Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pop Culture, Religious Art, and the Young

I'm just back from guiding a group in Rome, Florence, and Venice. On these trips I highlight the history, art, architecture, and sacred spaces along the way. What continues to amaze me is how young adults love the arts, particularly the visual arts. The major museums of Rome, Florence, and Venice are full of young people of all ages looking intently at the visual treats arrayed in front of them. Many have stood in line for nearly an hour just to get into the museums.

Perhaps more striking is the way popular culture, particularly in novel and film, continues to stimulate this interest. A case in point is the Dan Brown novel, and film of the same name, Angels and Demons. On a previous trip to Rome I saw Tom Hanks sizing up the obelisk in Rome's Piazza Navonna, as they contemplated a scene for that film.

Because of this film, a small, lesser known church like Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, once virtually unknown to tourists, can now be quite full of them at any given time. They have come to see this church featured in the film, and also to notice the two Caravaggio paintings, "The Crucifixion of St. Peter" (1600-1601) and "The Conversion of St. Paul" (1600-1601) in a small chapel near the central altar.

As these particular works of art continue to capture the interest of the young, we in the church might do well to find ways to engage that interest further by preaching with these works of art. Using a copy of these works of art as a starting point, one can use various pieces of the artwork to highlight certain aspects of the stories as presented in scripture, and through the artistic imagination. A final step would be to encourage the congregation's personal engagement with both the art work and the scripture, as they encounter a fresh approach to familiar scriptural subjects.