Art Instructor and Fine Arts Department Chair | Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, Fayetteville
The intention of curating works of art as they relate to Jesus’ passion is to experience His suffering, dying, and rising through a lens that is wholly different from the illustrated narrative we are accustomed to seeing in our churches and schools. Because the images will not be literal representations of each station, it will require an adjusted set of expectations as you engage in this alternative approach to praying the Stations of the Cross.
This is a wonderful opportunity to examine how the visual language of each artist speaks to you and an opportunity to deeply engage with each Station in greater detail as you analyze the ways in which it may connect to each work of art.
Art is reflective of life and each of us relates to artworks in a myriad of ways depending on our backgrounds, experiences, and sensibilities. Making connections to each Station may be easy for some and more difficult for others. This is the beauty of the diversity of the human experience.
I would like to offer some adjusted expectations to support your journey through praying the Stations of the Cross as they relate to the selected works of art:
This is an art museum, not a place of worship. As art is central to this space, it may work well to engage as a viewer of the artwork first. What are you drawn to? How does it relate to your life? What emotions are present? Do those feelings relate to the Station with which the artwork is associated?
There are many possibilities of how each artwork connects to each Station. We are used to seeing the illustrations of each Station as definitive descriptions of the narrative. It is human nature to desire a specific “correct” response. Be open to multiple interpretations, there won’t be a universal definitive answer to each one. The “correct” response is personal to you and what you bring to the experience.
There may be a moment when you say, “I don’t get it at all” and that’s ok! Artworks come in many forms and styles, from many cultures and traditions with some having little to do with religion or Christianity. When you are perplexed, you might try looking at the museum label with the information about the artist and the artwork. Understanding the artists intention may help guide your interpretation. For example, what is the artist trying to communicate with the materials used to create the piece? Can you imagine which materials are associated with the Stations and what they may symbolize?
Some artworks will not resonate with you. You may not think an artwork is pleasing to the eye or even worthy of being in a museum. This is a valid and acceptable response! Art is subjective after all. You may find value in the cerebral exercise of trying to reverse engineer the solution: which Station is connected to the piece that you don’t particularly like? Are there any details in the Station’s narrative that are present in the artwork? Sometimes we are not comfortable hearing parts of the Crucifixion story...discomfort itself may be the connection found in a situation like this.
You are trying something new! You have the courage to explore this alternative Way of the Cross. Enjoy the process and the journey. Developing visual literacy takes time and there may be more questions than answers. Embrace the notion of being exposed to an experience you may not fully understand much like the way we embrace the mystery of faith.