At the beginning of November, I began a weekly habit of posting art to my social media feeds—Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I call it Art Wednesday. Every Wednesday, over the course of the day, I post a series of eight to ten paintings based on an artist or a theme. I name each work and usually offer a small comment about each one.
I began this weekly ritual before I had a vision for what I was actually trying to do. It started because I had been to The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and wanted to share some pictures I took of paintings I’ve loved since my youth.
But I found the act of sharing art to be good for my soul. Curating a weekly art series became for me a source of comfort, peace, and even worship. Creating an Art Wednesday series usually involves interacting with Scripture in some way, or at least thinking through some theological truth. I sense the Lord’s presence and His pleasure as I search, sort, write about, and schedule the art.
I’ve had time to reflect on why I do this, and I thought I’d share some of those thoughts here.
We need to interact with beauty. Life, both individually and collectively, can get dark, and we need light. This can be an ugly world, and we need to be reminded of its wonder and glory. We’re surrounded by the profane, and we need to lash ourselves to the mast of what is sacred.
Not long ago, I was doing some research which involved studying Genesis 2-3, in which the Lord tells Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he did, God told him, he would die. The serpent came along and told Adam and Eve that God was withholding something from them—the ability to be like God, knowing good and evil. This fruit, the serpent said, would open their eyes. They didn’t want to go through life blind to reality, did they?
So they ate. Both of them. And their eyes were open to good and evil.
There are a million profoundly deep theological pools a person can dive into from the platform of this passage of Scripture. I want to highlight one. It is hard on the human heart to know as much as we do about evil—the evil in this world and the evil in us. Because of God’s grace, we only see it in part, as through a glass darkly. For this I am grateful. But still, we see more than we’re made to.
I know that for me, the unrestricted access I have to everything that is wrong with the world can be a light so blinding that I lose the ability to see, or the capacity to empathize well, with the real and present struggles and sorrows of those in my own community.Russ Ramsey
These are unprecedented times. Anyone who uses social media or is connected to the internet has access to information that is free, immediate, and global. We see a steady stream of all sorts of evil, suffering, and catastrophe in the world. We know more than we ought to know about celebrity marriages and affairs. We have access to stories and hot takes about disgraced clergy and prospering politicians, natural disasters and deliberately crafted genocides, cases of abuse and miscarriages of justice.
I want to be careful here, because much good comes from living in an information age. People have done amazing things by using technology to push back against the darkness of social injustice. I am thankful for how technology gives a voice to the defenseless, how abuse victims are able to share their stories and find solidarity with others, how funds are quickly gathered for people in need, and all the other ways evil deeds done in secret are exposed to the light because of technology.
With that said, here’s my question. Have you ever wondered if we are built to handle this much knowledge of evil? What effect is this having on the human heart? I know that for me, the unrestricted access I have to everything that is wrong with the world can be a light so blinding that I lose the ability to see, or the capacity to empathize well, with the real and present struggles and sorrows of those in my own community. I don’t want to become a blind and numb media consumer with a three second attention span because my mind and eyes are continually feasting on a diet of evil, cynicism, scandal, and hot takes. And some days, that’s exactly what I am.
I started Art Wednesday to introduce beauty into the media stream. I need to be online. My work, family, and life are such that going off the grid is not an option. I need to learn how to live with it and in it. Today, the knowledge of evil is less like a tree and more like a stream, and everyone I know is in the stream. We are surrounded by it, and, to borrow a term from my friend David Dark, we’re soaking in it. In other words, we’re all affected by it.
With Art Wednesday, I’m trying to spend time with what is good, and share that knowledge with others. In Confessions, Augustine wrote, “I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself.” Art Wednesday is an exercise in learning to love beauty. It is an exercise in cultivating an inner hunger for beauty, rather than spending our lives living in the world outside ourselves.
It is never too late to learn to love beauty. If you want a dose of weekly beauty to show up in your social media feeds, feel free to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Or maybe you can bring art into your own personal circles of influence. I certainly don’t own the rights to sharing beautiful images and thoughts on social media (or to #ArtWednesday, for that matter), and nothing would please me more than to see others take up the habit of sharing what is true, beautiful, and good in their own way.
As of now, I plan to post 52 consecutive Art Wednesdays, one year’s worth, and then reevaluate. I’m over halfway there, and I find that creating each week’s series of posts continues to be a source of joy and worship. I didn’t start doing this to build a following or sell a book (as of now, I have nothing of the sort in the works.) I do it because I like it. It is truly a labor of love. To all of you who follow along, thank you. Every week I get to show and talk about art and beauty with my friends.
And this, I know, is very good.
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).