About the Studio

The Lutheran church has well earned its reputation as "the singing church," but we sometimes forget that God's gift of visual art can be an equally effective vehicle of the gospel. Scapegoat Studio exists to provide artistic services (primarily) to Lutheran churches. Founder Jonathan Mayer works with congregations to develop tasteful, historically informed, and theologically rich artwork that will proclaim the crucified and risen Christ to future generations.

Why a scapegoat? The scapegoat is one of many biblical "pictures" of Christ. The sins of the people were symbolically placed upon the goat's head, and the animal was sent away into the wilderness to die. In like fashion, our sins were placed on Christ as he was nailed to the cross, and dying there, he carried them to the grave once and for all. There are many other biblical pictures, or types, of Christ: the Passover lamb, the sign of Jonah, and the bronze serpent, to name a few. Like those biblical types, Scapegoat Studio aims to clearly proclaim Christ's redemptive work for all.

Artist's Statement

My journey towards making sacred art began during childhood. I grew up in a Nebraska suburb, where I was self-taught for many years. My grandfather, a Lutheran pastor in the finest tradition, often tapped me for drawings that he could insert into his printed sermons. Bible stories, parables, and apocalyptic visions provided me with endless inspiration. Even though I grew up in a church that largely neglects its artistic heritage, those sermon illustrations quietly fed me with the notion that the Christian faith begs to be expressed visually.

That notion was reinforced in college, when I received my first formal art training, including surveys of Western art history. I gobbled these up. When I had the opportunity to visit Italy in a capstone art history course, I gathered together my savings and went. Describing it as life-altering would be an understatement. In ten days, Venice, Rome, Florence, and Ravenna offered up a buffet of some of the most sublime sacred works ever created. It completely altered my perspective on art and beauty in the Christian church—and suggested that I had a role to play in it.

Since that transformative experience, I have been endlessly perplexed by the state of the arts in Western culture, particularly within the Lutheran church. The scarcity of sacred art, the quality and purpose of that art, and the jarring disconnect between it and our rich tradition is troubling. The effect has been not only a proliferation of barren emptiness, but an implicit denial of the Incarnation. Modernism gave us sacred spaces that were created for a nameless, transcendent, but ultimately self-made god. By embracing that aesthetic, Christian churches of all types have supplanted a precedent that was set some 3,500 years ago by the Lord himself in his Tabernacle. The exquisite beauty and craftsmanship of that space, the plans of which were laid out by God, proclaimed the fact that God is not only omnipresent, but also specifically present in certain times and places. He demonstrated this when he filled the Tabernacle with a cloud of smoke, foreshadowing a time when the Lord would later come to his temple in the flesh. As St. John the Evangelist put it, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory" (Jn. 1:14). Beauty in church art and architecture confesses that Christ is present with us—not metaphorically, and not only in spirit, but physically in the Sacrament.

There is something both exhilarating and humbling about submitting one's work to a higher purpose—that of pointing to Christ. That was the work of John the Baptist: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:30). Self-denial goes against both the grain of contemporary culture and against human nature. We can only do it (imperfectly) by the grace of God. But when one sets out to proclaim the message, rather than to project one's subjective emotional experiences, the visual arts become a ready medium for proclaiming God's goodness to mankind through his Son, Jesus. As daunting as that vocation may be, I take comfort in the fact that I am travelling a well-worn path. I have the privilege of studying works by Giotto, Cranach, Michelangelo, and Titian, and bearing witness to the same truths that they did. God worked miracles of faith through their hands, and if he is willing, he can work through mine.

Biography

Jonathan Mayer is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). He was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska as the oldest of five siblings. After graduating from Nebraska Lutheran High School, he attended Bethany Lutheran College. He earned a BA in studio art in 2007, and began work as a freelance illustrator immediately thereafter. In 2011 he graduated with an MFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design. He taught Art History and Fundamentals at Concordia University Nebraska from 2012-2013, and currently teaches art for Wittenberg Academy. He lives in Seward, Nebraska with his wife, Emily, and their four children.