ArtsWatch: Old art, modern dilemma

Last week my wife and I spent a few days in Quebec City—one of Canada’s and North America’s oldest cities. We explored Old Quebecy, exploring the upper and lower city, as part of our 25th anniversary celebrations.
 
You can’t visit Quebec City without stepping inside at least one of the dozens of churches—mostly Roman Catholic—which have a history as old as the city. We visited four—including the magnificent basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupre, a pilgrimage shrine located about a half hour east of the city itself.
 
Leaving aside theological differences, what struck me the most was the magnificent artwork filling each of the buildings: gold-gilt statues, intricate altar-pieces, magnificently carved pulpits and impressive oil paintings. Most of the 400 digital photos I took were of these vast pieces of artwork.
 
As I read the histories of these edifices, I discovered much of the artwork was created by humble artisans who frequently donated their time and talents. The statues, paintings, altar-pieces, etc. was their way of worshipping God and creating works that glorified Him.
 
And during an interview for an upcoming Arts Connection broadcast, I was reminded that many of the sculptures, paintings and icons were created to help an illiterate public learn about the Gospel. Stations of the Cross tell the Easter story and paintings of biblical stories tell the story of God's grace.
 
At one point I thought about my own church with its bare walls and empty foyer. While some of the furnishings in the Quebec City churches did border on the ostentatious, I wondered why we couldn’t display art that glorified God in our modern sanctuaries. Why do we assume, even in today's literate world, people learn by hearing or reading and not through images? Many churches have turned to PowerPoint and video presentations because we have discovered people learn visually as well as aurally and orally.
 
Why couldn’t we have paintings or photos expressing the grandeur of God dot the walls of our sanctuaries? Why can’t we set up a small area for meditation featuring statues or an electronic photo screen? There are artists who can—and have—created the art that could be used. The question is: are there churches or pastors willing to learn a lesson from the past and display art in their sterile surroundings?
 
My challenge is for churches to rediscover the wonder of art and how it can be used to tell God's story of redemption and grace, and to enhance spiritual growth.