Passing on the Faith through Contemporary Visual Language

October 30, 2007

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Dust to DustThroughout the ages, art has been used to teach our faith. To pass our beliefs to future generations, we need to communicate to everyone, especially our youth, in the contemporary visual language with which they identify. We must accept that no past generation has the best way to express the sacred in our present day, and embrace new ways to reach future generations. For the most part, liturgical art has not kept pace with contemporary art since the Protestant Reformation. Isn’t it about time to translate our traditions and beliefs into a vibrant contemporary spirit?

We spend so much effort developing retreats that inspire our children. Why are we not as passionate about bringing up-to-date the visual message they receive quietly in church? Many have referred to our times as being in a spiritual crisis. To pass on the faith, liturgical art needs to speak to our children today more than ever.

Times Change, Needs Change

As times change, so do our needs. While the television show Ozzie and Harriet spoke to the people of the ‘60s, it does not have that same impact today. Similar to television, artwork needs to change if it is to reach our youth, the future of our faith.

Lessons from Art

There was a day when most could not read and illustrated stories were important in the teaching process. Contemporary students are taught to read and no longer need to learn Bible stories through literal pictorial representations. Today’s educational system teaches young adults to think critically, a mental process of discernment, analyzing and evaluating tangible and intangible topics. Critical thinkers gather information from all of their senses.

Light from LightContemporary liturgical art invites our youth to use their sense of sight to enhance their spiritual reflections and, in turn, deepen their faith. Today’s artists are constantly discovering innovative ways to express the Spirit. Embracing change in liturgical art may be more exciting in our times than ever.

Contemporary Liturgical Art

“The deposit of faith is one thing; the way that it is presented is another. For the truths preserved in our sacred doctrine can retain the same substance under different forms of expressions.” (Pope John XXIII, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 54 (1962), p. 792.)

All of the arts have unique abilities of reaching the hearts of our youth. No one would debate the power of connecting with them through film and music. Why do we overlook the quiet gift of visual art, which pulls us closer to God? When churches only display reproductions of 500-year-old art, they deny the human spirit of new ways to seek the truth. If we are open-minded, the possibilities are endless for contemporary art that speaks to all of us, especially our children, in sacred places.

Passion to PentecostArtists are free from the past need to illustrate, and are constantly working on new ways to communicate visually. Many are creating symbolism that reflects our day. Yesterday’s icons do not speak as effectively today as they once did. Moving contemporary symbols reach further than their intellectual and aesthetic appeal; they evoke a spiritual response within the whole person. Imagine icons in contemporary visual language speaking as strongly today as the Byzantine icons did in their day.

As an artist, I create original abstract spiritual paintings that inspire others to reflect on their own spirituality. My first priority is to bridge viewing with participation and, in doing so, spark a spiritual response. I layer my paintings with symbolism for those who choose to read them on a deeper level. Abstract elements are a wonderful way to express the transcendental. One of the ways the Catholic tradition uses abstract elements is through color. Color has the capacity to be read responsively and symbolically. For example, yellow and gold have been used through the ages to symbolize divinity. In addition, I use them to convey the warmth and peace of the presence of God.


Art enriched with contemporary visual language is necessary to continue our vibrant faith communities. Let’s take on the challenge of developing new images of faith for our children and embrace their exciting new visions of truth which they will pass on to our grandchildren. There are so many ways to express the sacred through visual art. Let’s use them to fan the flame of the Holy Spirit within our children.

Linda McCray creates abstract spiritual original paintings and is founder of Montana Designs Unlimited, Clancy, Montana.


A Brief History of Spiritual Art

Be Not Afraid of Abstract Spiritual Art

Where have liturgical paintings gone? Part I: The Fall of Liturgical Paintings

Where have liturgical paintings gone? Part II: Bring Back Paintings for God's Sake

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