Artist uses abstract under-painting to symbolize God in everyday things

Aug 2, 2012

Painter Bette Dickinson’s work is all about layers. When I came in to her studio at her home in Kalamazoo, she added a few more layers to a familiar Michigan scene. Underneath the oil paint there are waxy layers that give Dickinson’s art this spacey, other-worldly look. Most of her art is more abstract, with colorful splashes and splattered paint. 

These layers are easy to see, but Dickinson says they represent something that we can’t see—the spiritual world. Not only is Dickinson an artist; she’s also a recent graduate of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

“I like to do a lot of pieces that relate to creation in that way like in the trees and the sky and the sea, and trying to uncover the spiritual elements underneath that," says Dickinson. "Because I believe that we can look around and we can see God at work everywhere and I like to try and bring that out in whatever I’m painting.”

Dickinson works with Western Michigan University’s chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to help fine and performing arts students weave their faith into their future careers. Dickinson says artists have a higher calling.

“Oftentimes artists are taught that our peers are competition and we’ve got to compete to make a name for ourselves and that our work should really be out to benefit ourselves," Dickinson says. "But I think God has a bigger vision for artists to be those who are willing to serve and use their gifts to benefit the world, and bring awareness to social justice issues and bring awareness to things that need to be transformed and renewed in this world. And I think that artists have a high calling as sort of our profits of our day.”

One of the social justice issues Dickinson will tackle is human trafficking. The Michigan Abolitionist Project recently asked Dickinson to paint a work to raise awareness of the issue. She says it will be a difficult subject to take on, but she’s made more complicated paintings for her alma mater.

“They asked me to paint the story of the Bible, which was a high calling. It was a lot of thinking through and it was a very heavy piece,” says Dickinson. “Rather than the viewer to see ‘Oh, ok this is Adam and Eve and then this is the story of Abraham and this is so and so. Rather than put every single story in there, I wanted to give the feel of the movement of God through history and the things that is underneath the story of God working to create and redeem and restore.’”

You can see Bette Dickinson’s art Friday at Webster’s Prime restaurant during the Kalamazoo Art Hop. If you are interested in working with the WMU chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship or talking about the intersection of faith and art, contact Bette Dickinson at or (248) 930-4293.