Photo courtesy of  Kevin Dooley

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley

The following is a guest post from Scott Carman, the Executive Director of Flexstage, a Visioneering Studio. 

Recently, I had the pleasure of being a part of the SALT Conference in Nashville.  SALT is a celebration of visual worship with some of the top talents in the industry. Just prior to this event, our friend, Stephen Proctor, put together A Night of Illumination. When I arrived at the event I truly had no idea how illuminating it would be. 

The night was held in a space that was quintessentially Nashville while also being a great representation of its owner, a true artist.  Stephen invited several people to share musically and through their words of encouragement and creativity. The evening culminated with Mike Sessler and Van Metschke recording their ChurchTechWeekly podcast with Stephen and some of the performers. During the podcast a question was posed about whether there is a difference between Design and Art. At that moment, God grabbed my attention and I contemplated this question through the lens of the evening and God’s heart for how the church is presenting His truths.

Is there really any difference between design and art? We tend to use the terms interchangeably. Often we will see a design and declare how artistic it looks. Just a few thoughts about the distinctions we should keep in mind when presenting God’s story.

Often, when we design graphics, a stage set or a building, we are seeing an artistic expression. Design asks everyone to have the same reaction or experience from interacting with it. Design seeks continuity of message and interpretation to maximize its proposed impact.  Its purpose is to incite commonality in the response to its product. It is intentional. Interaction is most often external. In other words, design is for the head.

Conversely, art invites people to experience it and interpret it where they are in their lives and individually. It doesn’t demand or expect a singular view or right answer. Art has intention but its impact is often unintentional. Its purpose is to cause introspection and a personalization of response.  Interaction is most often internal; art targets the heart.

Design has a demographic profile, art does not. Design is often created for sameness, to build a reaction over time. It likes continuity and creating a familiar-ness. Art is meant to change over time.

Art can be expressed through well-executed design; or can be facilitated by design. Keep in mind, when art becomes part of the design, we have chosen a specific interpretation or portion of the art to facilitate our designed message, a desired result aimed at a subsection of the populace.

Now, let me be clear, I don’t have any problem with design and do not place one above the other in this analysis. Our team spends most of every day “designing” the facilities and systems that will be the home to so many church goers. Design is critical to the “creation” process. The bible makes very clear when God says in Jeremiah 1:5 “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.” He designed us in His image. He goes on to say in the second half of the verse, “Before you were born I set you apart…” It is unspeakable joy that we can see His art fulfilled in each of us through the lives we live. This is God’s artwork expressed through the design. 

Using this logic, design provides us the template within which art can be better expressed. This allows for some commonality of design across several different facilities. However, it does not need to be confined to sameness. The art is expressed through the unique story that you and your congregation present. God’s greatest beauty can be expressed through the art of this story.

There is room for both art and design in the creation of a church space or the implementation of an AVL design. The proper execution is accomplished only when we are honest about the intention of each in the space. Ultimately, we are only trying to convey the unique story that God has created in and through us. It is up to us to find the art in our story.


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