The Power of Artistic Literacy

        Have you ever tried to communicate a really incredible story to a friend, but you could tell they were just not fully getting it? Perhaps they got the gist of the message, but they were not fully understanding the magnitude of it? In lieu of this literacy flaw, you find yourself frustrated and seeking some greater means of sharing your message. You wonder: how can I make them see what I saw, understand what I experienced, and feel what I felt? 


As a language arts education major, literacy is often referred to as one’s ability to communicate a text through different modes, whether that is verbal, written texts, facial expressions, visuals/paintings, etc. For the past year, I have been noticing that there is a great dilemma in human communication: people fail to internalize a text when the mode of communication does not effectively speak to them.


This literacy dilemma can be frustrating when we want people to understand the same powerful encounters or experiences that we’ve had. Perhaps you attended an amazing conference, or just finished hiking a month-long pilgrimage, or just returned from a beautiful retreat in the mountains; the experience was so beautiful that it put a deep and lasting ache in your heart. When you returned home and people asked about your trip, you started to boil up with excitement as you searched for the words to share your story. But you soon found yourself standing before the reality of it all. You couldn’t possibly share what you felt with others, unless they experienced it for themselves, or at least something of similar effect. These moments may become even more frustrating or heart breaking when the messages you are trying to communicate are of critical importance. Perhaps you just went on a mission trip that changed your entire perspective. You spent ten days witnessing  unspeakable suffering and indescribable conditions, and you couldn’t possibly capture it in conversation. Perhaps you yourself have experienced some serious suffering or an injustice, and it pains you that you can’t make it effectively known. Perhaps in prayer, the Lord has revealed a glimpse of humanity’s brokenness, or some aspect of His unfathomable nature, and you cannot possibly articulate it in a way that would give it any justice. 



         So what do we do? We have all these experiences, revelations, encounters, and they yank on our souls to do something with them. We are faced with this great chasm that lies between our heads and our hearts, and we are in need of a literacy intervention that is beyond our power.



This is where artistic literacy comes in. God, the first artist, the maker of the very nature of beauty, has bestowed upon humanity this unique form of literacy, as a constant rope, unceasingly pulling us from the hardness of this world into deeper revelations of divine reality. If you don’t quite know what I mean by artistic literacy, it simply refers to communicating through beauty. This could be a dance, a sculpture, a musical, a painting, a song, a poem, a scrapbook, a beautiful meal, a story, etc. the list goes on. In general, it’s taking ordinary communication and heightening it to the level of artistic expression through the use of intentionality, order, and beauty. This lens of beauty has a uniquely powerful ability to effectively deliver a message. Now, I’m not saying that every time someone has a powerful life experience, they simply paint a mural or write a song and all will be communicated and understood —mystery itself points us to the fact that there is something beyond this world— but, I have found over and over again that beauty has the power to communicate to people more than anything else quite can. It is the natural human response to articulate through artistic literacy when we have powerful experiences to share. We process unspeakable depths through beautiful things, because it is the most effective and human means of sharing our experiences with others. 


       People are captivated by beauty. In cases where a plethora of words go in one ear and out the other, simple beauty has a way of touching people directly and helping them make perfect sense of the concept. So often messages, data, numbers, and facts reach the mind, but they do not reach the heart. People often already know the facts, but they don’t mean anything to them until the facts can become an internal reality for them. We internalize when there is an emotional connection; people internalize when there is a humanization, a scale, or representation that is receivable. 


For example, let’s say someone just told you about the number of casualties that resulted after a certain war. Upon hearing it, you feel embarrassed to admit that, despite the seemingly large number of deaths, you have trouble grasping what the numbers really means and processing how tragic the battle was. In all honesty, it’s not entirely your fault that such a tragic fact is just numbers to you, because it’s not until those numbers are receivable or made relatable that you will start to make meaning out of them. So let’s say that later that day you watched a powerful reenactment of the battle, or read a heart-wrenching poem written by one of the survivors. Upon experiencing those forms of artistic literacy, the casualties no longer felt like empty numbers, but disturbing realities. There was something effective and understandable about seeing a reenactment: the realistic outfits, the emotion of the actors, the crafted choreography of the whole show. It took the story out of normal context and placed it suddenly under an artistic spotlight, a pedestal of beauty. Suddenly, the message is not ungraspable data, but a very near reality, that makes you want to respond.




Do you see the miracle of beauty that took place? Do you see this valuable ability that artistic literacy holds? This is just one example, but this occurs everyday all around you, in commercials, city murals, art museums, cathedrals, Broadway shows, street performers, concerts, and infinitely more. And it’s important because the Lord has given us critical messages to deliver to souls and an effect means of doing so: through beauty.


Beauty is a language that has a God-given ability to speak powerfully to other’s hearts and souls. Pay attention to the ways that beauty transforms us, and take advantage of this gift of beauty to speak to others’ humanity about the truth. Use it, create it, behold it, encounter it, treasure it, and share it.


Beauty will save the world.







Hanna Mangiovillano is currently a senior at West

Chester University of PA, studying Middle Grades

Education with a concentration in Math and ELA. She

works as Kate’s studio assistant, and outside of

her studies, she is very passionate about writing music,

leading worship at her campus’s Catholic Newman Center,

and making religious artwork.









Kate Capato

Kate is a Sacred Art Painter, Inspirational Speaker, and Faith-filled Movement artist on a mission to spread God's love through beauty! Her inspiration comes from prayerful encounters with the Lord, and the rich traditions of our Catholic faith. When she's not creating something faith inspired, Kate is often traveling all over the world with her hubby soaking in the wonders of God's creation, or spending time with family and friends to live every moment to the fullest. To see her work, visit her portfolio below and share in this mission of spreading truth and goodness.

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