Teaching Art as Worship
In the Bible, we see art as inseparable from objects of worship. From the striking detail in the gold-plated Ark of the Covenant down to the priests’ robes, the Old Testament specifications for the Tent of Meeting reads like a master artist instructing a protegee. What amazes me most is the beauty of form and material described for the Ark! Instead of a simple function-driven wood box, we read of an exquisite golden sculpture to rival that of the famed Renaissance sculptors. Consider this passage from Exodus 25: 18-20:
And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. (ESV)
Notice He even includes “hammered work” to describe how they should be formed. Here, the art is completely functional, purposeful . . . and beautiful! In defining worship, we’ll have a clue to using art as worship.
The first mention of worship in Scripture is when Abraham offers his son as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 22:5). Abraham uses the term “worship” to refer to what he was going to the mountain to do. In this context, worship means so much more than singing a few songs, doesn’t it? Abraham is about to give up that which is dearest to him, offering his son to the Lord. Then God stops him, giving him not only his son back but also a vision of how He would ultimately provide the lamb. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day” (John 8:56) In Romans 12:1 we read, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Emphasis mine). So, worship is really giving all of yourself back to God, daily.
This said, art—as an extension of our minds—is a natural act of worship. If we’re worshipping the Lord with all we are, then our art is an outworking of our redemption—a testimony that we are His. Just like a beautiful piano composition that glorifies the Lord, the technique is learned, but the artistic expression and worshipfulness is innate. We can teach our kids to see art this way using three important keys for worshipful art instruction: create an experience, tell them where, tell them what, and tell them why. You don’t have to be an artist to teach this!
Create an experience. Worshipful music on low in the background, a prayer and Scripture reading before you begin will set the tone. The doing of the art—not just the end result—is where we worship.
Tell them where. Composition is the planning for the artwork. In the Ark of the Covenant, God told the Israelites where to place the cherubs and what position they should be. It’s ok to tell our children where to put the subject on the page. Maybe you’re not artistic—that’s ok! Find images of art compositions you like and show them.
Tell them what. For elementary students, I recommend using a simple fruit still life, geometric shapes. This can be printed out or set up. Vary the mediums each day but not the image. Keep the same image for 1-2 weeks and have the kids draw and shade it using crayon, colored pencil, graphite pencil, pen, and markers.
Tell them why. The Lord gave us the ability to create, and we are worshiping the Lord with our art!
Imagine—just imagine—if we approached every subject this way!
Carole Ruffin is wife to Jesse and mom of five wonderful kids. She’s the author of Kids, Crayons, and Christ early elementary art curriculum, and also a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art. She blogs about practical ways to include art in every subject, and also creative ways to teach older kids when you have a new baby. Here’s her blog: http://www.drawinguntohim.com/homeschool