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‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord’ – that is what art does. Phyllis Novak

Books

Sokolove, D.: Sanctifying Art

Book info

Deborah Sokolove: Sanctifying Art: Inviting Conversation between Artists, Theologians, and the Church, Wipf & Stock/Cascade Books – Eugene, 2013.

by Deborah Sokolove

Sanctifying Art grew out of my sense of a disjuncture between the ways that many theologians, pastors and other people in churches talked about the arts and the ways that painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, writers, and other artists understood their own processes and products. It really began with the following story:

About twenty years ago I was installing a rather complicated piece of art in a small church. There I was, teetering on a ladder, trying to reach a pole across a six-foot gap without dropping the linked pieces of copper that were suspended from it. Suddenly, a member of the congregation walked by, saying, “Oh, I had no idea that art was so physical!”

For my part, I had no idea that anyone could have thought otherwise. From the prehistoric painters drawing by uncertain firelight deep in the caves at Alta Mira to Michelangelo aiming hammer blows at blocks of marble to force them to release the sculpture held captive within, every printmaker who ends each day with cramping hands and aching back after endless hours of bending over a work table, painstakingly chiseling fine lines into a hardwood block, every potter who stays up all night to tend the kiln, every muralist who scrambles up and down scaffolding to get a better view of the day’s work, every dancer who comes to the final act of a ballet with bleeding toes, and every guitarist who practices for hours despite the blistered fingers and throbbing shoulders, artists have always grappled with the sheer physicality of what they do.

For the church member who marveled at my balancing act, however, art was not physical, but spiritual. Art, she believed, was something ethereal, mysterious, sacred, a way of apprehending the holy. Art, she seemed to think, was made in an instant, a painting breathed onto the canvas, a sculpture formed by thought alone, with no effort or compromise between the moment of inspiration and its realization as object. Art, for her, was something set apart, an experience outside of normal life, a divine gift unsullied by human labor.

This book is for anyone who believes that art is simply a mysterious gift rather than the result of conscious thought and physical labor. It is also my attempt to answer the twin questions, What is good art? and What is art good for? For artists I offer a challenge to work collaboratively with others, sharing leadership, skills, and ideas freely and fluidly. For the church I offer some ways to recover our primal relationship with artists and the arts, for understanding symbol and metaphor as a means for telling the truth about human life and the life of God.