Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sanctifying Art, hot off the press!

Here it is, hot of the press! I can't quite believe it, even now, but a copy of my new book, Sanctifying Art: Inviting Conversation between Artists, Theologians, and the Church, is on my desk, looking about as beautiful as I could ever have imagined! I am beyond grateful to my editor, Chris Spinks, who shepherded the project and patiently answered all my questions; to the designer, Amelia Reising,who used my painting, Jesus Dies on the Cross, as the centerpiece of the gorgeous cover; to typesetter Heather Carraher, who cheerfully made changes even after what should have been the last minute; to James Stock, who personally phoned me to let me know that copies were on their way much sooner than I expected; and to everyone else at Wipf&Stock who helped make this book a reality.

Sanctifying Art grew out of my sense of a disjuncture between the ways that many theologians, pastors, and other people in churches talked about the arts; and the ways that painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, writers, and other artists understood their own processes and products. It really began with the following story:
About twenty years ago, I was installing a rather complicated piece of art in a small church. There I was, teetering on a ladder, trying to reach a pole across a six-foot gap without dropping the linked pieces of copper that were suspended from it. Suddenly, a member of the congregation walked by, saying, “Oh, I had no idea that art was so physical!”
For my part, I had no idea that anyone could have thought otherwise. From the prehistoric painters drawing by uncertain firelight deep in the caves at Alta Mira; to Michelangelo aiming hammer blows at blocks of marble to force them to release the sculpture held captive within; every printmaker who ends each day with cramping hands and aching back after endless hours of bending over a work table, painstakingly chiseling fine lines into a hardwood block; every potter who stays up all night to tend the kiln, every muralist who scrambles up and down scaffolding to get a better view of the day’s work, every dancer who comes to the final act of a ballet with bleeding toes, and every guitarist who practices for hours despite the blistered fingers and throbbing shoulders, artists have always grappled with the sheer physicality of what they do.
For the church member who marveled at my balancing act, however, art was not physical, but spiritual. Art, she believed, was something ethereal, mysterious, sacred, a way of apprehending the holy. Art, she seemed to think, was made in an instant, a painting breathed onto the canvas, a sculpture formed by thought alone, with no effort or compromise between the moment of inspiration and its realization as object. Art, for her, was something set apart, an experience outside of normal life, a divine gift unsullied by human labor.  
This book is for anyone who, like my friend, believes that art is simply a mysterious gift rather than the result of conscious thought and physical labor. It is also my attempt to answer the twin questions, What is good art? and What is art good for? For artists, I offer a challenge to work collaboratively with others, sharing leadership, skills, and ideas freely and fluidly. For the church, I offer some ways to recover our primal relationship with artists and the arts, for understanding symbol and metaphor as a means for telling the truth about human life and the life of God. If you want to read more, Sanctifying Art is available right now on the Wipf&Stock website.


  1. Deborah,

    It looks like this will be a beautiful book, in many ways. Congratulations! Have always enjoyed your work and contributions at Wesley.

    Barbara Dixon

  2. Thank you. And it is very nice to know that someone is actually reading this blog.