A Friend in Washington explores art, faith, and advocacy at FCNL
Welling Hall will present her gun violence sculptures and give an artist talk “Art Transforming Violence” on November 14, 2018, in the Quaker Welcome Center.
In this interview, Professor Hall, who is serving as Friend in Washington, discusses how the visual arts provide space for enriching faith communities as well as advocacy messaging.
You have had a long career in academia as a political scientist. How did you come to the visual arts?
After many years of teaching courses that focused on nuclear war, on genocide, and atrocity, all FCNL issues, I found the work of James Hillman, a writer who asserts that the best antidote to horror is intense aesthetic engagement. In my teaching career I observed that students who were invited to regularly contemplate things of beauty were better able to persist and succeed in courses that demanded attention to horror.
How have the arts supported your own advocacy for peace and justice?
In my own practice I alternate between making art that erupts unbidden out of a place of deep pain and knitting or bending wire, both repetitive, contemplative activities, to unwind and center myself.
The arts can invite people to imagine how the world might be different. Visual art has the potential to engage questions that people do not otherwise ask. In the past five years making art, I have had more intense, rewarding conversations about art with observers than in the past thirty years of writing about and analyzing treaties or documentaries or research papers on international law and disarmament. It is the difference between seeing people stand up taller and seeing their eyes glaze over.
Why is the Quaker approach important at this moment?
Quakers have known for a long time that arguments do not win friends or influence people to change their mind. FCNL knows that the work of peace and justice ultimately rests on building relationships and forming an emotional bond with allies. This is part of the Quaker imperative to see what Love can do. The arts are a tool that Quakers can use to enlarge our story-telling toolkit.
How can the visual arts nourish Quakers in our faith and practice today?
Human beings perceive the world through both emotion and intellect. Historically, faith communities have been nourished by myth, by story, by images that transcend the mundane and the rational. The visual arts are one way to reach the emotional core of other persons. This is where wonder is evoked. Wonder is a key component of awe. Awe nourishes faith and faith keeps us going even when God may appear to be silent.