Sure enough, a patch of tarseal had been brought to life by three rusty leaves and a wry-grin-of-a-twig. We laughed at the asphalt expression and hunted for other faces as we walked: a happy face; a sad face; an angry face (literal road rage). I’ve learned a lot about myself by observing my son as we share a number of ways of seeing and being in the world—including a tendency towards fun and distraction (witness the skateboards) and a visual orientation that often notices or imagines things, like faces in the fallen leaves.
This “pictorial bias” took the shape of a rekindled hobby during the lockdowns of 2020. I captured some simple daily images on my phone for a “Gratitude Picture Journal” and was further inspired by the wonderful photo essays from Melody Cooper and Juanita Madden to take my larger cameras out of storage. Finally, in November, I convinced Fuller Theological Seminary to approve some overdue credits as an independent course in Theology and Photography. So, what is my suggested practice for this month? Nature walks? Photography? Skate-boarding? Well, sort of …
The theme of this Common Ground is “Home,” and it reminded me of a book from my Fuller reading list, Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life by Jennifer Allen Craft. As the title implies, Craft explores some of the ways in which the (particularly visual) arts can transform the spaces we inhabit in ways that, in turn, have a profound effect on us. This is a broad theme that echoes across a range of visual disciplines, including architecture and even urban planning: we shape our spaces and then our spaces shape us.
These latest rounds of lockdown have forced us all (especially Aucklanders) back into our homes for longer periods than usual. This has given me time to reflect on the internal spaces of our home in light of her challenge. What kind of place has our family created and what part, specifically, has art played in creating it? What wider values are on display? Throughout her book, Craft is challenging us all to become better “noticers,” and, at the end of this chapter, she summarises a number of ways in which art can be beneficial in the home. For our practice this month, I invite you to take a three-step visual inventory of your place. This is an opportunity to informally and prayerfully catalogue the visual art and craftworks that are in your home and to consider them in light of some reflective questions. As you wander, mentally or (even better) physically, through each room—considering the art you have or want to add—try to keep an open heart as well as open eyes. The displaying of art can easily become an exercise in pretentiousness or posturing. For that reason, I have avoided the highly-charged debates around “What counts as art?” or “High art vs lower forms?” You will see in the selection from our place that there is nothing to be elitist about—most of our images and craftworks have been bought in cafés and op shops, with a couple of cheap poster prints of better-known works. That said, many readers will have developed a much richer knowledge and appreciation of great art than we have—and that should be on display too. Although one of Craft’s meta-reasons for home art is hospitality, that doesn’t mean it needs to be appreciated immediately or by everyone—most good art in the home should invite the telling of a story.