Visual Arts

Although oral cultures frequently make little or no use of written or printed materials, they may have a strong visual orientation. They pay close attention to the world around them, and they often make extensive use of the visual arts.

Visual Illustrations with Primary Oral Learners

Advocates for oral learners frequently use the term "oral strategies" to refer collectively to activities like storytelling, singing, quoting poetry, and so forth. In actuality, though, mission strategies often include communication methods that are not oral, that is, vocally-produced. Printed materials, pictures, graphics, symbols drawn in the sand or on a board, and objects used in teaching: all these are visual elements used in an effort to communicate.

The visual arts are often significant elements of oral cultures. Paintings, carvings, sculptures, handcrafts, clothing, architecture, materials used in religious activities, ceremonies, and other elements reveal the culture's beliefs, values, emotions, and sense of beauty. They teach the next generation. Thus a well-rounded missions communication strategy should consider how to include visual arts.

With these visual communication channels in mind, then, it would be more accurate to use the phrase "communication strategies that are appropriate for oral cultures" instead of "oral strategies." But the latter phrase has the advantage of being shorter. Perhaps it helps to think of the term as a shortened form of "oral-culture strategies."

How can we more effectively use visual designs to communicate with oral learners? Communicating through two-dimensional drawings and visual designs predates written language. Just as words are perceived differently, so too are visual designs. Many articles have explored the inter-relatedness of visual communication with oral learners, understandings of visual literacy, and the visual elements of art. These insights are useful for telling the biblical story visually as well as orally.

Every culture is different, and every culture uses visual arts in its own distinctive ways. There are hundreds of considerations that could come into play in the process of developing an effective, culturally-appropriate approach to using visual arts in Christian ministry. But at the simplest level, a good plan addresses two major concerns. (1) Any attempt to use visual arts to communicate the message of the Bible should determine that the visual arts being prepared or chosen will communicate accurately and effectively with the intended audience. Visual designs are perceived differently by different cultures. Visual arts brought from outside the culture may be misinterpreted, with harmful results. (2) Secondly, effective use of visual arts in church formation puts a premium on using visual elements that can be reproduced or obtained by every new group or church that comes into existence.