lesson by spending time in silence looking at the painting again so that the painting had the last word."

What’s going on here?

Jess saw her art lesson as a chance to practise looking at paintings in a way that gave them loving, respectful attention.

She engaged students by drawing on their experience (of adverts) to lead them to consider a contrast, involving their imaginations, and giving them ways of practising focused attention (slow examination, silence).

She reshaped her practice by choosing an opening question, providing different ways of looking at the painting, explicitly encouraging reflection on how we look at images, and attending to the structure of the lesson (the silence at the end).

How do I do this myself?

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

It is easy for students to go through life glancing at the world, giving it superficial thought and attention. Loving attention is grounded in humility and respect; a willingness to believe that there is something worthwhile there that escaped our first glance. This is an attitude that considers that others deserve to be heard and recognises their worth as people made in the image of God. In learning to love an artwork we step outside our immediate likes and dislikes and seek to give our attention to something that is important to someone else. Learning to love an art work (or any other work) does not have to be an emotional response, it is more of a commitment with a willingness to be challenged.

What difference does it make?

The way Jess taught this lesson made students aware of the kinds of attention encouraged by television adverts and how it could limit their engagement with other genres. It offered students concrete practise in extending their ways of viewing and challenged them to move beyond immediate likes and dislikes.

Where could we go from here?

Looking and listening with loving attention could be encouraged in other subjects, for example developing ways of reading texts that are slow and attentive.

Digging deeper

Casual glancing can be the result of our over-stimulated environment, but our own self- absorption, superficiality and a lack of respect can also lead to paying scant attention. We need to cultivate a deep way of viewing the world so that we can look away from self to the object or person seen. We need to try to see things on their own terms and not just from our perspective. This is a way of viewing the world that is not centred on self.

… for Augustine, sin was no more than self-love: sin consisted in valuing oneself over others and conceiving of others and of God in terms of one’s own self. … It was to measure others in reference to oneself, to enter into social relations out of self-interest. Lee Palmer Wandel, from Zwingli and Reformed Practice

If we value others we give their lives, ideas and what they produced careful attention. A painting takes time and skill, creativity and hard work. The artist gives something of him or herself. Paying loving attention to what we study is a mark of respect and that takes humility. Humility was an attitude exemplified by Jesus (Philippians 2:5-6).

By paying loving attention to other people’s work we recognise their worth. The Bible teaches that people have worth by virtue of being created by God and made in his image or likeness (Genesis 1:27). If everyone is made in God’s image there is the possibility of learning from a wide range of people, not just Christians, though discernment is needed. All people have the potential to reflect the image of God.

Scholars differ in how they understand what 'being made in the image of God' means; it could be our creativity, our role in bringing order in the world, or reflecting something of God. It could be our ability to make moral decisions and our social relationships. It could be our ability to think or our ability to have a relationship with God. All these are related; the image of God cannot be reduced to one thing. The image of God is marred in humanity – like a cracked mirror. Only Jesus perfectly reflected God.

Explore similar examples:

What if art helped children to communicate important feelings, thoughts and beliefs?
What if reading were about learning to love a text?
What if students could learn respect through art?

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1Christ encourages you, and his love comforts you. God's Spirit unites you, and you are concerned for others. 2Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person. 3Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. 4Care about them as much as you care about yourselves 5and think the same way that Christ Jesus thought: 6Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. 7Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. 8Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. 9Then God gave Christ the highest place and honoured his name above all others. 10So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. 11And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, Jesus Christ is Lord! Lights in the world 12My dear friends, you always obeyed when I was with you. Now that I am away, you should obey even more. So work with fear and trembling to discover what it really means to be saved. 13God is working in you to make you willing and able to obey him. 14Do everything without grumbling or arguing. 15Then you will be the pure and innocent children of God. You live among people who are crooked and evil, but you must not do anything that they can say is wrong. Try to shine as lights among the people of this world, 16as you hold firmly to the message that gives life. Then on the day when Christ returns, I can take pride in you. I can also know that my work and efforts were not useless. 17Your faith in the Lord and your service are like a sacrifice offered to him. And my own blood may have to be poured out with the sacrifice. If this happens, I will be glad and rejoice with you. 18In the same way, you should be glad and rejoice with me. Timothy and Epaphroditus 19I want to be encouraged by news about you. So I hope the Lord Jesus will soon let me send Timothy to you. 20I don't have anyone else who cares about you as much as he does. 21The others think only about what interests them and not about what concerns Christ Jesus. 22But you know what kind of person Timothy is. He has worked with me like a son in spreading the good news. 23I hope to send him to you, as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me. 24And I feel sure that the Lord will also let me come soon. 25I think I ought to send my dear friend Epaphroditus back to you. He is a follower and a worker and a soldier of the Lord, just as I am. You sent him to look after me, 26but now he is eager to see you. He is worried, because you heard he was sick. 27In fact, he was very sick and almost died. But God was kind to him, and also to me, and he kept me from being burdened down with sorrow. 28Now I am more eager than ever to send Epaphroditus back again. You will be glad to see him, and I won't have to worry any longer. 29Be sure to give him a cheerful welcome, just as people who serve the Lord deserve. 30He almost died working for Christ, and he risked his own life to do for me what you could not.
1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was barren, with no form of life; it was under a roaring ocean covered with darkness. But the Spirit of God was moving over the water. 3God said, I command light to shine! And light started shining. 4God looked at the light and saw that it was good. He separated light from darkness 5and named the light Day and the darkness Night. Evening came and then morningthat was the first day. 6God said, I command a dome to separate the water above it from the water below it. 7And that's what happened. God made the dome 8and named it Sky. Evening came and then morningthat was the second day. 9God said, I command the water under the sky to come together in one place, so there will be dry ground. And that's what happened. 10God named the dry ground Land, and he named the water Sea. God looked at what he had done and saw that it was good. 11God said, I command the earth to produce all kinds of plants, including fruit trees and grain. And that's what happened. 12The earth produced all kinds of vegetation. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. 13Evening came and then morningthat was the third day. 14God said, I command lights to appear in the sky and to separate day from night and to show the time for seasons, special days, and years. 15I command them to shine on the earth. And that's what happened. 16God made two powerful lights, the brighter one to rule the day and the other to rule the night. He also made the stars. 17Then God put these lights in the sky to shine on the earth, 18to rule day and night, and to separate light from darkness. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. 19Evening came and then morningthat was the fourth day. 20God said, I command the sea to be full of living creatures, and I command birds to fly above the earth. 21So God made the giant sea monsters and all the living creatures that swim in the sea. He also made every kind of bird. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. 22Then he gave the living creatures his blessinghe told the sea creatures to live everywhere in the sea and the birds to live everywhere on earth. 23Evening came and then morningthat was the fifth day. 24God said, I command the earth to give life to all kinds of tame animals, wild animals, and reptiles. And that's what happened. 25God made every one of them. Then he looked at what he had done, and it was good. 26God said, Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. We will let them rule the fish, the birds, and all other living creatures. 27So God created humans to be like himself; he made men and women. 28God gave them his blessing and said: Have a lot of children! Fill the earth with people and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and every animal on the earth. 29I have provided all kinds of fruit and grain for you to eat. 30And I have given the green plants as food for everything else that breathes. These will be food for animals, both wild and tame, and for birds. 31God looked at what he had done. All of it was very good! Evening came and then morningthat was the sixth day.