The Studio of Eric Valosin

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Results are In!

Many of you who participated in my recent survey on the Role of Art in Worship have inquired about the results. So.... [drumroll]

They say that a 10% response to a survey is considered a solid attempt, and 15% an overwhelming success. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, in just 4 days and 20 tags, I received 53 responses (a 265% response!) So thank you to all of you who participated! 

The questions I asked were as follows:

  1. Position within church: clergy, non-clergy leadership, or lay congregant; briefly describe your church
  2. Rank the following art forms in order of their use in your church's worship experience (1 = most used, 6 = least used): dance, film, literary arts, music, theater/performing arts, visual arts
  3. What do you think the role of the visual arts is in spiritual life (in general, not limited to church)?
  4. How important do you think the visual arts are to the worship experience? (1 = not at all important, 10 = extremely important)
  5. How much do you think the congregation values the use of visual arts in the worship experience? (1 = wouldn't notice if it disappeared, 10 = membership would tank and there would be an upheaval if it disappeared)
  6. How has visual art been used in your church (by you personally or by others in leadership or the congregation)?
  7.  How many people in your congregation would identify themselves as an artist? How many of them actively contribute artistically to the life of the church? (Take your best guess, but if you really don't know, please enter "999"): Number of artists ___, Number who contribute regularly ___, Number who have contributed only once or very occasionally ___
  8. Has your church ever used/employed an artist from outside of the congregation? If so, how? if not, why not?
  9. What concerns, if any, do you face that would stop you from using art more?
  10. In what ways do you wish art could be used in your church that it isn't already? (Optional. Feel free to dream big.)


  • 53 participants, 18 clergy, 14 leaders, 21 lay congregants, wide range of churches (20 members to well over 1,000, rural to urban, conservative to liberal, parish and non-parish ministries)
  • Visual arts typically ranked the 3rd most used; only one person ranked it most used in their church (question 2)
  • Visual arts has an average importance to spiritual life of an 8 on a scale of 1-10 (question 4)
  • Average value placed on visual arts by the congregation was about 5 on a scale of 1-10 (q.5)
  • On average, participants ranked the importance of visual arts (q.4) 2.44 points higher than they ranked the congregational appreciation of it (q.5). Only 5 people ranked congregational appreciation (q.5) higher than spiritual importance (q.4)
  • One person ranked its importance (q.4) a 7 but stated “I don’t know” in response to why. Shows an implicit importance but lack of understanding of the function of art
  • This disconnect between importance (q.4) and appreciation (q.5) suggests 3 possible things:
    • We know it’s important but don’t know how to implement it to get that across
    • Makers get more out of our current use of arts than viewers
    • We *assume* there’s a general disinterest in our congregations that may or may not really be there (the question asks people to predict congregational responses, but doesn't get actual representative congregational answers)
  • 67.5% of churches in the survey have never used artists outside their congregation, usually for money reasons (though at least one participant noted they had never thought of it as an option) (question 8)
  • A synthesized description of the function of visual arts in spiritual life compiled from all of the responses to this survey (question 3 and others):
    • "God himself is beauty and truth, who revealed himself to us first through art, as a creator of creative beings. The visual arts are therefore an extension of God himself and the gift of an opportunity to partner with God. The use of visual arts in worship connects us to God in new ways by encouraging a diversity of viewpoints, emotions, and new ways of feeling, and thinking. It grabs our attention by breaking us out of routine expectations. It encourages an active, participatory form of contemplation, providing a space and mindset for worship in which to pause and reflect, meditate, and be inspired by a potentially revelatory experience that surpasses words (which merely describe.) Visual art bolsters our capacity for other creative processes, and must partner in dialogue with all the other art forms, engaging all of our senses and tying into the whole of the service, liturgy, and season. Ultimately though, like all other forms of worship it must point to Jesus and then get out of the way, so as not to become idolatrous or distracting"
  • Reasons why congregants undervalue art
    • Lack of education (People don’t understand it)
    • Underexposure 
    • Overexposure but Under-disclosure = It’s everywhere, but taken for granted (People don’t think about it/recognize it when they see it) - By contrast, the church that meets in a bar, which, by way of obvious contrast, would make you very aware of art that otherwise seems out of place, ranked its congregational valuing of art at a 10, saying “because we are in a very non-traditional space [bar], the visual art is what makes the space spiritual,” giving people “ownership of the space and by extension, of the church”
    • People don’t give feedback (so it never adjusts to function better)
    • Done with good intentions but poor execution (so it is not proven to be valuable or effective)
    • People are tied to our prior textual/auditory culture or aren’t visual learners
  • The most popular current uses of visual art
    • Overhead/projected images to accompany sermons/lectures
    • Bulletin covers
    • Graphic design
    • Performance (live creation of art in response to scripture, i.e. A pottery demonstration accompanying discussion of Jeremiah, or painter responding to the spirit, etc)
    • Youth activities
    • Annual arts fairs, shows
    • Altar design
  • Some outside of the box uses of visual arts that were presented
    • Teaching about liturgical colors
    • Annual arts fairs and shows
    • Used to enhance music (partnering with other senses and art forms)
    • As a participatory worship offering
    • Devotional, meditation point or extension of prayer (with supplies made available)
    • Mobia - a group that gives in-house stained glass window tours at churches
    • as Prophetic gifts (spirit-led creations given to congregants accompanied by a prophetic word)
    • As Outreach gifts (artistic cards or small works of art given to newcomers or community members)
    • An in-house art gallery featuring members and local artists
    • Reaching out to university students outside the church to create art for the church
  •   Biggest stumbling blocks to the arts
    • **Money!!! (even a church that reported an estimated 500 artists in the congregation, half of which contribute regularly, cited money issues as a main reason they don’t do more or reach out to non-congregant artists.)
    • **Lack of education (leaders aren’t trained, followers aren’t educated, people won’t get why it’s a valid tool)
    • **Fear of disapproval from Congregations resistant to change
    • Lack of direction/leadership
    • Lack of time
    • Limiting architecture
    • Politics (lack of pastoral support or Disconnect between leadership and congregants (old-guard, text based culture vs. newer imaged based culture)
    • Lack of volunteers (if you have an art idea, it’s coming out of your pocket - again money)
    • Lack of artistic contacts
    • Lack of quality
    • lack of attention because of bigger fish to fry;
    • Theological concerns
      • Takes focus off of savior and becomes a distraction
      • Idolatry - Worships man’s accomplishments rather than God’s
      • Complicates and clutters worship, interfering with prayer attitude (the desire for church to provide a simple and stabile place of respite from the busy and volatile culture of everyday life)
      • Oversensationalizing and oversimplifying the complexity of truth, creating empty emotional reactions
      • Ethical insensitivity (i.e. a painting with a white Jesus with a hispanic child is not only inaccurate, it can create a further feeling of disconnect rather than diversity and unity)
  • Big Dreams - it’s amazing how many fantastic ideas people have. It’s just a matter of taking the time to dream them and then actually doing them!
    • Training programs to break barriers, make art more personally relatable, and teach others to dream big
    • Murals and youth involvement
    • Better altar design and use of space
    • Live artmaking performance
    • Invitation to use art to contemplate before the service or during a prayer time
    • Artists groups to support the arts community, create a non-threatening form of outreach, and beautify the building
    • Commissions for stations of the cross, sculpture gardens, and other specific projects
    • More congregational participation and communal projects
  • Quoteworthy passages: 
    • From stained glassed windows to the pomp of choir robes and clerical garb, there is significance in visual aesthetics in worship even if attention isn't overtly called to these items.”
    • [re: question 9] “I think visual arts is the least of my church's worries”
    • [re: question 3, comment section] "I never hear any input one way or the other from the people"
    • "real truth invites us to face the complex nature of our broken humanity, empathize with those living in the tension between pain and joy, understand deeply the fact that all of us exist within a mixture of darkness and light, and realize the redemption and joy of grace while never avoiding the barrenness of our souls that must be recognized for true worship."

I'll be addressing many of the pressing issues and incorporating many of the creative solutions from these surveys into my class when it rolls around, so again, thank you, thank you, thank you!

LASTLY, many of you expressed an interest in talking further, which I would LOVE to do ... but it was an anonymous survey... so I don't know who you are or how to contact you unless you explicitly told me in your response! So please feel free to reach out and email me: eric@ericvalosin.com. I'm excited by your inspiring and challenging thoughts and questions and would love to continue the dialogue!

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