LiturgicalCredo.com Art June & July
|An Interview with Artist Nicora Gangi
|Nicora Gangi (www.machairastudio.com) is committed to creating art that invites
viewers to enter into a visual dialogue with pastel still life and landscapes that
reflect a Christian aesthetic.
Born in Indiana in 1952 she was educated at the Hartford Art School (Hartford,
Connecticut), Montclair State College, and Syracuse University (BFA and MFA).
Her fields include both fine arts and art education. She is on the faculty at
Syracuse University in the Studio Arts and Design Programs. She is married to
artist Bruce Manwaring and resides in Syracuse, NY.
Freelance writer LeAnne Benfield Martin recently interviewed Nicora about her art
and her faith, her inspiration for her work, and more.
LeAnne Benfield Martin: Tell me about your journey as an artist who is a
Christian and how your work reflects your faith.
Nicora Gangi: First let me start with a quote I love from chapter one of Francis
A. Schaeffer’s book, How Should We Then Live?: “There is a flow to history and
culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people.
People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought-
world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of
their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and
it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought-world flow through
their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of
Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword.”
Soon after I became a Christian, I attended a presentation by a young artist. Prior
to this meeting, my husband, who also is an artist, and I had many discussions
about using our talents in the church. We were reading works by H.R.
Rookmaaker and Francis Schaeffer. We struggled with the fact that the church
we had recently joined, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, no
longer found it biblically correct for arts to be used in the worship service. This
denomination originated in Scotland and was influenced by the iconoclasts of the
Reformation in Europe. Much of the art in the churches was destroyed because of
its association with the Roman Catholic Church. The reformer wanted no trace of
its influence in the new buildings. “God is good at saving souls, but we have
tended to keep him away from our big decisions in scholarship, science, art,
politics and so on” (H.R. Rookmaaker, Art Needs No Justification, pg. 24). We
asked many questions of our fellow Christians; however we were not getting any
answers, let alone direction.
That evening we sat and listened to the speaker read Romans 12:1-2. “I urge you
therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and
holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And
do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your
mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and
acceptable and perfect” (NAS).
After he finished reading from this passage, he held up one of his paintings. With
this example before us, we knew our work could be a living and holy sacrifice
acceptable to God. We understood that we did not have to abandon our talents for
the new life in Christ. Our talents were meant for God and his glory. Rookmaaker
clarified this further: “As the body moves, thinks, speaks not for its own sake but
called by God to be the salt of the earth, artists are not just servants of a Christian
subculture, but are called to work for the benefits of all” (Art Needs No
Justification, pg 21).
I began thinking about works I had been drawing and printing. Those same
images could have a new depth of meaning. Since then, I have devoted my life to
studying the scriptures and understanding the metaphors God uses to teach his
Many biblical references have become completely incomprehensible to the present
generation. Since the Bible is the bedrock of what Christians believe, I aim to help
Christians and non-Christians focus on the scriptures through my still life and
landscape drawings. Not every drawing may appear religious in nature, but every
work symbolizes how Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we may have access
This method of religious symbolism in artwork is nothing new. Early Christians
saw God in everything. They attached religious and spiritual meaning to all they
observed. Renaissance artists wove elaborate complicated allegories into their
pictures. Still life painting, especially in the hands of the Dutch and Flemish
masters of the 17th century, often has symbolic overtones. Courtship and love
were seen through musical instruments. The vanity of human life was seen in a
skull and hourglass. The Christian message was seen through a loaf of bread and
a glass of wine. The Bible itself even displays symbolism through its Old
Testament and New Testament counterparts. Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac
foreshadowed God’s sacrifice of Christ. David is also seen as a type of Christ.
David’s struggle with Goliath foreshadows Christ’s struggle with Satan.
I would love for all artists who happen to be Christians to be known as the best
and most creative people in their field. The church has done a good job serving
before obscure men, but not such a good job serving before kings (Proverbs 22:
29). Christians were meant to “rule” the earth with their talents as leaders, as
Genesis 1:26 commands. My challenge to all Christians everywhere is to
recognize the gifts God has given you and develop them to their utmost potential
so that you might serve Christ in an eternal way. We have all been called “for
such a time as this” (Esther 4:14, NIV).
“Through Jesus Christ, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of
praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” - Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)
LM: Is there any one thing that consistently inspires your choice of subject
matter? For example, something you've read or something you've seen, so that
you want to worship God or communicate the Gospel with your representation?
If there isn't one consistent mode of inspiration, what are some things that do
NG: All of God’s creation inspires my choices and prayer is at the core of my
inspiration. I do not try to represent any concept or communicate the Gospel with
This is the passage of Scripture that inspires me every day:
“One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
To behold the beauty (delightfulness) of the Lord,
And to meditate (inquire) in His temple.” Psalm 27:4
Each day, I try to live and move and have my being through the Spirit. In the
same way, I attempt to capture the all-encompassing Christian worldview. My
goal is to be a cultural transformer, without compromising or sentimentalizing the
arts. I long for the day when the church will be taken seriously by the rest of the
world for the excellence of its craft. Therefore, I do everything within the power
Christ gives me to create the best work I know how.
LM: What would you say to encourage other artists who are Christians?
NG: A Christian artist should not be caught up in producing an evangelical tract-
therefore failing to produce a work of art. Many Christian artists haven't made
good art because they have only been concerned with the evangelical tract.
God made the world beautiful –so don't reduce creation to just a message about
God but also see it as beautiful. It is for Christians to show what is meant by life
and humanity and to express what it means for them to have been 'made new' in
Christ in every aspect of their being.
The artist with his special gifts has a specific task, a very special and wonderful
calling. It is to make life better, more worthwhile to create the sound, the shape,
the tale, the decoration, the environment, that is meaningful and lovely and a joy to
How is the Christian artist to fulfill this role and to work out these norms? It is a
calling to promote good and to fight evil, ugliness, the negative; to hunger and
thirst for righteousness; to search for the right 'finishing touch,' the right tone, the
right word in the right place.
To respond to our calling today means that we shall not be afraid to show that we
are Christians, not only in saying that we have been saved by Christ but also in
our stand, in our way of life, in our prophetic analysis of the situation. This means
that we shall never compromise, never accept the status quo because that is the
easiest thing to do or seems inevitable. It means to be radical—to go back to the
roots to the very foundation, which is Christ. To be Christian involves all our
work and activity, understanding that there is nothing neutral, nothing apart from
"We have confidence before God, and we receive from him whatever we ask
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him" (I John 3:21, 22).
LM: Would you share more passages from Rookmaaker that have been
meaningful to you?
NG: “The mistake of many art theorists (and not only of Christian ones) is to try
to give art a meaning or a sense by showing that it ‘does something’… It has its
own meaning that does not need to be explained… So art has a meaning as art
because God thought it good to give art and beauty to humanity…
“Neither Art nor beauty needs to be justified or put on a pedestal. They are to be
enjoyed and appreciated and practised, in love and freedom, as a joy for ever,
accepted as a great gift of God.” (H.R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and Death of a
Culture, pp. 229-31).
“Art must never be used to show the validity of Christianity. Rather the validity of
art should be shown through Christianity…Christian art is not art that uses biblical
or other Christian themes…
“No, what is Christian in art does not lie in the theme , but in the spirit of it, in its
wisdom and the understanding of reality it reflects…So a Christian painting is not
one in which all the figures have haloes and (if we put our ears to the canvas) can
be heard singing hallelujahs.
“Christian art is nothing special. It is sound, healthy, good art. It is art that is in
line with the God-given structures of art, one which has a loving and free view on
reality, one which is good and true. In a way there is no specifically Christian art.
One can distinguish only good and bad art, art which is sound and good from art
which is false or weird in its insight into reality. This is so whether it is painting or
drama or music. Christians, however full of faith they may be, can still make bad
art. They may be sinful and weak or they might not have much talent. On the
other hand a non-Christian can make a thing of beauty, a joy for ever - provided
that he remains within the scope of the norms for art, provided that he works out
of the fullness of his humanity and does not glory in the depraved or in iniquity or
glorify the devil.
“So a work of art is not good when we know that the artist was Christian: it is
good when we perceive it to be good. Nor is a work bad if we know that the
artist was a hater of God…
“Christianity is about the renewal of life. Therefore it is also about the renewal of
art. This is how art can be shown its validity through Christianity. It is an
expression of Christian understanding, itself a fruit of the Spirit of God, including
the emotion, the feeling, the sense of beauty that is bound up with it. It is for
Christians to show what is meant by life and humanity; and to express what it
means for them to have been ‘made new’ in Christ, in every aspect of their being.
(Modern Art and Death of a Culture, pp. 228-229).
Freelance writer LeAnne Benfield Martin lives outside Atlanta with her husband,
her daughter, and her Labrador Retriever. When she’s not writing about the arts,
she enjoys writing personal essays, reading, going to arts events, visiting
bookstores, seeing friends, eating dinner out with her family, or spending time
with loved ones. Check out her blog, “Christians in the Arts,” at www.
A portion of this interview first appeared on www.christiansinthearts.blogspot.
|'After Dark III' by Nicora Gangi
|'Before Light' by Nicora Gangi
|'A Christian artist should not be caught up in producing an
evangelical tract- therefore failing to produce a work of art.
Many Christian artists haven't made good art because they
have only been concerned with the evangelical tract.'