Theology and Art?

photo (2)In thinking through the theological challenges of racial (de) formation, I have been repeatedly brought back to the significance of the arts, but specifically the visual arts. Exploring more of the artistic process as a mode of seeing as well as a means of reflection I have begun to wonder how theology has suffered from its moniker as “queen of the sciences.” I say this, in part, because of theology’s difficulty in accounting for the body, for our material realities as well as how easily sight and vision become problematically obscured in the attempt to to claim either orthodoxy (right belief) or orthopraxy (right practice or action). At Seattle Pacific University, where I teach theology, I have the privilege of examining these questions alongside some brilliant and talented Christian artists and art historians. Some reflections by myself and art faculty, Laura Lasworth, on the connections between art and theology can be found here.

Art has helped me to begin to think about how difference (racial, ethnic, gender) as a theological question is deeply bound to the visual and yet theology has persistently resisted this question. How do we account for difference? For bodies that look different without glossing over those differences? How do we account for the visibility of God? Of God having a face? These are questions that have been ancillary to theological reflection. The shame here is not that we have not had definitive answers, but that not having anthropology, an account of bodies and sight and materiality as a part of dogmatic theological reflection has been a detriment to theology as a process. As much as art creates a visual image, art is also a process of thought and engagement with the world and questions of who we are, who God is, and who we are together. In this way theology needs art not simply to illustrate the conclusions we have reached, but as partners in the theological process.