When Alexandra Harper was a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), she sat in a class about Christians, faith and the arts. As her class discussed modern art and broader conversations about art, one of her classmates said, “I don’t think it’s wrong, but I’m going to be a pastor. I don’t really know what to do with this.”
“That was a notion I consistently experienced from my classmates,” said Harper, who now serves as Director of Culture Care at Culture Care RDU. Many of her classmates had theological knowledge, apologetic experience and had read classic works of literature. “But when it came to visual art, they kind of froze.”
The church has historically been a shepherd of art, but our relationship to art has changed. “We have retreated into the trenches and pretty much abandoned our post,” she said.
This fall, the L. Russ Bush Center of Faith and Culture at SEBTS is taking steps to re-engage the visual arts. They will host a national traveling art exhibit called “Come to the Table” from Sept. 19 to Oct. 29, 2018. The exhibit is made available through Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA), a non-profit organization founded in 1979 dedicated to exploring and nurturing the relationship between the visual arts and the Christian faith.
The church has historically been a shepherd of art, but our relationship to art has changed.
“At the Come to the Table exhibit, we have 33 artists ranging from Albrecht Durer, one of the great Renaissance artists, from whom we have an engraving of the Last Supper, to modernist and contemporary artists,” Harper said. “Some of the images are representational or historical; others are metaphorical. Each work offers a unique perspective.”
Throughout the exhibit, hospitality is the guiding emphasis. “Come to the Table is about hospitality — specifically, God’s hospitality through visible signs of generosity, grace and welcome through the cup and the bread,” she said. “These works offer different perspectives or layers of meaning, but one thing that is central to the Table is the fundamental desire for God’s presence, hospitality and intimacy.”
Some Christians fail to see why engaging the arts is important. Harper acknowledged that art is far more popular than one might imagine. “More people go to museums in the United States than go to sports games. There are more American museums in the United States than there are Starbucks and McDonalds put together,” she said. “The fact is that people do care about the arts in the sense that they’re showing up.” If our neighbors care about art, then so should we.
More importantly, though, art is woven into the fabric of our faith. Since its inception, the church has had visible signs like the table, cup and bread, and each of these visual elements helps us tell a story. The same is true with art. “God created the material world,” Harper said. “Scripture speaks about the heavens declaring the wonder and glory of God.”
Harper hopes that this exhibit will be the first of many opportunities for Christians to engage the arts. “I hope this is the first of many events for Southeastern to prepare leaders and renew Christianity’s historic role of patronage, connection and storytelling through art,” she said.
- CIVA “Come to the Table” Exhibit: September 19 – October 29, 2018
- Opening Reception: September 24 at 7pm
- Open Gallery: 8am – 5pm (Monday – Thursday) | 8am – 4pm (Friday)
The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture
2nd Floor of Patterson Hall
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
222 N. Wingate St.
Wake Forest, NC 27587
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