Faith through Art: Religious art gives us joyful insight to our faith

The “Road to  Emmaus” by  Jim Janknegt was featured in the semi-annual religious art exhibition at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Austin. The featured works of art in each exhibit are available at www.austindiocese.org/offices-ministries/offices/fine-arts-council/religious-art-gallery. (Photo courtesy Diocesan Fine Arts Council)

By Joe Gieselman
Guest Columnist

Sight is a wonderful thing. When you have it. And when sight leads to insight, it can be joyful. Jesus spent most of his adult ministry teaching and demonstrating that he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. But few could see or accept his “Good News.” Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we frequently fail to recognize the Jesus who walks beside us. 
Art and artists help us see, not just with our eyes but with our hearts. Artists have the gift to help us see beautiful things; moreover, liturgical artists give us insight into truth and beauty itself. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that art has “the power to lift our hearts to higher things and to lead us beyond ourselves to an encounter with God who is beauty itself.” By praying with the images of religious art, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we invite Jesus to stay with us and provide us with insights into who he really is. 
The Catholic Church nurtures artists through commissions from its bishops and popes. In 1998, Bishop Emeritus John McCarthy initiated a movement to raise awareness of religious fine arts in Central Texas. The initiative resulted in the creation of Austin Diocesan Fine Arts Council (DFAC) whose goals are to raise awareness and appreciation of fine religious art, encourage the use of religious fine arts in churches, schools and homes, to facilitate contact between professional artists, architects, contractors, church and school building committees, and to host religious fine art exhibitions and educational seminars. 
To this end the council has hosted 19 semi-annual art exhibits, the latest is now showing at the gallery in the diocesan Pastoral Center at 6225 E. Hwy. 290 in Austin. The exhibit is free and open to the public during normal business hours and much of the art is available for purchase. More than 120 regional artists have displayed their visual art in the exhibits. The DFAC maintains a database of religious fine artists on its website. Another outreach of the council is the “Faith Through Art” columns that published monthly in the “Catholic Spirit.” The columns describe the details of a selected piece of religious art and educate us to the scriptural story behind the artwork. They are suitable for “visio divina,” or divine seeing, which is praying with images to listen to God’s words.
Images of past and present gallery art work, a directory of artists, and past columns of “Faith Through Art” can be found at www.austindfac.org. The DFAC encourages regional artist to submit their religious art work for future exhibits and churches, schools, and parishioners to purchase religious art for use in their daily worship. For more information regarding the next art exhibit and “Call for Artists,” contact DFAC Chair Craig Kanewske at Craig.Kenewske@gmail.com.
Joe Gieselman is a sculptor, a member of the Diocesan Fine Arts Council, and a parishioner of St. Austin Parish in Austin.