Radiant Light » Lesson Plan for Teachers

Lesson Plan for Teachers – The Art of Elizabeth Wang 

About the Lesson Plan. 

This lesson plan has been written for teachers to use while looking at the Radiant Light online Art Gallery with their pupils. We hope that you can choose parts of the plan that would be appropriate to your class’s age group and use them as a starting point. Some of the sections would suit a class studying Art, and other sections would fit a Religious Education class.  Some sections cover Art and R.E. at the same time. The Radiant Light Gallery has a ‘search’ function which may be useful if you are searching for certain themes or pictures. The content of some of the Lesson Plan is taken from a longer interview with Elizabeth Wang where she answers questions about her art.

Please note that some of the images (e.g. about life issues, or spiritual struggles) are quite graphic and potentially disturbing, and so they might not be suitable for younger children to view and use. Teachers must take responsibility for viewing the site carefully and deciding how it can be used in an age-appropriate way with their pupils. With younger children it may be best for the teacher to moderate the navigation of the site for the whole class, in a supervised way, rather than letting these younger children search for images themselves. Most of the themed galleries and keyword-searches will in fact contain images that are suitable for use with children of all ages.

This Lesson Plan contains:

  • Introduction to Elizabeth Wang’s art
  • Inspiration and influences
  • Style & themes in the pictures
  • Questions for discussion
  • Suggested activities
  • Further links
  • Coming Soon

Introduction to Elizabeth Wang’s art

Elizabeth Wang was born in 1942 in the UK and lived there all her life. She died in Sept 2016. She was an artist, housewife and mother who spent much time painting, writing and speaking about prayer and the Catholic Faith. She has been involved in the life of her home parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Harpenden, particularly as a catechist. Her children are grown-up, and one of her sons is a Catholic priest.

She has exhibited at the Royal Academy, and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. She has had solo exhibitions of religious work at Westminster Cathedral, the Bar Convent Museum ( York ), the Conference Rooms, St Pauls Bookshop, and at Notre Dame de France church, London. Many of her paintings are published side-by-side with her religious writings. Elizabeth Wang was the founder of Radiant Light.

Elizabeth was brought up a Christian in the Church of England and was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1968.  Her faith has greatly influenced the content and style of her artwork. Elizabeth has received images in prayer, and has painted many of them.  Most of the pictures in the Radiant Light website have their source in prayer. Elizabeth’s pictures speak about God, and about Heaven; then about Christ and His Church; and about grace, conversion, prayer, and souls. They are not 'new truths', but new expressions of old truths, and they rest upon the sure foundation of the teachings of the Catholic Church as held and preached in every age. Elizabeth hopes and trusts that everything she shares through her talks, writings and paintings is consistent with the Catholic Faith.

Mgr. Keith Barltrop has said about Radiant Light: "It has often been said that the difficulty modern people have with faith is not so much about the arguments for or against it, but with the difficulty of imagining God's presence in our highly secularised world. The work of Radiant Light is a perfect answer to that problem. Elizabeth Wang's art helps us make "the longest journey", from head to heart, by picturing what this presence might be like in a variety of situations. Radiant Light thus continues the great tradition of the Church from earliest days in using contemporary art to instruct us about God's truth and attract us to his beauty, leading us on to heartfelt adoration and to awareness of his being with us and all people from moment to moment." (Mgr. Keith Barltrop, Director, Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation, CASE)

Inspiration and influences

[The questions and answers below are taken from a longer interview with Elizabeth Wang, which can be seen at this link]

QUESTION: "Which artists most influenced you when you were young?"
ELIZABETH WANG: “… in my twenties, I was bowled over when I discovered modern painters, above all, the German Expressionists: the 'Blue Rider' school. It included Macke and Marc, with their swirling lines and gorgeous colours. Next, it was thrilling to discover… Gauguin, Cézanne, van Gogh and Monet…...It was a relief to discover John Singer Sargent, when I was beginning to paint portraits. I was in awe of his skill at painting fabrics as well as flesh; and I admired almost everything by Augustus John. When I turned back to look at the work of painters, particularly the Impressionists and the Expressionists, it was the colour that seized me, more than any other painting quality; and the excitement of seeing colour well-used is still with me today. It is almost exactly the sort of pure pleasure I experience when I hear a great choral work with interweaving harmonies, which give way from time to time to plaintive recitatives. The special joy of finding such pleasure is that, in art, it does not die away. The object of my fascinated attention remains there, in front of me, whereas music has to be played, sung or heard, over and over again, each time in a new performance. A painting doesn't move! If I'm asked whether these artists inspired me, my answer must be 'Yes' - but in a limited sense. I did not rush home, after attending an exhibition, yearning to paint in the style of the artist whose work I'd just seen. I learned a little painterly 'tip' from them, here and there. But the greatest gain for me was to see anew, at each exhibition, that an ordinary, living person, like myself, on fire to share his excitement at what he had seen before him, had kept going. He had painted, observed, reflected, painted again, and persevered; and here in the exhibition was the evidence that it was worthwhile, even if the painter had died without being recognised. It had still been worthwhile, either because he had at last got his 'message' across, whatever it was, or because he had finally shared his joy with thousands of other people”.

QUESTION: "Which other religious artists have inspired you?"
ELIZABETH WANG: “I am not so well-educated as to be able to name a lot of religious painters; but I've always been deeply moved by William Blake's work - and by the large canvasses of Stanley Spencer, particularly his resurrection scenes. The brilliantly-coloured images on illuminated manuscripts are also very touching - as are the large-eyed Christs and Saints in what I believe are seventeenth-century Ethiopian Gospel paintings.”

Style & themes in the pictures

[The questions and answers below are taken from  a longer interview with Elizabeth Wang, which can be seen at this link]

QUESTION: "What would you call your style in the first 'Mass' series of oil paintings?"
ELIZABETH WANG: “If I have to label the style of my Mass Paintings, I'd call them Expressionist pictures: not quite Fauve, but more vigorous and colourful, perhaps, than the Impressionist style; however, I was not trying to invent a style. The style arose, of itself, from the brushwork and colour I needed to use to convey that sort of experience and imagery.”

QUESTION: "Can you explain how Johannes von Itten's colour theory has influenced your painting?"
ELIZABETH WANG: “In the late 1980's, around the time when I was producing the first Mass paintings, I undertook a determined study of colour theory, so that I would waste less time on what some call experiment and I call guess-work. My father taught me to 'look things up' if ever I found myself ignorant of one thing or another. So I took a train to London, and found what I wanted on the shelves of Foyles bookshop. I should have done it, years before; but I bought a book by Johannes von Itten on his own colour theory – which seems better to me than Goethe's theory, or someone else's. Von Itten's seemed the most coherent and easy-to-follow. And during several months, at home, that winter, I learned a lot about split complementaries, analogous tones, and simultaneous contrasts, and all sorts of fascinating aspects of the subject. It was almost like a conversion, or the experience of being able to speak in another language, suddenly to be able to see some reasoning and clarity in an aspect of art that had always seemed to give rise to puzzlement or confusion.
When I began to use all sorts of rectangles and squares, superimposed upon a twelve-segment colour-wheel, I realised that there were sound reasons for my excitement on seeing one colour combination whilst feeling distaste for another combination. In discovering the logic of colour harmony and contrast - as a musician might learn musical theory - I was freed from the need to make endless unhappy guesses, about what to put where, in order to capture the mood or the experience I wanted to share. I made dozens of little colour charts, in accordance with von Itten's advice; and everything I did and learned contributed to the power of some of my later paintings, and left me full of gratitude for having uncovered such knowledge, so late in my life.”

QUESTION: "You seem to have painted light into many of these paintings. Why is this? Does the light represent something?"
ELIZABETH WANG: “There is a lot of light in these pictures. The Church and the Scriptures tell us that God lives in Heaven, in the unapproachable light of His holiness, and that Jesus Christ is the image of the unseen God, radiant with His glory; that is why I paint so much light. So the light represents holiness – whether in God, in Heaven, in the Saints, or in our souls. It is an amazing privilege to glimpse light in prayer…. And in 'painting' prayer, or attempting to paint it, it has been impossible not to paint light.”

QUESTION: "You also often paint fire in these paintings. Does this represent the same thing?"
ELIZABETH WANG: “It is more and more clear that there's also a lot of fire in these images - and the Lord Himself has told me the reason. The first few hundred images were about hundreds of aspects of the spiritual life, and the soul's 'journey' to holiness. But more recently the Lord has been showing out, in images, more about His own nature. There is nothing new to be learned about Him, through my pictures. But He has put into pictures, to help His followers, glimpses of His holiness. It is like fire in its purity, its unchanging nature, and its power either to 'burn' or to purify those who enter it unprepared; and that is what I try to convey pictorially. It is also, as a spiritual flame, incomparable in its sweetness and brilliance, for those who have been purified, and who can one day 'bathe' in God's love, even on earth, in prayer - and later on in Heaven.”

QUESTION: "Does the darkness in the paintings represent something?"
ELIZABETH WANG: “The darkness in the paintings usually represents a state of being earth-bound, or without God, or not fully purified, or even 'lost', and heading in the wrong direction. To be with God is to be enlightened, full of the fire of charity, and radiant with joy and love; whereas to be only half-hearted towards Him, and lukewarm, is to be in the shadows; and to be really alienated from God is to be cut off from His light, hidden in darkness, as if underground. It is to be cast by one's own choices into obscurity, sometimes 'seen' as the depths of the Abyss. These are all states which the Lord wants to convey to us through images, so that we will do all we can, with His help, to avoid sin and disaster, and to draw close to Him in His glory and bliss.”

QUESTION: “What are the other main themes in the prayer paintings?"
ELIZABETH WANG: “There are so many themes explained and expressed in my paintings that it seems best to list several pages of subjects as an appendix at the end of this whole interview. Right now, I must repeat what the Lord has told me, that He has given me not a random selection of themes but an entire Catechism in pictures. He has done so in an age when few Catholics read religious books, when many of our churches have been stripped bare of imagery, and when many Catholics have received little instruction in the basic truths of the Catholic Faith. Anyone who has ever seen a Catechism will know that they consist of several sections, on God, the Church, prayer, and the moral life, and so on; and whoever looks through all of the images I've recorded will find something about every aspect of the Faith.
To return to the topic of 'themes', however, I've learned from the Lord in recent years that He intends to provide a reminder not just of facts about our religion, but also of the supernaturality of our Faith. He wants everyone to know what the Church has always taught, that our being 'children of God' means that we are in touch with the invisible: with God Himself, and with the Saints and Holy Angels. This is not in the manner in which mediums claim to be 'in touch' with the dead. By baptism we are united with other Christians in the Communion of Saints, through our union with Jesus Christ our God, Who holds everyone in existence. These things can be forgotten, if the main emphasis in religious education is on the Church's social teaching, no matter how admirable, and on the campaign for justice in the world, for example. We are on our way to Heaven, if we respond to God's love; and Christ wants to remind us all, through these paintings, that He is alive, Heaven is real, and the Saints are waiting to greet us at the heart of God's three-fold glory.”

Possible questions for discussion

[Look at the pictures by Elizabeth Wang in the Radiant Light online Art Gallery, at this link. You can choose one of the themed gallery topics for observation and discussion].

Can you see a common theme in the pictures?

What do you think the light represents in the pictures?

What do you think the darkness represents?

Can you pick out some other common themes?

Can you find a picture where the artist is showing something spiritual happening (which we would not normally see) alongside material objects? (for example angels in a church, or Jesus Christ standing close to a person praying).

What do you think the artist is trying to convey by painting spiritual things alongside material objects?

How do you think the artists’s use of colour helps in communicating the theme of the pictures?

What colours would you associate with sadness or with suffering?

What colours would you associate with joy or with peace?

Can you think of any paintings by other artists which have contained very vivid colours?

What style would you say the artist uses in these paintings?

Why do you think some of the pictures are more detailed than others? (Some more mysterious themes can be better expressed in a semi-abstract way).

Can you see a sense of movement in some of the pictures?  Which direction is the movement in?

The artist has painted Jesus Christ in many of the pictures. What characteristics has she given him so that he is recognisable, in comparison to the other people in the pictures?

When the artist paints God the Holy Trinity (God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) she uses certain artistic methods to illustrate that there is one God in three Divine Persons.  What are these artistic methods? (e.g. the artist paints the three Persons within a circle to represent their unity, or sometimes with the same identical three faces, or with all three moving in a circle to show their unity).

Can you think of other artists who have painted representations of the God the Holy Trinity?

The Blessed Virgin Mary is painted often in these pictures.  What characteristics has the artist given her so that she is recognisable, in comparison to the other people in the pictures? What is happening in these pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

Many of the pictures show God’s presence, for example God’s presence in the Holy Mass, in Holy Communion, in the Bible readings, during prayer – how does the artist show God’s presence?

Icons have been a part of the Christian tradition for centuries, do you think Elizabeth Wang’s pictures could be seen as modern religious icons?

Having looked at some of these pictures, what kind of impression do you get from the pictures of what God is like, and is it a positive impression or not?

Has seeing these pictures changed your view of God or of other subjects such as prayer or spiritual things?

Suggested activities

Look at the Radiant Light online Art Gallery, at one of the themed galleries, and choose your favourite picture. Write down why you like this picture. What are the main themes in it?  How has the artist used light and colour to express that theme? Are there figures in the picture, and if so, what are they doing?

Draw or paint your own picture in the style of Elizabeth Wang.  You could paint a church you have visited, or a picture about something spiritual. In her style she uses bright colours, contrasting light and dark, some detailed and some more abstract figures.

Paint a picture of a person at prayer.  Use colours to suggest the type of prayer: is it peaceful, or joyful, or puzzled, or humble?

Choose a particular theme (for example ‘angels’ or ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary’) and find a number of pictures on this one theme.  Write down how the artist has expressed this theme in slightly different ways in the various pictures.

Find a picture about each of the following themes and describe how the artist has brought alive this theme: God’s love, the Holy Mass, help for our neighbour, the Church, Scripture, Heaven, prayer, Saints, faith, suffering, Holy Communion; (the ‘search’ function may help you find these).

Find out about colour theory. How many colour theories can you discover?

Read about the colour theory of Johannes Itten (which greatly influenced Elizabeth Wang).  Read about what Itten says about harmony and contrast, then look at how Elizabeth Wang has applied Itten’s theories by:
Finding a picture in which Elizabeth has used contrasting colours.
Finding a picture in which Elizabeth has used complementary colours.
Finding a picture in which Elizabeth has used harmonious colours.

Further Links

Radiant Light online Art Gallery

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Catechism of the Catholic Church: Compendium

The Bible