By Burton, RaeAnn; Maryott, Beth et al. | et Cetera, April 2004 | Go to article overview
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Burton, RaeAnn, Maryott, Beth, O'Byrne, Megan, et Cetera



For centuries the image of Jesus' physical appearance has been etched into people's minds. Children learn in Sunday school at a young age what Jesus looked like. The most typical North American representation is a tall, lean, Caucasian man with long, flowing, light brown hair. The man has fair skin and light-colored eyes, but the typical North American image of what Jesus looked like is changing (Fillon p. 68). This paper will look at some of the new ways in which Jesus is being portrayed in the 21st century. It will also discuss the relationship of how Jesus is portrayed to the study of general semantics.

The New Image of Jesus in Paintings in the 21st Century

The typical North American portrayal of Jesus is one that has definitely seen its share of changes. The most common image of Christ is that of a tall, lean man with long, flowing brown hair. It is the image that is instilled in most North American children and adults. Many artists are changing the image of Jesus, however, in works of art to reflect the changing culture of the 21st century. According to an article entitled, "The Computerized Jesus," found at the website www.bbc.co.uk/religion, "The past hundred years has seen a greater variety than ever before. Christ patriarchal, youthful, subversive, mystical pacifist, human, satirical-and even all singing and dancing has been portrayed in many artistic works" (BBCi). Following are several examples of the new image of Jesus in the 21st century.

Stephen Sawyer-Modern Image of Christ

Stephen Sawyer is an artist from Versailles, Kentucky, who paints Jesus in a nontraditional fashion. Sawyer does not paint Christ as the typical image that North Americans are used to. His paintings rarely depict Jesus as a man in a white robe and sandals. Sawyer's "Art for God" series consists of paintings of Jesus that he hopes will appeal to the youth of today (Artist's 7C ).

One of Sawyer's goals is to depict Jesus in a contemporary setting as a contemporary man. he does just that in his work entitled, "No Appointment Necessary." In this particular work, Jesus is portrayed as a handsome, muscular man wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Not only is Jesus wearing nontraditional dress in the painting, he is also sporting a red heart tattoo on his arm with the word, "Father," printed across it (Artist's 7C). A picture of, "No Appointment Necessary," can be seen in appendix A. [Appendix not included here.]

Stephen Sawyer's contemporary depictions of Christ are not solely limited to "No Appointment Necessary." Another of Sawyer's paintings entitled, "Undefeated," portrays Christ in a boxing ring wearing boxing gloves. Jesus is also seen laughing in his painting, "Joy to the World." It is clear that Sawyer's depictions of Jesus are far from the traditional robed, gentle portrayals of Christ, and Sawyer has a definite mission behind his paintings.

In no way is Sawyer attempting to degrade Jesus as a religious figure or trying to be sacrilegious. According to an article by the Associated Press that can be found in the March 22, 2003, edition of the Kearney Hub, Sawyer states, "My mission is to accurately reflect the life and teachings of Jesus in the 21 st century. I want to reach everyone with the message of Jesus" (Artist's 7C). Several scholars of religion are using Sawyer's works to teach classes at universities across the United States. In the same Kearney Hub article, John Zylka, a director at Plymouth Christian Academy in Plymouth, Michigan states, "One of Steve's goals is to really bring Jesus into the 21st century, and I think it's much easier for the youth to relate" (Artist's 7C). Many other artists are taking an approach similar to Sawyer's when portraying Jesus in their works.

Janet McKenzie-Black Image of Christ

Another example of a nontraditional portrayal of Jesus can be found in Janet McKenzie's works.

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