The beauty in seemingly insignificant things is opened for us by the artist’s eye. Abraham Kuyper

​Reconstructed by Anikó Ouweneel


by Anikó Ouweneel

I am not shocked very quickly. It is all about how you look at things. (...) Art may bring wholesome confusion. People can be challenged.  Gerard de Korte, Bishop of ’s-Hertogenbosch, opening speech exhibition

There was a much talked-about exposition in the NoordBrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands) this year (2017). It showed works by modern and contemporary Dutch artists inspired by the traditional Catholic statues of Christ and the saints. The curators, art historian Joost de Wal and artist Wout Herfkens, took the work of pioneer Jacques Frenken as a starting point. He was the first artist in the Netherlands who in 1965 started to alter and reconstruct dumped devotional objects and hide layered messages in the mass-produced plaster statues. Soon enough this was recognized as modern iconoclasm. He was criticized especially – and not surprisingly – by Catholic believers. These sculptures had often been the genuine centre of rituals and devotion in Catholic houses until they were thrown away as a side effect of secularization.

The reuse of objects in art is not a new idea, think of Marcel Duchamp's readymade. But no one applied a saw to an image of a saint or put nails in it like Frenken did. Yet through his ironclad compositions he tells a lot about the cultural context of the 1960's. On the one hand he criticizes the trivial and kitsch in religious objects, on the other hand he handles the subject with respect and sensitivity (despite the saw and nails). Frenken says (quote from the catalogue): "I have brought the [spurned] statue back in our midst and accentuated the pain it exudes with nails. With this I invoke the fierce emotions people try to renounce."

The Madonna and child covered in nails makes their future pain almost tangible, while Frenken also makes visible the many prayers people prayed inspired by this sculpture. In this way he renews the original meaning of the iconic image and frees the object from its factory-made appearance. Another example is his Franciscus, sawed to pieces yet carefully encased and accompanied by countless stuffed birds. As if Franciscus’ life’s work has been revived as well as immaculately catalogued and stored away once again. I hope that people who see this work of art get inspired to read about him as his message is urgent as ever.

The next section of the exhibition showed art from the 1980's and 1990's, the years of criticism of religion, mass culture and consumerism. Artists also questioned the credibility of Christianity. Several examples of colourful visual narratives are to be found here, for example Red onze zielen (Save our Souls) by Rudolf Holleman and Fons Schobbers' Balance. How beautiful this must appear to him who understands it (1986) by Henk Visch was one of the most impressive works for me in this section. "A broken and battered corpus is ground between two interlacing cartwheels," reads the sign: food for thought about the glorification of the horrors of Christ's martyrdom.

This work was the bridge to the third section that showed art made after 2000. In the 21st century artists pursue constructive meaning rather than deconstruction. The old purposes of devotional objects are examined by open-minded and curious designers not burdened by dogmatic religion but rather seeking authenticity of faith. Old answers are reconsidered: can these objects give us counsel and direction? In our fast existence we reach out to centuries-old symbols to investigate how forms, so burdened with content, might say something new for our times. It is fascinating to observe personal discoveries. At the same time it is exciting to realize how our society – with artists in the avant-garde – rediscovers and reconsiders its Christian roots.

Most contemporary art in the exhibition is based on the reuse of corpuses instead of statues of Mary and saints. Could the reason be the secular or protestant background of the presented artists, even if they are not religious themselves? Or is the image of the last remaining overall recognizable biblical figure in our secular age – the crucified Christ – the epicentre of the holiness artists want to examine? The crucifixion can refer to the violence of our own time, for example in the work of Jan Tregot or in Jeroen Heesters Our nature. Other works such as Perseverance by Marijn Morée and Wout Herfkens' Uit de mijn or Jésus à l’Hôpital challenge the spectator in other ways.

Imagine, you see all the wasted crucifixes in charity shops and junk sales and you feel compassionate about them. Wout Herfkens buys them, takes the Jesuses from the crosses, cleans them lovingly, binds their wounds and lays them down on custom made beds. For years he has been working on this series called Jésus à l’Hôpital. There are more than 60 corpuses in his sick-bay by now. A touching idea, funny and serious at the same time. Does he perhaps want to help the Jesus figures get better? Or does he want to honour the suffering? Or grant them some well-deserved rest?

For centuries crucifixes were the centre of interiors, today they are thrown away en masse. The average Dutch citizen hardly knows the history and meaning of this crucial image, while Christianity itself is busy reconsidering its own relevance. Herfkens’ compassion makes us consider our relevance in today’s cultural context. His work is not only an act of sympathy, a gesture of thanksgiving or perhaps an expression of sorrow about the course of our culture. It expresses the desire to help things change. What does Christianity have to say to our day and age? Has perhaps the time come that the emphasis on the death of Christ should shift to an emphasis on the resurrection? Christianity, awaken!


Jacques Frenken: Crucifix / Target (1966) wood, paint, plaster (corpus, ca. 1900), Ø 133 cm.  Photo NoordBrabants Museum.

Jacques Frenken: Nail Madonna (1968) wood, iron, plaster (Madonna with Child, ca. 1900), 102,5 x 49 x 22 cm. Photo NoordBrabants Museum.

Jacques Frenken: Francis of Assisi (1966) wood, paint, stuffed birds, plaster (icon, ca. 1900), 148 x 40 x 34 cm. Photo NoordBrabants Museum.

Henk Visch: How beautiful this must appear to him who understands it (1986) wood, plaster (corpus 20th century), 130 x 120 x 70 cm. Photo Aniko Ouweneel.

Wout Herfkens: Jésus à l’Hôpital (2014-2016). Photo website Wout Herfkens.


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?”


15 February 2020 / Imagination at Play

by Marianne Lettieri

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.”


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.'


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.