Re-Imagining the Church as Patron
A Theological Rationale for the Church as Patron to the Arts
PhD Student: Sara Schumacher
In April 2010, The Times ran an article titled, 'Let's get artists into our churches'. In that article, the journalist responds to what she calls ‘a flurry of contemporary art commissions in churches’ and proceeds to comment upon several of the most recent works. She then astutely notes that ‘though this may feel novel, it’s worth remembering that for centuries the Church was the main patron of art.’ The Christian Church in the UK is experiencing a resurgence – perhaps even a renaissance – of visual art within and on its walls.
What is more, art has moved beyond felt banners and flower arrangements. The Church is now commissioning internationally-renowned artists, such as Tracey Emin in Liverpool Cathedral, Peter Howson in St Andrews Catholic Cathedral, Glasgow, and Alison Watt in Old Saint Pauls Episcopal Church, Edinburgh. In addition to large-scale direct commissioning, there is growing engagement between the arts and the church at the smaller-scale level, for example when the arts explicitly shape the worship of a church, such as St James Leith in Edinburgh. Perhaps most intriguing (for the theologian) is the fact that the resurgence is happening across denominations and theological differences – both mainline and evangelical Protestant churches as well as Catholic churches have actively patronized the visual arts in recent years.
Sponsored by Art and Christianity Enquiry, ‘the leading UK organization in the field of visual art and religion’, my project explores this under-researched ecclesial and theological phenomenon. By combining theological research with qualitative methodology, specifically in-depth semi-structured interviews and document analysis, I explore why this resurgence is happening, asking questions such as: ‘Can theological rationales for the arts be discerned in this ecclesial action? If so, what are they and how do they influence arts patronage practice in the UK church? If not, what is motivating this resurgence in church arts patronage?’
Additionally, most recent research has tended to focus on churches and cathedrals in England with less consideration of patronage within Scotland. Thus, my project focuses on the latter.
Pursuing this issue of patronage theologically has the potential to unlock and create a once-again fruitful and flourishing relationship between the arts and the church. It also provides a context by which the church can faithfully re-enter society as a viable and important facilitator and manager of the creative arts and its artists.
 Rachel Campbell-Johnston, "Let's get artists in our churches," The Times, http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article7084421.ece
Project Sponsor: Art & Christianity Enquiry
Academic Partner: School of Divinity