Image is an organization that fosters contemporary art and writing that grapple with the mystery at the heart of religious faith. At first, an emphasis on religion might seem like a narrow way of approaching art. But the one hundred issues of our journal prove that the opposite is true. Religion, which deals in ultimate questions, has been a means of bringing together a conversation that can include everything else. Art is one of the shared spaces where we wrangle with the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
Art has the power to shape individuals and cultures. It can expose injustice, force us to see our own private hypocrisies, show us the humanity of the other, challenge our ways of seeing and radically alter our framework and definition of what matters. From private encounters with works of art come personal change; from personal change, multiplied, comes cultural change. Art might be exactly what we need to imagine our way out of the tribalism and polarization that plague us.
This publishing program is informed and nourished by several foundational values:
Incarnational humanism. We believe that human creatures, made in the image of a divine creator, live most fully into their nature when they are creative. As God formed people from muddy clay and breathed life into them, so do artists find ways of locating spiritual things in earthy materials. By its nature, art moves us from the general and abstract and into the particular and concrete. Each art form does this in ways unique to its medium. In each age, this needs to happen in new ways, and our focus is on contemporary work. In this way, art is constantly incarnational: the transcendent is given flesh.
Image has often quoted the enigmatic observation Dostoyevsky made in one of his notebooks that “beauty will save the world.” We see this more as a provocation or conversation-starter than a mission statement. Coming from a novelist whose work grapples with all the horror of the human condition and the failures of overconfident programs for justice and human happiness, we take it less as a statement about the power of beauty to soothe and console than as a gesture toward the hope at the end of a long journey.
We are most fully human when we cultivate the imagination. Art, in that sense, is one of the ways we refuse the reductionism of a pragmatic culture bent on consumption and production. Artists and writers remind us that human beings aren’t just economic or political animals; not just homo faber or homo economicus but, as historian Johan Huizinga put it, we are homo ludens, humans made to play.
Archaic avant-garde. The mystery at the heart of the Christian faith is that the invisible is made visible, the Word becomes flesh. This is the mystery echoed in our artistic endeavors: painters plunge their imagination into the invisible and bring up something we’ve never seen before; writers conjure characters that put souls on the page for us to see and contemplate ourselves.
So our Christian faith doesn’t paint us into a corner, it gives us a palette for audacious artistry. The imaginative wells of the Christian tradition give us the boldness and courage to be innovative, venturesome, unapologetically contemporary, even avant-garde. We have no investment in traditionalism. We see the tradition as a creative gift not a constriction to resent, a well to drink from not a weight to throw off. We embrace the catholicity of this tradition across time and space and see in the many streams of Christian faith diverse gifts for contemporary creativity.
Anchored hospitality. Confidence in this anchor of incarnational Christianity enables and motivates a hospitality that is open and capacious rather than defensive or threatened. As such, Image is a Christian organization that is hospitable to all faiths, as well as to those who struggle with faith. While much of the work we publish engages with Christianity in some form, we also have a special place in our pages for Judaism and Islam, with which we share a history and sacred texts. But from the anchor of historic faith, Image invites any artist sincerely wrestling with the questions faith awakens, even if those are a believer’s doubts or an agnostic’s temptation to believe. We do not judge art by whether it reflects right belief, or can be used to make an argument for right belief. Rather, we believe that art that grapples honestly with transcendent questions finds its way toward truth. Any art that grapples honestly with a religious question—which is to say, a human question—is ours.
We are hospitable to all faiths because our convictions motivate us to convene a wider conversation for the sake of our neighbors and the common good. This might include a Buddhist fiction writer whose imagination was shaped by a Catholic childhood; a Hindu poet who writes about the Bible; an essay by an agnostic writer who struggles with a genuinely irritating Christian whom she meets in her home-birth class; an angry ex-fundamentalist haunted by what he left behind; or paintings by a prominent, religiously unaffiliated artist whose work reveals a spiritual undercurrent. In a time when faith is often politicized, and those of other faiths painted as strange or alien, we find that the closer we look, the more we have in common with sincere grapplers of any religious tradition.
Creative pluralism. We believe that the God who created the world in which we find ourselves—a cosmos that includes 200 billion galaxies and 2,700 different sorts of earthworms and forty-five different kinds of hostas—takes a special delight in creative diversity. Image does not identify religious art with any pristinized era or privileged style. We want to reflect a wide array of styles, voices, and genres that speak to different people in different ways.
We have room for quiet reverence, for the contemplative mode. We have room for humor. We have room for the formal and for the experimental. For figuration and abstraction. For long reads and (very occasionally) flash fiction. For bronze sculpture and video art, for oil painting and graffiti. We reject didactic and polemical art, but we also have room for anguish, rage, and thirst for justice. We have room for muddle and mess. We have room for wonder and awe.
These values inform an organization that is committed to artistic excellence. Our flagship program is a literary journal mainly publishing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, along with essays on other artforms such as film, theater, music, dance, and architecture. We offer a variety of additional entry points to the conversation we’re hosting, including varied web content , a podcast, e-newsletter, and events.
We aim to be a rich thread in the fabric of culture demonstrating that art and faith do not occupy separate silos but can be fully integrated in a reader, writer, or artist’s imaginative life.
We aspire to be a faithful presence in literary and artistic culture, participating actively and visibly in the broad cultural community that is our natural home, side by side with other lit mags, conferences, blogs, fellowships, programs, and institutions. Our stance toward the rest of literary culture is not adversarial or evangelical: our end game is not to convert the Paris Review to Christianity. If Virginia Quarterly Review publishes a great short story that could have been in Image because it has religious themes, we’re a little jealous that we didn’t get it, but also a little pleased: it’s a sign that the line between secular and religious literary venues is fading. This actually creates new opportunities for Image to be “overheard” in broader literary and artistic conversations and to be a meeting places for religious and “secular” communities.
We aim to be visible enough in the broad culture that we can be easily found by serious writers, readers, artists, and viewers who also happen to be people of faith—especially if they’re young and new to the scene. We won’t do that by being the most respected journal in a religious subculture (though we may in fact be that), but rather by being an active participant in a wider world.
Our goals could be articulated in terms of who we aim to publish and who we hope will read Image.
Artists and Writers. We publish writers of every age, color, orientation, and denomination: Catholics and Baptists, Eastern Orthodox and Jewish Orthodox, Sufi and Mormon and Presbyterian and nondenominational. We publish agnostics. What they hold in common is a sincere and sustained engagement with the urgent, demanding questions of faith and a willingness to live into the mystery that too many forces in our culture would squelch.
We publish writers at all career stages—brand new writers and National Book Award–winners. Our writers tend to publish beyond the world of Christian magazines and presses. We notice that today the public square is far from hostile to religious voices when they are honest, compelling, and have artistic integrity. We see work from our pages regularly reprinted in non-religious venues like the Pushcart anthology, Poetry Daily, Best American Poetry, Utne Reader, and Harper’s. By participating in the literary community, we open pathways for writing on faith to get a wider readership.
Our goal is to be the premier Anglophone literary journal that is hospitable to faith, which means building obvious connections with Canada, the UK, and Australia, but also a particularly fertile African literary community as well as significant work being done in English by Asian-Americans and many others. As resources allow, Image hopes to expand translation programs to build an international community of artists and writers.
Readers. Like the writers and artists we publish, our target audience is diverse in its relationship to faith. Often our readers are writers and artists themselves; many are pastors and teachers. Most of our readers and event participants would call themselves Christians, but we also want to be read by people of other faiths, or with uneasy relationships to faith.
Like the writers we publish, our readers include liberals and conservatives. Image is one of few publications enjoyed by those on the right and on the left. Sometimes this creates a fruitful tension. Our political diversity feels like a rarity in today’s culture, when people tend to stay in their own camps. We suspect this arises from the fact that politics are not explicitly the topic, and yet art is trying to address many of the same questions politics does: justice, values, the legacy of history, the individual and community, and more. Approaching subjects like these through the arts can often result in more real listening and exchange than conversation in an overtly political forum.
Some but not all the work in the print journal is challenging. We aim to publish three or four “think pieces” (heavily intellectual essays) a year, but we also publish many straightforward first-person essays on subjects like marriage, illness, vocation, and rock and roll, and many more that do some of both. We publish lots of narrative poetry as well as some dense and language-driven poetry. We’re open to difficult work, but from our point of view, there’s no correlation between difficulty and artistic merit. We don’t expect every reader to read Image cover-to-cover, but we believe that as readers spend more time with the journal, they find ways into the more challenging work.
Our goal is to expand Image readership on at least three fronts:
- We aim to be read by more than just creatives. While many of our readers are writers and artists themselves, we aim to convince more and more religious folk that their lives are impoverished without art and that Image is the imagination-injection they need, no matter what their own calling might be.
- We aim to reach and expand the audience of readers who didn’t know they were looking for us, readers who are haunted by this “mystery” we talk about and are looking for artistic expression that reminds them that they have a soul. This requires the active presence of Image in cultural spaces beyond religious subcultures (and in particular on newsstands as a kind of ‘embassy’ of that commitment).
- We aim to reach younger generations, beyond the “founding” generation who have long been readers and patrons of Image. This requires intentionally engaging younger audiences on the platforms and in the media where they are comfortable and inviting them into our journal and programs.