Church Pews
What does religion have to do with it?

Engage Art | Faith, In the Know | October 14, 2021

Two Different Conversations

Artists and the church often find themselves on opposite sides of the fence, so to speak. 

Many arts organizations are specifically non-religious spaces, curating collections from a secular point of view without allowing room for a religious perspective. Consequently, artists of faith who want to succeed professionally may find themselves tempted to negate or disguise their faith when they create.

“[I]t sometimes feels as though art and religion are now strangers to one another, or even downright hostile.”

—Alastair Sooke
“Does modern art hate religion?”
BBC Culture, October 21, 2014

On the other hand, many religious spaces have grave reservations about the arts and the people who make them. Some churches look at music that is not in the hymnal, films with advertising campaigns outside church bulletins, and modern dance styles with skepticism, questioning whether they benefit believers spiritually. If not, the thinking goes, then at best, there is really no point to them. At worst, they are dangerous to our souls.

“WAKE,” by NFTRY—Winner, 1st place for Music Video in the 2020 Engage Art Contest.

“I really was not sure if I should be rapping as a Christian. There’s a population that believes rapping is of the devil and no one should rap and rhyme that way, and there’s no way it could be from the Lord.”

—Jeremiah Bligen
Rapper and Music Producer
1st Place Winner for Music Video (with NFTRY), 2020 Engage Art Contest

In religious spaces, artists of faith may find themselves pushed to leave any doubts, struggles, and connection to secular culture out of their work—if they are invited to bring their creativity to church at all.

The result is that artists and Christians are often carrying on two entirely different conversations.

Threading the Needle

We at Engage Art are interested in finding another way. 

“There does not need to be a dichotomy between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ art, as both touch the restless human soul seeking the rest found only in God.”

—Fr. Frank Sabatté
Paulist Fathers Artist-in-Residence
Director, Openings Collective, NYC
Former Senior Curator, Sheen Center Gallery, NYC
Engage Art Juror, 2020

Engage Art was born out of the desire to reintroduce artists and the church. For too long, art has tried to flourish without exploring questions of faith—and faith has attempted to flourish without connecting humanity’s creative drive to its source: the great Creator. We want to thread the needle and hold space for artists and art appreciators to openly explore faith in the context of art and art in the context of faith. 

We encourage artists of all beliefs to engage Scripture as a source of creative inspiration. We also encourage Christians to deepen their engagement with the arts as a means of growing closer to God. 

Artists have asked if they need to sign a statement of faith or adhere to certain religious practices to participate in the Engage Art Contest. The answer is no. The Engage Art Contest Requirements do not mandate—or even mention!—adhering to any particular beliefs. We welcome artists of all perspectives and beliefs to enter the Engage Art Contest, participate in our Tribe community, and display artwork in the Engage Art Gallery. We value faith and have high respect for Christian Scripture, yet we do not affiliate with any particular denomination. Whatever your beliefs, we want you to know that, as long as you are open to using Scripture as inspiration, you—and your art—have a home with us.

There’s Room for Everyone

Many people in the Engage Art Tribe are enthusiastically Christian. They feel that God guides their daily life in many ways. They might describe themselves as being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through Scripture and prayer, they are learning to discern the movement and voice of the Holy Spirit in the world. We encourage Christians to create careers in the arts without leaving either their faith or creative passion behind. Consider how powerful a mature artist can be when they are also a mature Christian. We also support Christians who do not have a career in the arts as they bring their faith into their personal creative projects—painting as a way to pray, writing songs to engage Scripture, or crafting poems to explore how their relationship with God shows up in their human relationships. 

Many others in the Engage Art Tribe don’t identify as Christian, or they do so with hesitation, and they may have significant reservations about Christianity. Some of these Tribe members have a complicated relationship with the church; others consider themselves truth-seekers on a journey. Engage Art affirms and respects these members of our Tribe as well. You don’t have to be a Christian to be interested in the human spirit and the higher values and purposes that transcend the material world. Artists of many beliefs resonate with our contest’s topic—the spiritual battle—as we all often see flashes of good-vs-evil, light-vs-dark at play in our world. We encourage all artists to consider the bigger human and spiritual picture and engage fully with life’s essential questions. 

On the Engage Art team, we run the gamut. Our team includes members of many denominations, from charismatic to Reformed, who hold various points of view and relate to God (and the church!) in diverse ways. Others describe themselves as “heathen Catholics,” “recovering fundamentalists,” or “in the desert.” 

While our perspectives are different, we all are growing spiritually through Engage Art. We read Scripture more often (thanks to the Engage Art App!) and draw encouragement from it in our daily lives. We pray more for the choices we face and the people we love—and for our Engage Art Tribe members, too. Our understanding of God grows, and our relationships with God deepen as we engage the Scripture-inspired artwork that fills the Gallery

Engage Art is openly spiritual. We are interested in the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The topic of our contest—the spiritual battle—reflects our interest in the struggles affecting the human spirit and the fight in our world between good and evil, bondage and freedom, darkness and light. 

Scripture and Art

In short, our Tribe and staff include a range of viewpoints on faith, religion, and spirituality. And that is okay! God filled our world with diversity of every kind, and we can learn and grow as we connect with people who see the world from different perspectives. 

While we as individuals do not uniformly affiliate with any specific doctrine or denomination, we share a common respect for the Christian Scriptures. At Engage Art, we feel Scripture offers a dynamic source of artistic inspiration, guidance, and encouragement for daily living. An essential part of Engage Art is to encourage people to engage Scripture regularly, including to support their creative process.

“The Bible has been the single greatest source and influence for literature, painting, and music in the history of the world.”

Frank E. Gaebelein, 1899-1983
American Evangelical Educator, Author, Editor
Founding Headmaster, Stony Brook School, Long Island, NY
Editor for Our Hope, Eternity, and Christianity Today magazines
Style Editor, Translation Committee, New International Version Bible
General Editor, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 volumes

For centuries, artists of all beliefs have created art inspired by the Scriptures. Bach’s music was clearly about his deep and abiding faith, as were some pieces by Mozart. Both Catholic, Bouguereau and Manet created mostly secular art and are known as secular artists, but they also addressed scriptural themes. Van Gogh was a pastor’s son (and grandson) who at one point considered a career in the church. Many of his most famous paintings explore scriptural themes in disguise. Many modern artists used Scripture as inspiration, as well, including Dalí (a “Catholic without faith”) and Matisse (an atheist). Even Marc Chagall, a Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin, painted many images of Jesus on the cross, a subject in tension with his Jewish heritage. Check out our website for more discussion of the history of Scripture-inspired artwork. 

“White Crucifixion” by Chagall © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Scripture for Personal Growth, For Us and Everyone Else

We include Scripture in almost everything we share with our Tribe. Personalized Scripture verses, delivered daily, are the heart of the Engage Art App. 

We believe the more we engage Scripture—reading, thinking, talking, creating—the more we tend to grow. Our App draws on 7 years of in-depth analysis of more than 100,000 people living in 20 countries. This research found that whether people see Scripture as ancient literature or consider it relevant and authoritative, they grow more and struggle less when they engage Scripture more than four times a week. That is our wish for . . . well . . . everyone—to grow spiritually and to have fewer struggles by engaging Scripture frequently and consistently. 

We, as creative people, find particular inspiration in connecting with God as a Creator. We, as people engaged in spiritual battles, find encouragement in the example and teachings of Jesus. As we explore Scripture regularly, we learn to discern the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit, a tremendous source of comfort, wisdom, and hope.

Both Facets Together

Wherever you find yourself at this point—in your spiritual life or as an artist—we invite you to follow in the grand tradition of drawing artistic inspiration from the Christian Scriptures. We hope to create a space where you can deepen your spirituality and grow your art practice, holding both facets together without irony or contradiction. 

We hope you take time today (and every day!) to engage culture, engage Scripture, and engage art. 

Most importantly, we want you to know that Engage Art is eager to welcome you and your perspective into our Tribe and your art into our online Gallery. Your entry—your creation—is an integral part of the bigger picture we are creating together. Your art may inspire others, or it may give hope to someone in a difficult spot. Your interpretation of the spiritual battle is a story waiting to be told—and we can’t wait to see it! Our team finds tremendous encouragement in the art created for the contest and our interaction with the Tribe in the App and on social media platforms. We hope you will join us in all of those places.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

—Ecclesiastes 3:11

Submit Your Artwork Today!

Curious? Interested in submitting artwork to our contest? Know someone who might be? Through April 14th, 2022, the Engage Art Contest is open to the whole world! Get your foot in the door by claiming your Artist Page now!