Article of the Week | BYU Studies

Article of the Week

April 2, 2018
Article of the Week
That's Not My Jesus: An Artist's Personal Perspective on Images of Christ
Author James C. Christensen,

This daily feature is the introduction to a full article by James C. Christensen that was published in issue, 39:3. To read the full text of this article, follow the link below.

In struggling with the issues involved in painting Christ I have (as have artists other than myself) come to realize that we do not actually need to have a physically accurate portrayal of Jesus Christ. For artists, the goal is to create a character in an image that we can identify with, that we can relate to. But at the same time that character should not remind us of a neighbor or some acquaintance. Christ is too personal to each of us. He must be portrayed with universal but distinct qualities.

Our dilemma is that on the one hand we want to know Christ personally and on the other hand we do not know what he looks like. I have worked through my cycles of going through the historical record attempting to find out his ethnic nature and physical appearance. Would he be Semitic? Would he be red haired and blue eyed? Would he be as a Davidic descendent—ruddy and fair? Where does the forked beard come from? Does he even have a beard? The questions can go on ad infinitum.

I think that in dreams and visions the Lord gives us images that are comfortable for us. I read once that a woman had a near-death vision of her uncle, who had drowned while fishing; he appeared in his fishing waders. Does Uncle have to wear fishing waders for eternity? No, he appeared in an image that would be recognizable to his niece. Similarly, the Savior—living outside of time, existing on a different plane, being resurrected—can, I think, make his presence known to us in any way that is needed.