Chapter 2:

What Is Prophetic Art?

Chapter excerpt

Worship Art? Prophecy? Spiritual? Hmm...

multi-media eye

So what is prophetic art and why do people do it? When I began, I had never seen or even heard of anyone painting in church. I’d certainly never seen anyone attempt to marry the prophetic with a painted image. I didn’t know what it was all about or what it was meant to ‘look’ like, which in retrospect was possibly a good thing as I had to go on a journey to discover what it was, what it meant and where I fitted, instead of accepting someone else’s definition and methodology.

My first question was the very basic one of ‘what is prophetic art’? I’d always lived in regional areas and had never been in a church community where art was even acknowledged let alone done live in the church. The concept was different to the type of art that I’d been doing or that I’d seen in galleries, but if Almighty God used the painting to speak a message, it gave it a meaningfulness that I’d been unknowingly searching for for a long time.

However, if I was going to do it, I needed a reference or a definition that I could work with, otherwise, how would I know whether what I was doing was right or not? It took me quite a while, but eventually, I came up with a simple definition; a message from God in visual form (as opposed to dancing, music, verbally or the Word). It is visual imagery which speaks God’s words; be they photography, drawing, painting or any other kind of visual ‘art.' From here on throughout the book, I’ll reference painting because I’m a painter, but it doesn’t exclude any other form of visual imagery that’s created with a God purpose. Most of what I reference is actually ‘worship art’ that was created live during corporate worship as opposed to the more carefully crafted images of prophetic art. But both have the same purpose: to declare God’s messages.

What makes some art prophetic is that the inspiration for it comes from the Holy Spirit and that God speaks through it. It should always be edifying, comforting or encouraging (8) as that’s the bottom line for all prophecy. If touched by the hand of God, prophetic art can release healing or power or emotional freedom in a way that spoken words can’t. It can bring an awareness of beauty or awe that really can cut between bone and marrow and get right to the heart of a person’s soul. If Holy Spirit partners with the artist and imparts His presence into the work, it can be an instrument of healing or revelation or encounter long after the work is created.

God gradually began to show me that there were, in fact, several types of prophetic art.

Different Meanings

Work may be interpreted with various meanings because God is more than capable of saying several messages from a single visual image. As well, just as there are multiple gifts and fruits of the Spirit, it seems that there are multiple definitions and purposes of prophetic art. It doesn’t have to be produced live in front of an audience or during worship as different types of prophetic art have different uses and different audiences. Live art limits the methods and the media possible because of the need for speedy rendition (most worship sessions don’t go for more than an hour or so). It’s hard to produce a finished piece in such a short time. Creating prophetically inspired photography is nigh on impossible in a live church setting, and yet photography is probably the most developed method of quality prophetic art that I’ve seen.

The more ‘finished’ pieces that many people relate to needing time often to complete so for this book, I’ll refer to such studio produced pieces as prophetic art and pieces produced live in corporate worship as worship art. Both have more or less the same purposes, but one has the privilege of time to create and polish, whereas the other is created relatively quickly in a public place. Most of what I’ve done would, therefore, be classed as worship art because it was produced live during a time of worship. This has influenced the final ‘finish’ and the need for speed has influenced my style. Sometimes, I’ve taken a work home and tweaked it, but the looseness produced during worship has remained as a stylistic characteristic.

If an artist only paints in oils or takes weeks to complete a piece, live art will probably not be for them. But that doesn’t preclude their work from being prophetic art. It all comes back to the heart behind the piece and purpose of it.

From my simple initial understanding, as I progressed through the year painting each week, God gradually began to show me that there were, in fact, several types of prophetic art, recorded here in the order that I recognized them. They all apply to both worship and prophetic art. It may not be a complete list but are what I’ve recognized. The simplest is the love letter from God.

Lion of Judah, communion, bread and wine, vine
Lion of Judah presides over communion
Signs and wonders angel
Angel releasing signs and wonders

Love Letter

Pink Rose painting

In week 10 of the challenge, I felt God said to paint a large pink rose. To say I wasn’t comfortable about it is an understatement. Pale pink and a flower, painted in the church: what would that mean? I hadn’t been worship painting long at that stage, and this was an introduction to trust more. I had no idea why He wanted me to paint a pink rose so I looked up the meaning of roses, the color pink and anything else I could think of to justify painting it, but nothing sat well. Here I was about to paint a flower in church with no idea what it meant, just that it seemed to be what God wanted me to paint. Later it became apparent that the painting was a love letter to a special lady on a day when unexpectedly she would need an out-of-the-ordinary touch from God. That particular shade of pink and the rose itself spoke to her. It didn’t speak to me at all, but it didn’t need to. It was an expression of how intimately God knew her and her circumstances. Around that time, I stopped trying so hard to interpret what my paintings were about.

An Act Of Worship

I believe one of the primary purposes of prophetic art can be an act of worship or an expression of adoration from the artist to the Creator. I suspect that much of the art that is produced as worship art falls into this category.

At the mid-way point of the year, week 26, at our local worship conference, Unite, worship was amazing. It was one of those times that I worshiped with everything in me while painting. There was a real sense of the presence of God painting with me. I’d started a painting of an angel, except that I didn’t know what an angel looked like. (This has continued to be a common theme....ho, hum, sigh.) This painting is described in more detail in Chapter 3. My emphasis when I was painting that piece was focused on worship, not painting, but God used it to translate an image of the supernatural into the natural. He bypassed my understanding and produced an image that resonated with lots of people, even though it had the potential to be unsuccessful. (I’ve been known to be overly enthusiastic and splash a lot of paint around in worship!) Much prophetic art is created as an expression of an individual’s relationship with God and reflects that individual’s communion with God.

Grace Bailey

He’d gone from despising himself to self-acceptance through a visual image and a touch from Holy Spirit.

Healing

I’ve heard stories of paintings that carry healing anointing and I’d like to be the vehicle of producing such works much more often. One I know that carried that anointing in a particular situation was produced as a community service.

When I was first starting to paint prophetically, I created a work live in front of 2000 people at an outdoor Christmas Carol function. It was very large; 2.4 mts by 1.2m (8' x 4') in size. A few months later I took a much smaller print of it along as part of a class, which I was doing about prophetic art and showed my image. Unbeknownst to me at the time, God used that painting to bring a major healing to a woman on the other side of the room about her son who had been abused by his father. The couple had recently separated, and her four-year-old son was withdrawn and non-communicative as a result of constant abuse from his dad that had started while he was still in the womb.

She took the print home and hung it on her son’s bedroom wall, explaining what God had said to her through that work. A couple of mornings later he bounced out, all smiles, exclaiming that “God loves me and I love me, too”! He’d gone from despising himself to self-acceptance through a visual image and a touch from Holy Spirit.

Bear in mind that this all happened several months after what, for me, had been a Christmas image painted as part of a community carols event. I didn’t know the woman at that time and had no idea that a painting could have that kind of impact.

God, Father, Offering baby Jesus
The Father's Offering To The World

A Call To Action

Call To Action
Call To Action

This type of painting is an exhortation or a call to do something.

Our church had started to see glimpses of signs and wonders and Holy Spirit movement. We’d had a couple of lots of gold dust and had had some amazing God encounters. There was a general air of excited expectancy in the church about the movement of the Holy Spirit (or so I thought), then one night during worship God showed me that there were some different reactions to this in the church. The first was that of a tortoise who took one look and retracted into his shell away from it. The second was that of a dead or sleeping bird with its feet in the air in complacency, and the third was a rabbit running.

The work I created from that scene was a call to action for the church. The move of the Spirit is denoted by a large feather across the top (which various people have seen appear), and the animals are arrayed below it in the various stages of action.

An Act Of Warfare

Another purpose of prophetic art is that which is created as an act of spiritual warfare. One of the first pieces I ever did was just such a piece. I went with Roma Waterman to a Sounds of the Nations (9) worship conference in New Zealand hosted by Josh and Amberley Klinkenberg. It was a bit of a last-minute decision to go, and I thought I was just going along as a spectator or a pew-warmer. I didn’t even consider taking any paints or brushes as I had only painted live a handful of times at that stage.

While I was there, however, God told me to paint a large angel of war. I balked because I had even less idea what an angel looked like than in the earlier example and besides, I’d never really painted without a reference image before. I’d been a portrait artist for a long time but always from photos. How was I supposed to paint an angel without knowing what it should look like? This would be flying blind! As well, God said to do the painting gigantic and in front of an unknown audience when I’d almost never painted live before. My reaction was “God, you’ve got to be kidding!” He wasn’t, and fortunately, my mate Mike Perry helped me get all the materials together for a 2.4m (8’) high painting, which is no mean feat!

I started the painting, but still hadn’t seen an angel to have any idea of what I should paint, other than large. I desperately wanted to see one and I’d come to the conference asking that I would. People all around me were seeing angels, but not me. It was an amazing signs and wonders kind of conference! I was fairly trepidatious at the beginning so I started at the bottom of the work and worked up to the face, which is completely different to my usual method. The face is the focus of a portrait, so that’s where I’d normally start, and the rest of the work would fit in around it. This time though, I started with the body and worked up to the face. Eventually, though, I got to the face and couldn’t put it off any longer. Again, I drew it ’backwards’ to my usual method, starting at the lips and progressing up the face, all without a reference image, which was way out of my comfort zone!

Amazingly, it seemed to work okay, but when I stepped back to look at it, I realized that the nose was very broad. Of course I went to redraw it, until I clearly heard a ‘voice’ say to leave it alone. I realized then that Maori people do have wider noses and that the angel I had drawn was a Maori angel. It’s an interesting assumption from then that angels have different racial characteristics...

I still hadn’t seen an angel, so I tried to give him wings. Don’t all angels have wings? Apparently not! I painted a full set of wings on three times over several days and then painted them out each time because I just couldn’t get them to work. I found out much later that not all angels have wings...

The cool part of the painting was collaborating with a Maori artist, Mike Tupaea who also painted on the taiaha or fighting stick. He added Maori cultural elements to that work with breathtaking and intricate linework on the end of the fighting stick. I believe that that also had prophetic implications for both his artistic practice and for the warfare element of that painting.

Doing that painting was really hard, both physically and spiritually. As the painting was so tall it meant climbing up and down a ladder regularly, which can be tiring in itself. The conference only went for a few days so there was time pressure to finish before it ended, as I had to fly home to Australia the following day. But the hardest thing was the spiritual opposition I felt during the painting, which was much worse than the physical resistance. The painting did get finished though and I know it was a warfare piece, partly by the level of opposition that I’d encountered while I was painting it. It was a call to arms for the Maori people to stand up and fight in the Spirit for their nation.

angel drawing
The Initial Drawing
Grace Bailey
Renowned Kiwi artist, Mike Tupaea painting the taiaha
Renowned Kiwi artist, Mike Tupaea painting the taiaha
Maori Angel of War
Maori Angel of War

Specific Works For Secular Positions

hope, child abuse, suicide,

This is art which is ‘commissioned’ or inspired by God to be displayed in secular public areas. Such works are designed for a public audience with perhaps a broader context or meaning than more private works.

One such work occurred about a third of the way through the 52-week challenge. I believe God told me to enter a large local private school art show. Earlier in the year, I’d decided not to enter any more art shows because of the capricious nature of the judging and because I believed I should focus on prophetic art, so initially I argued with God. I didn’t want to do that painting as the subject matter was a difficult and sensitive one to tackle that I felt quite deeply about, but didn’t want to comment on publicly.

Also, it can be quite difficult to produce a work in a limited timeframe with the pressure of producing to an arbitrary ‘standard’ that is not defined, but which is somehow there. However, as I went on arguing, God gave me an image, and the painting grew from there. I spent a little over three weeks on it, and they were indeed difficult weeks. The subject of the work were some of the revelations of a Royal Commission hearing into child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in Ballarat. A protracted Commission session had been held in my home town, and for two weeks I read in the local paper about the atrocities perpetrated on little children by Catholic priests during the 70’s and 80’s.

It would have been easy to turn that painting into a condemnatory work, but I believe the work I created was for healing, titled “Let there be Light, and Hope”. It’s a haunting work that highlights the fact that twelve boys out of a class of thirty-three have since committed suicide. There’s vivid light shining over the boys signifying that there can be hope for the Light, despite the horrendous circumstances. The school bought the painting, and it will hang in a gallery space created by the school as a memorial to the victims and survivors. I believe that God wanted that work painted so it could hang in the school and be seen by present day students and staff.

Personal Messages

Of course God inspires more personal works for individuals for specific intimate locations. Recently, an elderly lady asked me to paint a field of poppies for her middle-aged agnostic son. He’d wanted a field of poppies for personal reasons. His mum asked me to paint a white horse with a rider on it to signify Christ in an obscure way so that he wouldn’t immediately recognize its presence in his home. We prayed together over that work and believe that God has a missional purpose in its placement in the son’s home.

Field of Poppies
Field of Poppies

Revealing The Spirit World

lock, eyes, Unlocking the Mysteries of Heaven

Another purpose of prophetic art is to reveal aspects of the Spirit world. I believe that we live in a physical reality with matter but are surrounded by both good and bad spirits, which affect our thoughts, actions and speech. I also believe that the barrier to being able to see those entities is nothing but a veil or a chimera. We often regard it as more of an impenetrable brick wall when it really is a will-o-the-wisp illusion that keeps most people from recognizing it or believing in it.

Painting angels is a step along that path. I want to be able to reveal it.

Prophetic Declaration

Prophetic art can be confirmation or declaration of prophecy or, in other words, a visual representation of a prophecy. Such a work was created at Hillview Church in Melbourne with Gary Morgan. The story of that work is written in more detail in Chapter 3. The church had previously had a word about the lion representing the apostolic and the eagle the prophetic. I created that piece without prior knowledge of that prophecy. Even the act of creating the seen out of the unseen was a prophetic declaration for a church led by a recognized prophet. (11) Sometimes a painting will directly relate to the topic being preached or some other aspect of the service and reinforces what God is saying as the prophetic declaration.

These definitions apply to both worship and prophetic art, and of course, there is a lot of overlap between the two. The list is in no particular order of importance but merely listed as I realized the purpose. So far, I’ve recognized nine purposes of prophetic art. I’m not sure that that is a complete list, but it’s interesting that there just happen to be nine gifts and fruits of the Spirit...

Prophetic Cartoons

All of the above types of art refer to work that is painted or drawn, usually larger for more or less public display as art. In other words, the purpose is to create an art piece that speaks God’s messages. Another type of what is commonly known as prophetic art is that which is produced as an inspirational drawing or card to be given away. It is usually smaller, rendered quickly and meant for an individual. In essence, people wait on God for an image, draw it and then give it to the person. I liken this one to a spoken word prophecy, almost like a drawn ‘word’ rather than ‘art.' There is much pretentiousness surrounding the definition of the word ‘art, could possibly’ and I don’t mean to bring that into this conversation, bcouldbe more correctly defined as prophetic cartoons. This is in no way to disparage or devalue such works, but to provide a more accurate definition that separates it from prophetic art.

Essentially they have the same purpose, but to label both as art is a misnomer that brings misunderstanding and perhaps lowers perceptions of the quality of prophetic art. I’m going to state again that I’m in no way disparaging such works and I know that often they can bring amazing God moments for both the creator and the receiver. I believe, however, that part of my purpose is to provide clarification around definitions of prophetic art and this type of drawing should therefore be differentiated from ‘art’. I have done this kind of drawing but it is not an area that I am very familiar with, so I’m not equipped to comment further than a brief outline. Suffice it to say that the rest of this book refers to works that are produced as ‘art’ rather than purely as a drawn prophetic word.

However, if I was going to do it, I needed a reference or a definition that I could work with, otherwise, how would I know whether what I was doing was right or not? It took me quite a while, but eventually, I came up with a simple definition; a message from God in visual form (as opposed to dancing, music, verbally or the Word). It is visual imagery which speaks God’s words; be they photography, drawing, painting or any other kind of visual ‘art.' From here on throughout the book, I’ll reference painting because I’m a painter, but it doesn’t exclude any other form of visual imagery that’s created with a God purpose. Most of what I reference is actually ‘worship art’ that was created live during corporate worship as opposed to the more carefully crafted images of prophetic art. But both have the same purpose: to declare God’s messages.

What makes some art prophetic is that the inspiration for it comes from the Holy Spirit and that God speaks through it. It should always be edifying, comforting or encouraging (8) as that’s the bottom line for all prophecy. If touched by the hand of God, prophetic art can release healing or power or emotional freedom in a way that spoken words can’t. It can bring an awareness of beauty or awe that really can cut between bone and marrow and get right to the heart of a person’s soul. If Holy Spirit partners with the artist and imparts His presence into the work, it can be an instrument of healing or revelation or encounter long after the work is created.