Contemplative Vision by Juliet Benner–Book Review

I’m not an especially visual person, and I haven’t had much training in art, so this book was a bit of a stretch for me, but a good one.  Author Juliet Benner worked for years as a docent in an art gallery, where she felt her work was “teaching people how to really see what they were looking at.”  When she subsequently became a spiritual director, she realized the potential benefit in showing people how to “read” works of art — especially religious art–as a meditation on a passage of Scripture.  This book features ten different paintings with a chapter on each one which walks the reader through this process

Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer

Each exercise includes reading the biblical text slowly, looking at the painting, trying to notice and enter into the scene, and concluding with questions for reflection. I used the questions for journaling.  At the end of the book there are suggestions for leading a discussion group with this method, or using it as part of spiritual direction.

I have to admit, I was amazed at how much I missed in examining a painting.  Ms.  Benner’s interpretations are very detailed.  She really does “read” the art.  So, it was an education for me in a technique that doesn’t come naturally.

VERDICT:  3 STARS.  I’m not sure this would ever become an easy or frequent method of prayer for me (I’m more of a word person);  but if you’re an art lover you may really enjoy using this as a form of prayer.  I would encourage everyone to at least give it a try–it’s always good to expand our horizons!

For more on art as prayer see:

Praying with Art

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