You may have some art already in your room or house. Perhaps it was a gift, or it was something you spotted at a market or art exhibition. Good on you! Collecting art is not only a fun form of investment – if you have a discerning eye – but it can go a long way to positively impact your lifestyle and well-being. However, art is as varied as the artists who create it and being ever-present in a room and available to the subconscious means we should carefully consider the pieces we collect. As Christians, we are often cautious with the books, music and movies that we engage with. We consider whether the content will harm or help our relationship with God and other people. Images and art should be no different. Even abstract art, where the content may not be immediately readable, should be considered for its deeper messages.
What’s nice is that you don’t have to be an art historian to analyse a piece of art. Visual perception of truth and beauty is such a universal and natural skill, that art - whose language is truth and beauty - has been admired and (mostly) understood by all humanity for centuries. Yes, contemporary art has got its own thing going and it doesn’t always see beauty or truth as a necessity, but its conceptual nature brings its own pursuit of truth and expression.
So, how do you figure out what an artwork is all about? Portraits, religious works, landscapes and abstract pieces are usually pretty straightforward. Pieces that may need more consideration would be those that you buy at an art gallery or exhibition.
It could be there are figures in the work, but you’re not sure what they’re doing or who they are. What you could focus on next are things like the kinds of colours and textures used to generate a specific mood or feeling. Is it made mostly of dark tones or bright colours? Are the brushstrokes still visible? Do they look like the artist was relaxed or energetic when they made them? Overall, does looking at the piece make you feel energetic, sad, angry, thoughtful, happy or peaceful? Does it inspire you and lift your heart?
I’m one to argue that the art in a home should be there for a reason. We don’t usually go off and buy a movie or a book without proper reason. Similarly, just buying art for the sake of buying it is not its best use. The pieces we collect should be ones that inspire and lift our spirits, or pieces that make us think about or remember important things.
The Church was, and still is, a phenomenal patron of the arts. The main functions of art included aiding prayer and reflection, and education of congregations. Paired with sermons, art in churches presented the faithful with a visual representation of the gospels and lives of the saints which they could understand and relate to. Similarly, we should consider art as things that aid reflection and perhaps even consolidate knowledge. Your art should be relevant to you. Not just things that you think others would be impressed by.
For objects that occupy a permanent space in our homes, we should aim to make sure that they benefit us mentally, spiritually and physically. Seeing beautiful things brings joy and can significantly improve the quality of life. Religious images in particular can be beautiful calls to prayer and praise. Having such works in your own personal space like a bedroom or study can be an immense help in one’s prayer life. They also bring a prayerful approach to work, study and general living, even subconsciously so at times.
Never underestimate your brain. It is incredible and never stops absorbing and learning! This includes times when you’re not even paying attention. The subconscious pays more attention to visual stimulus than you would think. All the more reason to carefully consider your visual environment – even those little pieces that you think you never look at. All those posters, paintings and sculptures in the corners, the fridge-magnets and t-shirt designs, are regularly taken in by your brain and impact you in various ways. Let’s make these impacts positive ones, especially in such tough times where we may be feeling down, lonely, or stressed.
Go find your favourite pieces of art and celebrate the beauty that surrounds you!