From Word to image: Christian colleges expand visual art programs

Six galleries showcase more than 400 works per year, including art made by students as well as alumni and other professional artists. At Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif., another Pentecostal school, a new Master of Arts Education degree will begin this fall with support from a new, dedicated $4.5 million endowment, and four more visual arts degree programs are in the works. Though offered at Christian colleges, many of the new classes aren’t necessarily producing art that’s explicitly Christian – or even religious. Now she’s channeling that passion through art at BC, where a new digital media lab opened last year. “That’s part of the push” for visual arts at ORU, said Howell, whose team is developing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program with a focus on virtual reality and augmented reality. On the practical side, visual arts training is increasingly valued in job markets, especially in digital applications such as graphic design. Some have also hired new visual arts faculty, expanded studios, added galleries or opened museums. Students were presenting their final projects for the introductory studio course, which explores digital and analog production and output methods of visual design. At least 10 have introduced new degrees specifically in visual arts since 2012. Photo courtesy of Southeastern University
Over the past decade, more than 85 Christian colleges and universities have added new degree programs in the arts, according to data from college associations. Her image of water approaching a horizon was meant to be spiritual, she said. Inside a new classroom custom-tailored for digital arts, Keegan created “Echoes of My Mind,” a book made from online images and Photoshop. RNS photo by John Tully
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. He found it in “Digital Diaries,” a photography and graphic design course that’s part of a wave of expanding visual arts programs on Christian college campuses nationwide. “Students are now learning to think critically about the visual messages that we’re consuming.”

Gallery space was created inside the Dana Center for the Humanities on the campus of St. Anselm College, a Catholic school in Manchester, N.H. There they help create aesthetically pleasing experiences at websites and in multisite congregations, where people in various locations are united via video. Thomson She no longer practices her faith, partly because she opposes the church’s ban on women priests, but a campus ministry trip to the U.S.-Mexico border stoked a concern for human rights. Students, meanwhile, are using the arts to explore who they are, what they believe and where they fit on America’s diverse religious landscape. A two-page spread shows a broadcast tower shouting a wavy line of text in Marina’s voice. The rest get jobs on church staffs. They can contribute to the Great Commission to go out and spread the gospel.”
And where students are questioning elements of faith, the arts are providing pathways to find what feels authentic. “Coming back from the trip, I wanted to emphasize how everyone has an immigration story. Assistant Professor Josh Dannin speaks with students toward the end of his Graphic Design I class at the Comiskey Art Center Digital Lab on the St. … That’s why (my book) is told in the first person: to be like, ‘This could be your experience.’”
(G. Jeffrey MacDonald is a Boston-based correspondent)
Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Boston College sophomore Lizzy Barrett grew up attending Catholic Mass weekly. Last year kicked off a new hybrid position (part faculty, part staff) that enables Josh Dannin to teach courses in digital art and support facilities by, for example, developing a woodworking shop. Anselm College campus in Manchester, N.H., on May 11, 2017. “People are realizing that we are visually inundated in a visually mediated society through advertising and film – that’s how we’re communicating all the time,” said Kimberly Kersey-Asbury, the first tenured art professor at St. (RNS) At Boston College this spring, senior Pierce Keegan found something he’d been missing: a visible connection to his older sister, Marina, who died in a car accident five years ago. The University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school, created 10 new faculty positions in visual arts since 2007, and enrollment in art courses has climbed from 250 to 1,000 per year over that period. The idea is to give students, who might or might not be people of faith, a medium where they can explore whatever is meaningful to them. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on May 11, 2017. She used to say, “‘Radio waves go on forever, so I’m going to go to a radio tower and scream my name into space, and that will be my lasting work,’” said Keegan, who describes himself as nonreligious. “I’m passionate about humanizing people,” said Barrett, who wants to be a photojournalist. But the economics major didn’t discover it in this Jesuit school’s chapel, theology classes or faith groups. Only one of 12 students in “Digital Diaries” said she had made something remotely religious. RNS photo by John Tully
Now the atmosphere at St. With new investments, Christian schools aim to equip graduates for an image-saturated world in which jobs, ministries and social networking require visual literacy and competence. A few examples:

Last year, Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., a Pentecostal school, launched painting and drawing classes, a 1,600-foot studio and a student art gallery ahead of a new bachelor of arts in visual arts program that debuts in August. Her “Digital Diaries” book uses images to tell the stories of two of her grandparents who fled Axis powers en route to America during World War II. “I wanted to capture the permanence.”

An art class in Rehearsal Hall at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla. Anselm is far more expressive and encouraging. “Students see opportunity. At Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, roughly half of each year’s visual arts graduates find commercial work, according to Associate Professor of Art Jason Howell.