App Brings Religious Art to Life

Article excerpt

Need to find the nearest dry cleaner? There's an app for that. Lost your phone? There's an app for that. Looking for a deeper connection with Christian art? Well, now there's an app for that, too.

But an app is not where the process started for Eileen M. Daily, assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago and program director for the Master of Arts in religious education. Seeing in her own experience the power that paintings, sculptures and other Christian artwork could have on a person's faith, she wanted to find a way to help others have that same encounter.

So naturally, she started with a book, beginning to adapt pieces of her dissertation during the summer of 2010. Not long into the process, though, Daily began having second thoughts about her choice of medium.

"At some point, sort of toward the end of the first draft, I went, 'What? There's no point in doing this as a book. No one's going to bring this into an art museum,'" she said.

At a moment of frustration and standstill, she reflected on her times inside museums, recalling seeing people walk around not with thick books but with their phones and other mobile devices in hand.

And with that epiphany, her book became an app.

The end result is art/y/fact.Xn (pronounced "Artifact, Christian"), a mobile application that brings Christian art back to life.

"I wanted to take [Christian art] and sort of make the theology make the religion the starting place for it," Daily said.

The app provides 130 themes to aid users in reflecting, interpreting and appreciating the religious art they encounter in museums and churches, or even in books and online. The goal is simple: help people to engage Christian artwork in a richer, more thought-provoking way.

"All this stuff was created for religious purposes. It was created to inspire the faithful," said Daily, noting that "back in those days, everybody could understand a painting," and visual literacy was high during periods like the Renaissance.

"If Caravaggio had a new painting coming out in the early Baroque period ... there would be buzz on the street the way there's a buzz on the street about Oliver Stone making a new movie these days."

Available on Apple products and Android devices, art/y/fact.Xn acts as a personal guide toward such visual literacy of the religious aspects associated with much of the art that fills today's museums. The key word is guide, as Daily made a point not to create a database of specific pieces or an encyclopedia of experts' commentaries.

Instead, she sought to empower people by providing the tools for their own exploration and to develop their own ideas, questions and challenges of a piece, rather than passively accept the meaning of it, as told by a painting's plaque.

"Artwork is for each of us to appropriate. It's not just for experts. It's not just for theologians," she said. "For theologically rich art, there are layers of meaning, and each of us can find something for ourselves in that."

The themes provide the starting point for contemplative exploration. …