Thought for the Day - Canon Angela Tilby

Good morning. I was delighted at the recent news that Tracey Emin had been appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy. I’ve always suspected that behind the sometimes eccentric offerings of this particular enfant terrible there was a steely talent. Her drawings reveal that to be true. Speedy, spare and sure she makes a world of a few lines.

Drawing requires an ability to see what is there. As David Hockney put it, ‘Drawing is teaching people to look.’ To me it is a miracle that people can simply look and see and draw, so that what they see appears again though the simplest media of pencil and paper. Recognisable to all and yet, uniquely theirs. Simpler than a photograph and more direct somehow because a photograph reproduces the world, while a drawing imitates it, drawing us into the real material world so we inhabit it more intensely.

Many of us tend to live in our heads, in an invisible world of ideas and concepts, endlessly debating with ourselves and passing through life disconnected from what our eyes are telling us. I have often come to the end of the day, and only then remembered the expression on a face that said the opposite of the words I had heard. My eyes were warning me at the time, but it took me hours to attend to them.

Drawing straight from what the eye sees connects us to the real world and it extends our reach into the real world; think of what drawing means for architecture, engineering, anatomy.

In the spiritual life representing what you see is ambiguous. There was a huge controversy in the 8th century about whether it was legitimate to portray Jesus Christ in visual form. One side said no, it would be an attempt to draw a line round the infinite God, a horrible act of idolatry. The other side rejected this argument. They said, not only is it legitimate to portray Jesus Christ, we are compelled to do so, because by doing so we affirm the incarnation, that Christ is where the invisible God became visible and material just like us. ‘I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake’, as one of them put it.

This means, of course, that all those Christmas cards of the baby Jesus are theologically OK. But it also means that what is really important is not what is in our heads but in our eyes and hands. The material world is where we manifest what and who we are, where we learn what is holy and what is profane, where we discover what it means to love and where our egoism is challenged. To look and see is to encounter truth. One of the early Christian hermits told his followers at the end of his life, ‘a monk should be like the Cherubim and Seraphim, all eyes’

Release date:


4 minutes

This clip is from

Featured in...