In art school, in a course called something like “Layout Design,” we would sit in front of a collection of markers and pads of layout paper and wait for the professor to give us a format (magazine ad, billboard, bus poster, etc.) and a theme (seafood restaurant, cereal, non-profit organization, or whatever) and we’d have a minute or two to get as many ideas for combining headlines, body text, illustrations, and logos onto paper as we could.
These design sprints would go on day after day. We learned how to pull ideas together quickly and how to avoid letting our lack of artistic confidence get in the way of a good concept. From the full-class critiques that followed, we also learned that not everyone is good at this.
I think of this class whenever I am called upon to create a visual where the suggestion is hands holding dirt with a plant growing from it. Or the Holy Spirit as a flame-shaped dove. Or . . . you get the idea. We—and that includes me—so often settle for a cliché visual or grab the first result from a search of one of the free photo sites.
At a recent staff retreat, for a meditation of encouragement, the leader had us look at some of the many occurrences of the phrase “stand firm” in the Bible. (In the New International Version, those two words appear together thirty-three times.)
I wondered: what if worship visuals were needed to illustrate Psalm 33:11, “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations”? Or Luke 21:19, “Stand firm, and you will win life”—what would that look like?
Below are the words and ideas that came to my mind:
- Lighthouse: cliché, although with a unique crop or interesting typography it could work
- Rocks: maybe a cliché? Standing stones: maybe
- Text-only: always good in a pinch; interesting enough?
- Cement supports: would it be clear what they were?
- Tower: man-made or trees
- Industrial: could be nice, not typical for church
- Bridge supports: could be interesting, more relatable to anyone who has driven over one
- Pier pylons: overused? good example of standing firm
- Girders: very clear; don’t recall seeing something like this in a church setting
Obviously, not all of these are good ideas, and one might be more relevant for members of your church than another, but by assigning yourself to get a dozen or so ideas down, you’re more likely to come up with a more compelling one. I suggest doing this preliminary work alone. Collaborative work is often better in the end, but it’s a hard place to start—especially if the people in your group aren’t visual thinkers.
Here’s a timely challenge: for all of its significance, Ascension Day is a tough assignment for most artists. Most of us have seen the feet-in-the-clouds images used in church school curriculum. But read the forty-plus references to ascension in the Bible and allow yourself to be moved to represent the event in a new way. Take a picture of your dozen or more sketches and upload them to this journal’s Facebook page: facebook.com/reformedworship. There won’t be any judgment—or prizes. But perhaps you will experience a new insight or discover a new perspective by doing this exercise.
This is the work of art, after all: finding fresh ways to communicate age-old ideas.