By Brandon HENSLEY
Church-goers at St. George’s Episcopal Church in La Cañada had the pleasure of touring the Norton Simon Museum earlier this summer, all because of two people who favor in-depth discussion about scripture and art, and not just sitting in pews.
“The Artist, The Word: An Exploration of the Creative Spirit,” is led by the Rev. Anthony Keller from St. George’s and Cal State Fullerton art history professor Joanna Roche. Their intent is to bring religious and art enthusiasts alike to different museums to observe specific paintings and talk about its relation to certain scripture.
“It’s not a traditional tour of an art museum, it’s more of a walking discussion about looking at scripture and looking at art,” said Roche.
Here’s what happens. Keller and Roche pre-select seven works of art – this includes anything from paintings to sculptures – and then take a group to the museum. There, Roche gives historical background to the works, while Keller concentrates more on how the artist interpreted the scripture from which it was based.
“No one has ever thought
of pairing the scripture that the artist has based it upon,” said Keller, who has been doing these tours for eight years. The most recent one at Norton Simon happened in June.
The focus, though, isn’t on what Keller or Roche say, but rather the discussion within the group, which Keller said usually ranges from 15 to 25 people. Their job is to merely “facilitate the dialogue,” Keller said.
Keller and Roche try and pick out pieces dated from the Medieval period to the most contemporary, although Roche said that can be hard because modern religious works are difficult to find.
Keller said one piece he liked to talk about was Gerrit van Honthorst’s “The Mocking of Christ,” painted in 1617.
“Jesus in the painting was traditional of the 1st Century, yet the people in the painting were all modern of the period when the artist painted it,” said Keller. The lesson? “We’re still taunting today.”
“I have a lot of fun with it and it takes me outside of my comfort zone because I do primarily 20th Century and post-1945 art, which the majority is not at all religious,” said Roche.
Aside from the Norton Simon, Keller and Roche
have done tours at the L.A. County Art Museum and the Getty Center. The Getty Center was where Keller
had his largest crowd, around 40.
But the crowds can grow at the museums as well. Anyone is invited to tag along, and wandering tourists often overhear Keller and Roche talking and attach themselves to their group.
”We find people in the museum sort of shadow us,” Keller said.
Keller said he hopes to do another tour next June, although he admitted they seem to be running out of places to hold them. Regardless, sometimes this applied practice beats just sitting in church.
“They find out that church isn’t just sitting there, in a church in a pew,” said Keller. “It’s part of daily life, it’s discussion, it’s meeting new friends, it’s making acquaintances. It shows that a community of faith just doesn’t sit inside this room that’s hidden with these four walls. They get out and do stuff too.