Friday, February 17, 2012

The Conditions for the "Successful" Formation of Worship Art: Part II


Three things before I write part two of this entry (see part one here).

One, I love this photograph of Boris Karloff on the set of Son of Frankenstein (1939). It's so perfect. As a lover of tea and toast and of the craft of acting, it makes my heart happy to see them integrated here.

Two, I'm in Kansas City at the moment, participating in an arts festival that my friend Brian Williams along with a fabulous team has concocted. I'm excited to be here and to see what God is up to in Jayhawk country. Or is that Wildcat country? Hm, I best stay neutral and call it Wizard of Oz country.

Three, our wonderful Laity Lodge retreat is only two weeks away and there is still room to sign up if you want to join a very special gathering of folks who love artists and want to shepherd them well. Check it out here. And here. And here to register and to find out all about Laity Lodge.

NB: I use the terms "liturgical art" and "worship art" in this entry in an interchangeable fashion and mean exactly the same thing by them.

The Conditions: Part II

5. Repetition. How often does a work of art occur during a service? This question is more relevant to occasional art than to permanent art. In churches that make use of the liturgical calendar, this might include the repetition of certain kinds of art at the same times of the year, as with, for example, art that depicts the Advent of Christ. How often might dance or drama happen in the service? Weekly? Monthly? Randomly? And how much of the service does it occupy? How often do un-familiar art media get used by the congregation—media that stretches their understanding and experience of art and of its many-faceted service to corporate worship?

6. Its relation to the rest of the worship service. In what way is the liturgical art related to the other parts of the liturgy? An Iconostasis’ purpose, for example, might be perfectly obvious to a congregation, while the dance-like procession and recession of priests may be clear to another congregation. If they are not clear, the risk is a thoughtless routinizing of worship.

Is it theologically clear in a Pentecostal church why dancers with ribbon sticks dance off to the side of the stage? Is the architectural shape of a “meeting house” or of a Byzantine cathedral clearly understood? Is it clear to Baptists why they sing hymns here, here and here in the service, but not here? Is the art perceived in an isolated way, as simply something that is done at X point in the service but whose relation to the rest of the service is undefined or “inconsequential”?

7. Explication. Does the pastor offer any kind of commentary about the art that is done throughout the liturgy? How often does the pastor offer such commentary? Do other church leaders play a role here? Often? Seldom? Never? Do they seek to help the congregation make meaningful connections between the visual art that surrounds them—architecture, paintings, stained glass, banners, furniture arrangement—and the logic of the liturgy as a whole? Do church leaders help make connections between this art and the rest of their lives?

8. Its culture. Does the art that occurs regularly in the service reinforce the existing culture of the church? Does it in any way stretch the church’s culture? Does it stretch them not simply artistically but spiritually, ethically, missionally? Does it challenge or subvert the culture? Or is this a role that more occasional art performs, say in the form of a photographic exhibit of global Christians or the “poor and needy”? In what ways does the art reform or refresh elements of the worship service?

This is a long list of questions, I recognize. Yet they are the kinds of question that are needed to discern the way in which a given practice of liturgical art actually habituates a congregation. The positive point is this: the more intentionally, intensively and integratively a given piece of liturgical art is used by a congregation, the more chance it has to shape that congregation—spiritually, morally, theologically, relationally, etc.

Put otherwise: while a single experience of worship art might be negligible, what is not negligible is a continuous experience of the same kind of worship art over a long period of time.

6 comments:

Tamara Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Moring said...

Karl Boris? You mean Boris Karloff?

w. david o. taylor said...

Um, well, yes. Oops. Yes. Karl Boris is my other favorite invisible actor friend from the 1930s.

Greg said...

Thank you so much for parts I and II on the formation of Worship Arts. I'll be stealing it. I look forward to seeing you next weekend at Laity.

w. david o. taylor said...

Greg, looking forward to seeing you at the retreat!

Ron said...

The retreat looks great again, got turned on to Charlie first through Vector, must get there one year! Glad to see all that God is doing amidst your life and friendships. May you be kept with a tender heart for Him.

Amities,

Ron