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Editorial Vision

Image is a quarterly journal that publishes contemporary art and writing that grapple with the mystery at the heart of religious faith.

Our flagship program is a literary journal mainly publishing fiction, poetry, and essays; each issue also features two essays on the visual arts, with color plates, as well as one long interview with a writer or artist, and, typically, an omnibus book review covering revolving genres. We also regularly publish essays on film, theater, music, dance, architecture, and other artforms.

We offer a variety of additional entry points to the conversation we’re hosting, through a blog, podcast, enewsletter, and events.

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.

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. As editors, we see ourselves as midwives to those mysterious processes.

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. The kind of beauty that can save the world is one that will incorporate brokenness, failure, suffering, and death.

Image is a Christian organization that is hospitable to all faiths, as well as to those who struggle with faith: We are Christian in that our editorial vision is shaped by the Christian story, including the creation, fall, incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Most 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.

We are hospitable to all faiths in that we want to host a conversation that goes beyond those roots. We occasionally include forays into other traditions as they intersect with the monotheistic faiths at our core: a Buddhist fiction writer whose imagination was shaped by a Catholic childhood; a Hindu poet who writes about the Bible. 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—and we find more in common by honoring the specificity of each tradition than by glib generalizations.

Our roots are in orthodox expressions of faith, which gives Image a ground from which we can include any artist sincerely wrestling with the questions faith awakens: 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; paintings by a prominent, religiously unaffiliated artist whose work reveals a spiritual undercurrent.

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. We aim not to be limited by any particular aesthetic style or school. Any art that grapples honestly with a religious question—which is to say, a human question—is ours.

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.

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.

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.

At first, an emphasis on religion might seem like a narrow way of approaching art. Our nearly 100 issues 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.

Audience

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.

(Given the wealth of literary magazines in existence, it’s unlikely that a person with no interest in faith would pick Image up, but our goal is to publish writing good enough that the occasional atheist would appreciate the writing for its own sake. Anecdotally we hear this is true.)

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.

As with most print publications, our readership skews older, but we are committed to finding ways to reach younger readers through the journal and our other platforms.

Aspiration

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.

But the fading of that line doesn’t make us obsolete. For certain types of readers, the kind of writing we publish is necessary food for the soul, and they want as much of it as they can get.

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.

For its thirty-year history, Image has been shaped by the vision of its founding editor, who oversaw all content areas. As we move forward, we envision a broader and more collaborative editorial approach, one that allows a group of editors with broad expertise and a variety of stylistic approaches to work out the vision through dialogue. The new editor in chief will shape the editorial vision, including refining this document, but will do so in conversation with others.

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