Claudia Campbell, a spiritual director who uses art to pray and guides others to do the same, didn’t fall into her current role. It took years of painting another path until her faith and her art finally combined.
Campbell was classically trained in many two-dimensional formats of art, studied in Italy for a year, and earned her art degree from Indiana University. For the first 30 years of her professional career, she taught art to children, teens, and adults. She found the work rewarding because “[I] facilitated confidence in the people I worked with.”
At the age of 40, Campbell felt it was time to do something else. She left full-time teaching to pursue her own art and next adventure. To take that leap, she says, “I had to dig deep in my faith and trust myself.” Campbell allowed herself to be led to a new place professionally when a friend invited her to lead a day-long retreat at a local church. That experience blossomed into a steady practice, whereby she incorporates art into deep reflection, starting with the overview of what the artist is saying and zooming in to smaller details that speak to the retreatants over the course of a retreat.
Excited by this new professional and spiritual path, Campbell later the spiritual direction program at Spring Hill College to receive formal training, and a few years later, her two passions came together when she was invited to lead art retreats at Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center in Atlanta.
In her art retreats, Campbell guides participants to “read” a piece of art that coordinates with a Scripture text, which gives retreatants the freedom to explore the art in whatever way might be meaningful for them. She describes her painting style as a free one, intuitive and emotional, “allowing self to be led to a new place.”
Her art retreats, which she describes as “a deepening of faith that corresponds to the creative process” are also an experience of Ignatian imaginative prayer. Campbell was first led to Ignatian spirituality while at Spring Hill, where she was exposed to the Spiritual Exercises, including imaginative contemplation.
Campbell’s art retreats involve engaging the senses, to enter into artist’s message through depictions of Gospel stories or other religious themes, and reacting and responding within our own interpretation. Campbell has also taken courses in art therapy, which provide guidance and inspiration for integrating music, smells, and ritual into retreats.
Campbell likes to use the phrase visual lectio to describe her art retreats, or as she says, “a deepening of faith that corresponds to the creative process.” Certainly, St. Ignatius would agree.
You don’t have to be a Monet to express yourself through paint. Painting is a visual way to communicate feelings that are hard to put into words. Finding God incorporates visual learning through the Fine Art Prints that accompany every chapter. Catechists, teachers, and students are encouraged to use painting and other visual arts as a way to connect and strengthen their relationship to God.