Public Lecture: Jesus in Australian Art

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This lecture explored the ways in which the figure of Jesus has appeared in the history of Australian art.

Rev Dr Rod Pattenden is an art historian and theologian interested in the power of images. He considers that looking at art helps us see more clearly the culture we inhabit and what shapes our faith, hopes, and desires in this complex postmodern era. Rod has written and lectured widely on art and spirituality in Australia and for many years was the Chair of the Blake Prize for Religious Art. He is currently minister of the Adamstown Uniting Church where he leads a vibrant arts and community development ministry.

Vessels: Theology and the Arts Symposium

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Karly Michelle Edgar, ‘Vessels’. Paper and wax.

What does it mean to live in the in-between? As a trauma survivor, artist, and theologian, I actively seek out the edges of creative and scholarly domains. This is because my story and my lived experiences are not adequately represented at the centre of traditional ecclesiastical practice. Consequently, I work in the in-between spaces of: femininity and the Christian Church, living in the aftermath of sexual violence, mental health, spirituality, artistic practices, and transdisciplinary research. My artistic practice – specifically, faceted glass – provides the visual framework to bridge the gap between a theology of trauma, lived praxis, and contextual knowing.

I believe that the creative arts are an external action whereby ‘an individual or group’ can, in the words of Frank Burch Brown, ‘participate in sacred time and space and . . . [potentially] discover transcendent, timeless meaning’. Museums and churches are historically in the practice of visually documenting and curating humanity’s ongoing relationship with creation and Creator. It could be argued that ecclesiastical art forms such as architecture, stained-glass, and liturgical ornamentation contribute to the archiving and interpretation of humanity’s perpetually-unfolding creative response to the infinite self-communication between humanity and the divine. Ecclesiastical architecture and stained-glass windows have been a constant historical visual expression of Western Christian theological debate. The aim, however, of these art forms is to move those who encounter them beyond their own purely objective knowledge of reality, as if there is such a thing, and toward a curiosity of the incomprehensibility of God.

Yet, when one speaks of the creative arts as a significant avenue to generate and contribute to theological knowledge and spiritual engagement, my experience is that it is still met with suspicion and mistrust. I believe that the arts are a symbol of embedded thought whereby humanity and divinity meet within temporal creation.

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Alexandra Banks, ‘Lamb of God’. Faceted Glass panel, St Luke’s Anglican Church Woy Woy.

To explore the transdisciplinary intersections between the arts and theology I will be hosting a three-day symposium at St Luke’s Anglican Church, Woy Woy, between 12–14 July 2019, where theologians, artists, clerics, and philosophers will gather to explore the relationships between the arts and theology. The three keynote speakers – Rev Dr. Rod Pattenden, Dr. John McDowell, and Father Chris Bedding – are drawn from across the Australian theological and creative arts landscape. The symposium will also comprise of an art exhibition, poetry, creative workshops, short papers, and music.

The last fifty years has seen some astonishingly-inventive solutions to creatively engage with theology, ecclesiology, liturgy, and the public sphere of spirituality and faith. This three-day symposium seeks to explore the shifts in method, style, and theory found in the liminal space created when the creative arts, scripture, theology, faith, and community coalesce.

The aim of this symposium is to draw people from within the Australian context to reflect, discuss, and analyse the integral place of the arts in Christian expression. If you are interested in attending, or in submitting an abstract or an artwork, please visit either the event website, or its Facebook page.

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Alexandra Banks is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Theology at St Francis’ Theological College, Charles Sturt University.