How is art used in religious expression, and how is Navajo sand painting used as religious expression?
Art can be used in several different ways in religion. Most often, it is used anagogically, i.e. as a method of leading the soul towards God.
One of the most important discussions over the role of art in Christianity was the 'iconoclast' controversy. The iconodules argued that when looking at icons of, for example, the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus, one was led to contemplate the incarnation of Jesus. The iconoclasts argued that the use of icons in church led to idolatry, worshipping the icon itself rather than the Trinity.
Navajo sand painting is as much a ritual as an art work per se, because its significance lies not in the finished product by itself but in the act of singing and painting, which upon its completion, restores harmony.
The Navajo art of Sandpainting began as a spiritual healing system rather than art for art's sake. Traditional Diné healing incorporates ritualism, prayer, ceremonies, and herbology to increase wellness and promote harmony with the universe. Sandpaintings are part of religious chants in which "Earth People and Holy People come into harmony, giving healing and protection." Many Sandpaintings include yéi figures, which are Navajo spiritual beings. The healing ceremonies involve medicine men chanting particular songs and simultaneously creating a Sandpainting on the ground. The medicine man asks for the yéis to come into the painting and help to heal the patient by restoring balance and harmony.