We live in a visual age, bombarded by images and advertising. It is how most of us receive information these days. Some people are actually visual learners who process information much more effectively by looking with their eyes rather than listening with their ears. People who are visual learners prefer images, diagrams, and like to learn from chalkboards and illustrations. Most experts in this field of communication agree that around 65% of the population are visual learners.
How should this influence our communication of good news?
For the sake of transparency I am an artist, so I am not neutral about this topic. I am also a visual learner. I love a diagram, a picture for me paints a thousand words.
I recently painted a watercolour of the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
I had always assumed that this story in Luke 24:13-35 had three characters, two men and Jesus. The text actually names Cleopas (Luke 24:18) as one of the disciples leaving Jerusalem after the weekend of the crucifixion. The other disciple isn't named.
However as I researched the story a bit more I discovered that many scholars including N T Wright, believe the other person is Mary, the wife of Cleopas. According to John 19:25, Mary was present at the cross with the other disciples. It makes sense that Mary travelled home with her husband Cleopas, so the two disciples on the road to Emmaus are a husband and wife lamenting the death of Jesus. When a stranger comes alongside them and asks “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” it is Jesus who is hidden from their sight.
I painted the watercolour with the hiddenness of Jesus in mind (he is slightly translucent) and the middle figure is a female next to Jesus. This image is rich with symbolism. I wanted it to feel gritty, dusty and a long frustrating walk. It is full of possibility for interpretation and application. You could spend a long time just thinking about the fact that Jesus walked with them, talked with them, ate with them, did not reveal himself at the beginning but at the right point revealed his true self causing them to rush back to Jerusalem and share the good news.
We could easily discuss how the unknown disciple was assumed to be a man yet it is probably Mary. What does this say about our prejudice, what does it say about the inclusiveness of Jesus?
I took my original watercolour to my professional printer because a number of people saw my painting on Facebook and wanted a print (they are available if interested). This image provoked a conversation about the disciples on the road to Emmaus and Jesus being raised to life. Art and the story it tells can be very powerful.
If you are looking for more examples of this principle I highly recommend Mike Frost's blog. His take on art and cinema and storytelling is insightful. You can see his blog at https://mikefrost.net/the-gospel-according-to-terry/.
There is also an excellent article at https://artandtheology.org/2017/04/28/the-unnamed-emmaus-disciple-mary-wife-of-cleopas/
At a practical level, what does this mean for us? How do we change our communication style? Are we stuck using tried and tested methods that are not up to scratch in a visual age?
How about we experiment using illustration. Jesus painted pictures with parables.
Remember that our own lives are a picture story, so how we live matters, what people see speaks to them.
Lets use illustrations when we share good news, lets use art, movies. Tell stories with pictures. If 65% of people are visual learners this really matters, so lets skill up and get better at communicating well. Consider the Jesus film (www.jesusfilm.org), it has reached millions of people across the world, many who cannot read.
If you know of other great resources or examples of the gospel and art please let us know.