I like simple folk, I like truth and honesty. I love God. In art, too, I seek honesty and strive to radiate it. Marc Chagall

Imagination at Play

Imagination at Play

by Marianne Lettieri

We are all familiar with two stereotypes often portrayed in books and films: the devout Christian as a dour, stern, and humorless fanatic; the Artist as an angry, relentlessly serious, and unfriendly creative. Although it is easy to find fault with such oversimplified clichés, we must admit they sometimes ring true. The absolute best remedy if we find ourselves sliding into one of these rueful caricatures is to go outside and play!

Our modern world is so fast-paced and confrontational that the enchantment of life is easily missed. Many of us focus so much on work and commitments that we never seem to have time for pure fun. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we stopped playing. When we do take time out, we’re more likely to sit in front of a TV or computer than engage in rejuvenating play like we did as children.

Young children accumulate a great amount of learning through play. While they are running, pretending, and building stuff, they solve problems and develop curious minds. Before long, some adult says, enough playing around, time to learn something,” and we put them in chairs, teach them how to learn, and restrict play to recess. Openness to possibilities – what toddlers do with things new to them – is the beginning of exploratory play. As we get older, we tend to forget this and must relearn how to be playfully inquisitive. Adults worry that being playful and silly will get them labeled as childish or weird. But what is wrong with that? Children engaged in playing are incredibly creative and inventive.

Marianne Lettieri: Youth Dew: Curious

Play, like imagination, is an essential learning medium that contributes to all stages of life and areas of development, especially for those working in the arts. It is a healthy response to our consumer culture’s emphasis on academic training, marketability, and critical acclaim. When we play, we engage the creative sides of our brains and silence the inner editor that censors creative thoughts. It is the kind of silliness that makes us exclaim, “I can’t believe I’m doing this!”

The best of our art comes out of enthusiasm rather than working harder at it. The same can be said for faith grounded in joy, not discipline. Discipline, which works for only a short while, has the potential to become the whole point rather than the creative outflow. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek “possessed by god, inspired.” Julie Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says, “Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a long surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us.” If we are able to see the world, ourselves, and one another with eyes of wonder and astonishment, our art will respond with reflections of truth and love.

Marianne Lettieri: Running Stop Signs

Creativity is a spiritual issue. Artistic growth and faith formation are aided by restorative goofing off. Is it not possible that Jesus, the carpenter, enjoyed making whimsical toys for the children whose parents followed him? Perhaps his disciples occasionally took time out of trudging around the Holy Land to play a rowdy game of catch or skinny-dip in Lake Galilee. Certainly a God who would create blue frogs and the duck-billed platypus has a playful sense of humor. Observe nature to know that God is extravagant, generous, joyful. We may feel that the only time God is pleased with us is when we’re doing “spiritual activities” like going to church and reading the Bible. But no, the Creator takes pleasure in all parts of our lives – working, playing, resting, eating, and watching us enjoy his creation.

Regenerative moments of playfulness are necessary for greater health and happiness. Research shows that joyful play releases the body’s endorphins, triggering a sense of wellbeing. Play also reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that can increase the risk for heart disease. Games that challenge the brain, such as chess and puzzles, improve brain function. Social interaction with others wards off stress and depression. Play can be simply throwing a frisbee to the dog, building a snowman with the kids, or getting together with friends to make something. There does not need to be any point to the activity beyond forgetting about work, having fun, and enjoying ourselves with the joyful abandon of childhood.

Marianne Lettieri: Banquet: Go Outside and Play

Being a serious artist does not mean we have to make our lives all about work. Some of the best advice I ever received was a business mentor who told me, “Take the job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.” We want to make great art, trust in our beliefs, and live the life we love. However, we don’t need to get all bogged down in a mire of rigid duty and self-sacrifice that generates feelings of anger and depleted creativity. Wearing the mantle of respectability and maturity can be suffocating. It is when we don’t take ourselves or God seriously enough that we limit God’s provision for us, denying his gifts of joy and fun. Hard work is good, but so is fooling around. To deny ourselves time to laugh, be with family and friends, and fuel our passions, we get caught in what Cameron calls the “treadmill of virtuous production.” We become the longsuffering artist who has a false sense of spirituality based on being above human nature to play.

If making art has become a drudge, most likely the artwork has also lost its sparkle. Perhaps we have been doing the same thing for too long, or we’ve given more concern to time and business management than art experimentation. As a result, the art has become boring and devoid of spontaneous insights. We find ourselves returning to tired concepts and stylistic devices, making craft rather than expanding our art. If our art is beginning to look barren and lifeless, like preserved taxidermy, it may be time to stop making work and work at learning to play. For the hard driving, stressed out artist, playtime can fuel the imagination, supercharge learning, and make work more productive and pleasurable.

Marianne Lettieri: ABC-darians (detail

Let us try to feel like kids again, embracing process over product, because true creativity lies in the doing, not the done. When we are used to focusing on results, we may feel foolish entertaining outrageous ideas. Play may seem silly, and that’s the whole point. Take creative risks in the studio, be curious, make a mess, invite disruption, and ignore concerns that we need to show something for our labor. Go ahead, entertain failure by exploring new media. Decorate our workspaces with toys, weird stuff, arresting imagery, and objects that inspire and remind us to be permissive and playful. Be crazy and go on an adventure – the more bizarre the better – and stay open to the ridiculous. Playful diversions not only give clarity to see problems in new ways and to come up with fresh solutions in the art process, they also reap physical, emotional, spiritual and social benefits.


1. Marianne Lettieri: Youth Dew: Curious, 12x5x7 inches, mixed media construction.

2. Marianne Lettieri: Running Stop Signs, 11x11x4 inches, mixed media construction.

3. Marianne Lettieri: Banquet: Go Outside and Play, 12-inch diameter, altered object.

4. Marianne Lettieri: ABC-darians (detail), 50x29x5 inches, mixed media construction.


For more information on the role of play:

“Tales of Creativity and Play,” TED Talk by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, May 2008.

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julie Cameron, Penguin Putnam, Inc. 2002.

“Why more play is the key to creativity and productivity,” by Matt Davis, BIG THINK, October, 24, 2019.

“The Benefits of Play for Adults,” by HelpGuide, June 2019.


Marianne Lettieri is a visual artist whose mixed media constructions investigate individual and cultural values associated with everyday objects and discarded materials. She has an M.F.A. in Spatial Arts from San Jose State University and B.F.A. in Drawing and Printmaking from University of Florida. She serves on the board of directors for CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) and is the co-author of Seeing the Unseen: Launching and Managing a Church Gallery. Her work can be seen on the website:


08 January 2021 / Reflecting on a Gauguin Masterpiece

by Alan Wilson

An artist's reflection on Impressionism, Cezanne, Van Gogh and especially Gauguin's Vision after the Sermon.


11 December 2020 / ArtWay Newsletter 2020

What makes the ArtWay platform so special is its worldwide scope thanks to its multilingual character. There are ArtWay visitors in all countries on this planet. 


27 October 2020 / Art Pilgrimage

A Research Project on Art Stations of the Cross

by Lieke Wijnia


18 September 2020 / Interview with Peter Koenig

by Jonathan Evens

Koenig's practice demonstrates that the way to avoid blandness in religious art is immersion in Scripture.



How Other Cultures See the Bible

Christian Weber, Wie andere Kulturen die Bibel sehen. Ein Praxisbuch mit 70 Kunstwerken aus 33 Ländern.


17 July 2020 / The Calling Window by Sophie Hacker

by Jonathan Evens  

In 2018 British artist Sophie Hacker was approached to design a window for Romsey Abbey to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.


12 June 2020 / A little leaven leavens the whole lump

From South Africa

Ydi Carstens reports on the group show ‘Unleavened’ which was opened in Stellenbosch shortly before the Covid-19 lock-down. 


14 May 2020 / Jazz, Blues, and Spirituals


Hans Rookmaaker, Jazz, Blues, and Spirituals. The Origins and Spirituality of Black Music in the United States. 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evens


17 April 2020 / Andy Warhol: Catholicism, Work, Faith And Legacy

by Jonathan Evens 

While Warhol’s engagement with faith was complex it touched something which was fundamental, not superficial.


25 March 2020 / Sacred Geometry in Christian Art

by Sophie Hacker

This blog unravels aspects of sacred geometry and how it has inspired art and architecture for millennia. 


22 February 2020 / Between East and West

By Kaori Homma

Being in this limbo between day and night makes me question, “Where does the east end and the west start?”


07 December 2019 / ArtWay Newsletter 2019

An update by our editor-in-chief 
the ArtWay List of Books 2019


16 November 2019 / Scottish Miracles and Parables Exhibition

Alan Wilson: "Can there be a renewal of Christian tradition in Scottish art, where ambitious artists create from a heartfelt faith, committed to their Lord and saviour as well as their craft?"


23 September 2019 / Dal Schindell Tribute

While Dal’s ads and sense of humour became the stuff of legends, it was his influence on the arts at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada that may be his biggest legacy. 


04 September 2019 / The Aesthetics of John Calvin

Calvin stated that 'the faithful see sparks of God's glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing. The world was no doubt made, that it might be the theater of divine glory.'


31 July 2019 / The Legend of the Artist

by Beat Rink

The image of the 'divine' artist becomes so dominant that artists take their orientation from it and lead their lives accordingly.


02 July 2019 / Quotes by Tim Keller

Many “Christian art” productions are in reality just ways of pulling artists out of the world and into the Christian subculture.


08 June 2019 / The Chaiya Art Awards

by Jonathan Evens

The Chaiya Art Awards 2018 proved hugely popular, with over 450 entries and more than 2,700 exhibition visitors.


29 May 2019 / Art Stations of the Cross: Reflections

by Lieke Wynia

In its engagement with both Biblical and contemporary forms of suffering, the exhibition addressed complex topical issues without losing a sense of hope out of sight.


03 May 2019 / Marianne Lettieri: Relics Reborn

Items that show the patina of time and reveal the wear and tear of human interaction are carriers of personal and collective history. 


27 April 2019 / Franciscan and Dominican Arts of Devotion

by John Skillen 

This manner of prayer stirs up devotion, the soul stirring the body, and the body stirring the soul.


13 March 2019 / Makoto Fujimura and the Culture Care Movement

by Victoria Emily Jones

Culture care is a generative approach to culture that brings bouquets of flowers into a culture bereft of beauty.


08 January 2019 / Building a Portfolio of People

by Marianne Lettieri

Besides hard work in the studio, networking may be the single most important skill for a sustainable art practice.


01 December 2018 / ArtWay Newsletter December 2018

ArtWay has Special Plans for 2019!

After London, Washington D.C. and New York the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is now the anticipated location for a prominent art exhibition with the title Art Stations of the Cross.


11 October 2018 / The Life, Art and Legacy of Charles Eamer Kempe

Book Review by Jonathan Evens

The significance and spirituality of the work is made clear in ways which counteract the stereotype of mass production of a static style.


13 September 2018 / A Visit to the Studio of Georges Rouault

by Jim Alimena

Everything we saw and learned reinforced my picture of a great man of faith and a great artist. 


09 August 2018 / With Opened Eyes: Representational Art

by Ydi Coetsee

How do we respond to the ‘lost innocence’ of representational art? 


13 July 2018 / True Spirituality in the Arts

by Edith Reitsema

Living in Christ should lead us away from living with a segregated view of life, having a sacred-secular split. 


17 May 2018 / Beholding Christ in African American Art

Book review by Victoria Emily Jones

One of the hallmarks of Beholding Christ is the diversity of styles, media, and denominational affiliations represented.


23 April 2018 / Short Introduction to Hans Rookmaaker

by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker

On the occasion of the establishment of the Rookmaaker Jazz Scholarship at Covenant College, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 12 March 2018


04 April 2018 / International Art Residency in India

Art for Change, a New Delhi based arts organization with a vision to see art shape society with beauty and truth, will be running its 6th annual International Artist Residency in November 2018.


15 March 2018 / The Stations of the Cross at Blackburn Cathedral

by Penny Warden  

Perhaps the central challenge for the artist in imaging the body of Christ is the problem of representing the dual natures of the doctrine of the incarnation.


23 February 2018 / Between the Shadow and the Light

By Rachel Hostetter Smith

In June 2013 a group of twenty North American and African artists from six African countries met for two weeks of intensive engagement with South Africa.


30 January 2018 / Sacred Geometry in Christian Art

by Sophie Hacker

This blog unravels aspects of sacred geometry and how it has inspired art and architecture for millennia. 


01 January 2018 / Jonathan Evens writes about Central Saint Martins

Why would Central Saint Martins, a world-famous arts and design college and part of University of the Arts London, choose to show work by its graduates in a church?


06 December 2017 / ArtWay Newsletter December, 2017

ArtWay's Chairman Wim Eikelboom: "The visual arts cultivate a fresh and renewed view of deeply entrenched values. That is why ArtWay is happy to provide an online platform for art old and new."


14 November 2017 / The Moral Imagination: Art and Peacebuilding

In the context of conflict transformation the key purpose of creative expression is to provide a venue for people to tell their stories, and for their stories to be heard.


24 October 2017 / Bruce Herman: Ut pictura poesis?

For the last couple hundred of years the arts have largely been in "experimentation mode"—moving away from the humble business of craft and service toward ideas, issues, and theory.


04 October 2017 / David Jeffrey: Art and Understanding Scripture

The purpose of In the Beauty of Holiness: Art and the Bible in Western Culture is to help deepen the reader’s understanding of the magnificence of the Bible as a source for European art.


08 September 2017 / David Taylor: The Aesthetics of John Calvin

Calvin stated that 'the faithful see sparks of God's glory, as it were, glittering in every created thing. The world was no doubt made, that it might be the theater of divine glory.'


23 August 2017 / ​Reconstructed by Anikó Ouweneel

A much talked-about exposition in the NoordBrabants Museum in The Netherlands showed works by modern and contemporary Dutch artists inspired by traditional Catholic statues of Christ and the saints. 


04 July 2017 / Pilgrimage to Venice – The Venice Biennale 2017

When I start to look at the art works, I notice a strange rift between this pleasant environment and the angst and political engagement present in the works of the artists. 


24 June 2017 / Collecting as a Calling

After many years of compiling a collection of religious art, I have come to realize that collecting is a calling. I feel strongly that our collection has real value and that it is a valuable ministry. 


02 June 2017 / I Believe in Contemporary Art

By Alastair Gordon

In recent years there has been a growing interest in questions of religion in contemporary art. Is it just a passing fad or signs of renewed faith in art? 


04 April 2017 / Stations of the Cross - Washington, DC 2017

by Aaron Rosen

We realized that the Stations needed to speak to the acute anxiety facing so many minorities in today’s America and beyond. 


07 March 2017 / Socially Engaged Art

A discussion starter by Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin

Growing dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch, elite and market driven art world has led artists to turn to socially engaged art. 


01 February 2017 / Theodore Prescott: Inside Sagrada Familia

The columns resemble the trunks of trees. Gaudi conceived of the whole interior as a forest, where the nave ceiling would invoke the image of an arboreal canopy.


03 January 2017 / Steve Scott tells about his trips to Bali

In the Balinese shadow play the puppet master pulls from a repertoire of traditional tales and retells them with an emphasis on contemporary moral and spiritual lessons. 


09 December 2016 / Newsletter ArtWay December 2016

Like an imitation of a good thing past, these days of darkness surely will not last. Jesus was here and he is coming again, to lead us to the festival of friends.


01 November 2016 / LAbri for Beginners

What is the role of the Christian artist? Is it not to ‘re-transcendentalise’ the transcendent, to discern what is good in culture, and to subvert what is not with a prophetic voice?


30 September 2016 / Book Review by Jonathan Evens

Jonathan Koestlé-Cate, Art and the Church: A Fractious Embrace - Ecclesiastical Encounters with Contemporary Art, Routledge, 2016.


01 September 2016 / Review: Modern art and the life of a culture

The authors say they want to help the Christian community recognize the issues raised in modern art and to do so in ways that are charitable and irenic. But I did not find them so. Their representation of Rookmaaker seems uncharitable and at times even misleading. 


29 July 2016 / Victoria Emily Jones on Disciplining our Eyes

There’s nothing inherently wrong with images—creating or consuming. In fact, we need them. But we also need to beware of the propensity they have to plant themselves firmly in our minds. 


30 June 2016 / Aniko Ouweneel on What is Christian Art?

Pekka Hannula challenges the spectator to search for the source of the breath we breathe, the source of what makes life worth living, the source of our longing for the victory of redemptive harmony.


09 June 2016 / Theodore Prescott: The Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia is a visual encyclopedia of Christian narrative and Catholic doctrine as Gaudi sought to embody the faith through images, symbols, and expressive forms.


19 May 2016 / Edward Knippers: Do Clothes make the Man?

Since the body is the one common denominator for all of humankind, why do we fear to uncover it? Why is public nudity a shock or even a personal affront?


27 April 2016 / Alexandra Harper: Culture Care

Culture Care is an invitation to create space within the local church to invest our talents, time and tithes in works that lean into the Kingdom of God as creative agents of shalom. 


06 April 2016 / Jonathan Evens on Contemporary Commissions

The issue of commissioning secular artists versus artists of faith represents false division and unnecessary debate. The reality is that both have resulted in successes and failures.


12 March 2016 / Betty Spackman: Creativity and Depression

When our whole being is wired to fly outside the box, life can become a very big challenge. To carve oneself into a square peg for the square holes of society, when you are a round peg, is painful to say the least.


24 February 2016 / Jim Watkins: Augustine and the Senses

Augustine is not saying that sensual pleasure is bad, but that it is a mixed good. As his Confessions so clearly show, Augustine is painfully aware of how easily he can take something good and turn it into something bad. 


11 February 2016 / H.R. Rookmaaker: Does Art Need Justification?

Art is not a religion, nor an activity relegated to a chosen few, nor a mere worldly, superfluous affair. None of these views of art does justice to the creativity with which God has endowed man.


26 January 2016 / Ned Bustard: The Bible is Not Safe

Revealed is intended to provoke surprise, even shock. It shows that the Bible is a book about ordinary people, who are not only spiritual beings, but also greedy, needy, hateful, hopeful, selfish, and sexual.


14 January 2016 / Painting by Nanias Maira from Papua New Guinea

In 2011 Wycliffe missionary Peter Brook commissioned artist Nanias Maira, who belongs to the Kwoma people group of northwestern Papua New Guinea, to paint Bible stories in the traditional style for which he is locally known.