Why Paint During Worship?

Randy Blasquez Oct Arts MonthMany churches are beginning to incorporate live painting into their worship services. For those who haven’t experienced this, a painter(s) will begin with a large, blank canvas at the beginning of a service and paint throughout the worship time, sometimes through the sermon and even through multiple services. The painter (or other visual artist) is considered a worship leader, and often stands alongside the other members of the worship team. The content of the painting is often related to the theme of the worship or message, and the painting is characterized by some sense of spontaneity, experimentation, discovery, and artistic virtuosity.

Oak Hills Church has been incorporating performance artists into our services for a number of years now, an extension of the Art & Soul Gallery which hangs in our church lobby. Beyond the superficial “cool factor,” there really is a theological and philosophical rationale undergirding this trend.

So I thought it would be helpful for those who have or are contemplating live painting to know the reasoning behind live painting. In other words: Why paint during a worship service?

05 P1010845 CBsmLive painting is an act of creativity. And the act of creativity reminds us that we worship and are made in the image of an Eternally Creative God. Watching a painting take shape evokes a Bob Ross sense of wonderment and curiosity, two necessary characteristics of the growing worshiper.

Live painting is a non-verbal expression of the sermon. The Church has a long-established history of displaying paintings and sculpture and other visual means as aids to worship, but unfortunately some of our faith traditions walked away from much of this during the Reformation. Stained glass, as an example, was an art form that brilliantly and boldly preached the story of God to an illiterate laity. And although we generally have a literate population in this day and age, the visual arts still speaks boldly to the visual learner. At our church, a performance artist recently painted the Biblical figure, Abagail, in support of a message preached from 1 Samuel 25. It was quite effective.

God meets us in the act of creation. The Holy Spirit is our Inspirer. He works not only through the artist to express each brush stroke, but also works through the audience to ascribe meaning to that colored canvas. If we truly believe that God speaks to us, then performance art gives us the opportunity to open the eyes of our hearts to Him. This is just as true with works of abstraction as well as of realism or metaphor.

Art can be Prophetic. The artist of faith has the ability to tell the story of God, and share the heart of God, through means beyond mere words. Prophetic art has been defined as, “revealing by divine inspiration, to reveal the will or message of God, to illuminate or bring revelation to a situation.” When we let artists of faith express themselves in a service, we release a prophetic stream often untapped in many of our churches.

Live painting is an expression of faith. Live painting gives the visual artists in our church a venue for publicly expressing their faith through non-musical worship. We strongly believe that the non-verbal testimony of those who paint is as important as the verbal testimonies we share in our services.

DSC07327 Paint Kent CBsmNow that I’ve shared with you five reasons to incorporate live painting into your services, let me give you three quick reasons why you shouldn’t:

Because it sounds like it would be something cool. Please don’t do this because you saw something like it on “America’s Got Talent.” It is crucially important that expressions of the arts in your local church be premised by a foundational theology of the arts. In other words, what you do should spring from your beliefs, not from simple stylistic preferences.

Because you’re trying to create a spectacle of some sort. Don’t use artists like so many side shows in a circus. Art is not the show before the sermon. The arts are, for artists of faith, an expression of life lived in Christ. Respect the arts and your artists—for who they are and not simply for what they do.

• Because Aunt Betty took a class in painting at the community college. As I’ve preached before, medium and message are inextricably entwined. And as such, we cannot settle for art that is simplistic, derivative, superficial, propaganda-driven, or mediocre, for it reflects on the message. And our message is that of God’s love through Jesus Christ. If the story of God is to shine from our work, and we must be diligent and committed to pursue excellence, originality, and honesty as we express it.

Do you have other thoughts? Is your church incorporating performance artists, and if so, do you have substantive reasons why? Let me know your thoughts.

[Photo Credits: [Top] Randy Blasquez interprets a view of the Lord’s Supper; [Middle] Anna Agundez sculpts two people in embrace (the flat screen to the right allows the audience to see her work in more detail); [Bottom] Melinda Word paints during the message given by Pastor Kent Carlson. Photos taken by Dave Kilborn.]

12 thoughts on “Why Paint During Worship?

  1. Thank you for putting this into writing, Manuel. As worship artists, it can often be hard to put our mission into words! Every pastor and worship leader I am connected with will have this post in their inbox!

      1. Thank you, Manuel, that means a lot. Consider me a satellite member; same church, different circle. Sharing the gospel creatively from both US coasts!

  2. Manuel, can you get permission to post a collection of low to medium resolution photos of the artwork? I (and probably many others) would love to see what these artists created.

  3. Is it okay to repost this to my blog? About the only thing I am wrestling with is the Aunt Betty line. It’s not that I don’t think we should strive for excellence, I just think excellence is really hard to define. So long as Jackson Pollock and Rembrandt can hang in the same museum, art is really subjective. There is this strange balance at play here. On one hand I get what you’re saying about doing great work, on the other hand, with so much emphasis on flash and polish, there is something to be said for the sincere expression of the growing artist. Also there are a lot of other things that come into play. I’ve been in services where I’ve had four minutes. Clearly this was not my best art but it was the best I could do in four minutes and a lifetime of practice. I have always felt there is this thin line between my basic philosophy of “everybody gets to play” and not putting someone out there til they’re ready. For the longest time this has not been an issue, because it’s been just me, i.e. I do the painting and then I do the preaching, but now in working with a group of artists that just started I am trying to figure out how this all works. Thanks for a great post.

    1. Hi Dave:

      I subscribe to the definition of excellence offered by Nancy Beach, who stated, “Excellence is doing the best you can with what you have.” (Please see the link that I had embedded in that paragraph.)

      For me, the issue is not having the Aunty Betty’s of the world share their art. The issue is to have them share simply because she is Aunt Betty and they took one art class. If that’s your only motivation, I would be hesitant to put her up there. But if Aunt Betty is doing the best she can, and she represents a quality of excellence typical of your church, then let her paint! Also, if you’re given only four minutes, if you do the best you can in four minutes, I think you can still apply the value of excellence to that four minutes. This definition of excellence is, in my opinion, a more healthy one, that strives toward something greater but doesn’t feed ego or perfectionism.

      I hope that helps. Good discussion though!


  4. Bravo on your comments regarding a Spirit of excellence. As a past Worship Art leader in a church that had a global audience, it was very difficult to find a loving balance. What I learned in the 4 years of overseeing the arts regarding this delicate balance was this. Some faith artisans were young in their abilities to not only get up on a stage before thousands but heart motivation was key. What I did not want to do was to partner with the liar and squash the Creative Spirit within the individual. My heart longing was (and is) to equip and raise up. I found as I mentored the new artists with love and technique advancement, they were given the opportunity to paint live on the platform in our Friday night School of the Spirit meetings. Those who wanted to continue to master their skills, etc., then were given the opportunity to paint during conferences and Sunday morning services that are internationally web-streamed. I followed the lead of an amazing worship leader, an international musician that would only allow musicians who could ‘read’ music play on the stage. He knew the richness of sound that can come from discipleship and an earnest heart for excellence.

  5. Hi, Manuel. I would humbly submit some additional reasons for NOT doing performance art during worship:

    1) The art of the historical Christian church has never been spontaneous. Just like its theology, it is carefully extracted from (and submitted to) the Word of God, methodically executed, and commissioned and approved by the church’s spiritual overseers. Great art involves time and planning, because it is a theological expression, not an emotional expression. Modernism has ruined our perception of the arts, because we tend to think of it as primarily an expression of self. Sacred art should never be that.

    2) The visual arts lack the clarity of the spoken word, and cannot be placed on the same level. A painting, even when carefully planned by an expert, could be misinterpreted by a viewer. It should not be seen as equal with a sermon, hymn, or liturgy, especially if the action of painting it is distracting from those more important, theological parts.

    3) While God does work in mysterious ways, we have no promise from God that the Holy Spirit is working through our brush strokes. We might just as likely see the devil at work there (see #1). God only promises to be present in his Word and Sacraments, and that is where we should look for him.

    4) “Expressions of faith,” while good and pleasing to God, are not necessarily good and pleasing to God in the context of corporate worship. I always use the example of David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6:14). God was apparently pleased with this act of worship. But note that David was not dancing in the Temple, where the same act might have incurred God’s wrath. There is a clear distinction in Scripture between spiritual acts of worship (Romans 12:1) and corporate acts of worship (1 Corinthians 14:6-12), which require order, dignity, and the edification of our fellow believers. St. Paul uses the example of speaking in tongues. As wonderful as that gift is, if no one is there to interpret your speech, then it does no one any good, and you should therefore be silent. The same would certainly apply to interpretive dance, or any other “performance art.”

    1. Thanks for your contribution Jonathan. Obviously, there is much more behind what we do——philosophically, theologically, and practically.

      While I agree with most of what you say, I would not adhere so strongly to your point 1, particularly regarding your definition of spontaneity. As a jazz musician, I can tell you that excellence in “spontaneity” requires a great deal of skill and practice and planning. While I have a tendency to shy away from spontaneity characterized by sloppiness, I do think that spontaneity born of the Holy Spirit and undergirded by virtuosity can be and is very much a part of the worship experience. Also, I do think that theological expressions can also be emotional expressions, and that the two are not dichotomous. I believe that God loves to express His Truth through us, through our personalities and experiences and artistry and emotion.

      I do resonate with your point 4, in that there is a difference between personal and corporate acts of worship. I think that several of the popular worship songs are appropriate in personal worship but not in corporate worship, as an example. And your point 3 is well stated. Thanks for your contribution to the dialogue.


      1. Hello! I am an artist who paints during church services sometimes. I just finished a blog post on the art I have done then.


        Every single time God has either put an image on my heart to do instead of something I planned, or the inspiration for the piece happened to be the same one the pastor used for his sermon, without any planning. I ask God for humility and an open heart to hear what he wants me to do, and together we make art.

        This often inspires others to make art too, the childlike kind that expresses themselves. I’m not the best painter, but I have had years of training and experience, and, heck, I finish them all during the service, so I’ve only got so long to do them. I believe that art, and inspiring others to explore their faith through art, can open up parts of us that writing sometimes cannot, like the expression of pain and joy, or even warfare.

        I’d have a ton more to say……..

  6. Thank you for writing this article. So reassuring to see these reasons in print. As a prophetic artist, painting live is also an act of faith for me. Every time I do it, I trust that God will give me the image He wants. He is always faithful and blesses me and others beyond measure

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