Recently, while scrolling through social media, I came across an image of Midwestern’s iconic chapel unlike any I’d ever seen. It was a sketch drawn by a newly matriculated student named Joel Whitson, who I had yet to meet. This was a fact I was eager to change; I quickly met and became friends with Joel. The initial shock over the beauty of his art reoccurred a number of times over the next year as Joel began to share his art with me and my wife, who has an art degree herself. As our friendship blossomed, my appreciation for him both as an artist and a student of the Word began to grow.
What makes Joel’s art unique is not just his sheer talent, which is evident, but is also a combination of aesthetic capability mixed with a talent for depicting biblical and theological concepts in visually striking ways. One need not have a sophisticated appreciation for art to be mesmerized by Joel’s ability to creatively aid his viewers in understanding biblical concepts.
Good artists can catch and stimulate the eye, great artists go after the mind’s eye, and our friend, Joel Whitson, has the God-given talent to capture both.
We were able to connect with Joel recently on the topics of faith and art and have included a few of his recent pieces here as well.
Assistant Director of Marketing MBTS/Spurgeon College
Managing Editor, For The Church
Original Art by Joel Whitson
Joel, tell us a little about who you are, where you’re from, and your upbringing.
I was born in St. Joseph, Missouri and raised in a Christian household. I was saved and baptized at the age of 11, but didn’t act on it until I was 14 and in the eighth grade. I struggled with fitting in well within my school, but always felt welcome in church and in a local ministry. I ended up serving almost every day of the week within the church and local youth ministry.
When did you first realize you had a passion for art?
I was always interested in art but didn’t consider it a passion until high school. I was bored in art class and wanted more than coil pots and piñata making. I started researching art on my own and eventually developed a style. The passion, though, wasn’t truly embraced until I moved on campus at Spurgeon College where I actually sensed an appreciation for my art.
How do the areas of faith and art intersect for you?
I believe all believers are called to be a “creative” to some degree. We image God, the ultimate Creator, so I think a follower of Christ has a creative nature. I also believe that anyone that does create is not creating alone–we are conduits of the beauty and creative nature of the Lord. We reflect his majesty through our art, we are image-bearers, and even though we are broken, we can still show Christ and the undeniable beauty that is the gospel. Ultimately, it is worship–it’s for the glory of God and the good of the world. It’s also a way in which I evangelize. My family members (who aren’t believers) see the beauty in what I make, they ask why I drew what I did, and that allows for a gospel presentation.
How is art/creativity helpful in one’s Christian walk?
I think creativity allows for the believer to appreciate what God has already made. Whether it’s film, drawing, spoken word, or music, we are taking what God made and putting it in another form. It allows for us to worship and evangelize through our skills and allows us to thank Christ and proclaim him in a different fashion. Art and imagery can help shed light on biblical texts, too, making them easier to understand. Some biblical ideas are hard to grasp, whether the truth in what Scripture is saying or just its general idea. When art is involved, it can help bring understanding. I think that’s why children’s books use illustration–it makes the words easier to understand and visualize.
Lastly, what brought you to Spurgeon College/MBTS?
Micah Fries (an MBTS alum and pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.) was my pastor way back in the day. As I looked for colleges, my mom and mentioned MBTS/Spurgeon College since she knew that Micah went there. So, I looked into the school. I was going to initially do FUSION, but the Lord led me to begin the Accelerate program instead. I did end up doing Fusion NAMB later.