Thoughts on Collecting Art
By Sandra Bowden
Oct 16, 2023
I just returned from a trip to England visiting towns northeast of London – where my mother’s relatives lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – searching for churches where they had worshiped before their immigration to the New World. Some of the churches were in small villages, while others had to be ferreted out by driving down miles of narrow hedged roads and past fields of spring hay and intense yellow rapeseed before spotting a bell tower through a cluster of trees. Most appeared quite plain from the exterior, but – walk inside these thousand-year-old structures, and another world appeared.
Inevitably, in every sanctuary we found somewhere among all the art and liturgical embellishments a sign that read, “To the Glory of God.” Stone-carved baptismal fonts, painted organ pipes, stained-glass windows, painted and polychromed altarpieces, elaborately carved pews, sculpted angels, intricately designed wood screens, hand embroidered altar coverings … you get the idea. These congregations created meaningful objects of beauty to enhance their worship and, in doing so, left a visual record that faith was alive and well in their time.
Art is so often thought of as an add-on, even as frivolous: of less importance than the supposedly more essential elements in the life of the church. The historic church understood and perceived art to be so important that even the smallest worship space required it. Art was necessary to communicate the faith visually, to help the viewers understand the Bible more deeply, and to inspire and bring the parishioner closer to God.
As both a Christian artist and an art collector, this is so reassuring. To know that my roots are planted securely in the soil and tradition of creating art that brings glory to God gives me great joy, reminding me every day of my purpose and the worth of dedicating my life and ministry to this work.
What does it mean to bring glory to God through the visual arts? First, God’s glory is revealed and made visible through the visual arts. The Bible itself reveals what is God’s glory. In the Old Testament God’s glory is almost exclusively revealed in physical form as found in these passages: “The cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34) Moses said, “Please show me your glory” (Ex. 33:18); “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1); “And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty” (Ex 28:2, 28:40 KJV). In each of these passages God’s glory was seen.
In the New Testament, Jesus is the physical presence of God’s glory. The main purpose of the is to reveal God’s glory. Yes it is also to unveil His plan for salvation, but the overarching purpose of God’s word is to reveal His glory. Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God’s glory. John 1:14 evidences this: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory” (KJV). Hebrews 1:3 further demonstrates this point: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Jesus was seen.
Second, glory is reflected, showing its source. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he extols, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [whether you are creating or collecting art), do all to the glory of God” (10:31). Here again, the glory of God refers to honoring God with one’s life. For artists, honoring God means, in part, honoring Him with the art we create. If glory is manifested, seen, and artists are making visible an invisible reality, then this is a strong mandate to see our work as a reflection of the one we worship. When we work, we are giving glory to God.
Excerpted from Ned Bustard, ed., Ordinary Saints: Living Every Day to the Glory of God (Square Halo Books, 2023). Used by permission.
Sandra Bowden is the collector and curator of the Marc Chagall and the Bible collection. She is also a visual artist and has been interpreting Scripture and her own spiritual walk through mixed media for more than forty years.