During the course of the contest to see which picture of Christ seemed the most accurate representation to my readers, I looked at hundreds of paintings and photographs -partially out of my own curiosity, and partially to try and find something new for you guys. (Contest posts begin here, and end here.)
I looked at a lot of really good art, and a lot of not-so-good art, but came to a conclusion that may surprise you. I think that any artist that takes on the task of portraying the Savior is courageous. Yep, brave.
Granted, painting Christ is not as courageous as say, painting Mohammed - nobody is going find you and murder you for painting it. The worst you might get is some unkind criticism. But I find it courageous in another way.
Everyone has their own opinion of what Jesus looked like, and it would appear that most of us have our own version in our minds and hearts. Some us us have a very defined depiction, some of us have more vague notions. One of the finalists in the competition was a composite that was created for a TV show.
You can see that there is absolutely no detail of the eyes - and the eyes are the one of the main things about a person, or a painting that captivate us. Maybe some us prefer a vague depiction that does not conflict with our own ideas.
Another picture I think is brave is this picture from Liz Lemon Swindle:
How often do you see representations of Christ as young, playful and ethnic? So often the pose is thoughtful or serene. I love this painting, because it is so "approachable" and shows a side of the Savior that must have been, but is rarely thought about.
Or this painting by Minerva Teichert that is radically different in tone and technique from what we are used to in the Church. Yet is speaks peace to many of our souls.
I find it equally courageous that an actor would be willing/able to stake his career on the portrayal of the most important man who ever lived - a person that everyone is very protective of, and considers sacred. (I won't bring up the fact that he was actually struck by lightning when he was making the movie.)
(Disclaimer: I never saw "The Passion of the Christ." for two reasons: 1) It was rated R. Yeah, that obedience thing. 2) I did not desire to see the Savior's intense suffering portrayed on film, as I did not want to experience it emotionally or mentally. I feel that pat of the beauty of the atonement is that He experienced those things so that I don't have to! Why would I voluntarily choose to experience - in any way - what He is helping me to avoid?)
Painting pictures of Christ is difficult because most everyone who will look at that painting will draw from their own life, belief, perspective and heart to pass judgement as to the accuracy of the portrayal. You don't get that kind of pressure when painting a seascape, or abstract art. You can still be criticized, but people aren't so emotional invested. I do not know for sure, but I imagine that for most artists, creating a portrayal of the Savior must be a tremendously personal, spiritual experience. If there was ever a situation where you risked "casting pearls before swine," this would be it.
I was pleased to see that, for the most part, my readers were kind in their evaluations of the paintings in the contest. It doesn't seem to "Christlike" to take shots at the art of people who are trying to portray the impossible.
Granted, not all art is "of good report, or praiseworthy,' and I have no problem pointing out things that I think are a bad reflection on our society, or spiritually damaging. I will never adopt the line that "all art is good, if it honest." (But I will save that for another discussion.)
For now, I would just like to thank all those artists, including actors, painters, composers, sculptors, writers who try and do good with their art. Those who try and elevate our thoughts and lives. One of the bests comments I received that said, "I have found myself thinking of the Savior much more this week than I usually do." That, my friends is why we hang pictures of the Savior in our homes.
To remind us.
And now for some Pixar wisdom: A brief clip from the movie "Ratatouille" to tie this up: