Go mbeannai Dia duit.

About Me

My photo
Quaker by conviction, mother by default, Celticst through love, Christ follower because I once was lost but now am found...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Art, anyone?

 I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him. ~ Michelangelo

Ruby once again had a most interesting post ~ which has some very interesting comments as well ~ & it got me thinking about Art.  In my own mind there is a very clear distinction between an object designed for veneration or worship & an object that is simply a symbolic representation.  In point of fact I feel so strongly about artwork in churches that it is another reason for attending Quaker Meeting.  Quakers do not hold with any form of decoration: no alters, no crosses, no stained class windows; no icons, no tapestries, no priestly robes.

I did a little art history in school ~ very little. I am aware that all those soaring Medieval churches were built to the glory of God & to lead men on the upward path, focusing their eyes on heaven.  What's more, they are, I think, biblically correct.  Have you ever read the Lord's instructions to the Israelites on the building of the temple?! Seriously, the place was weighed down with Lebanon cedar intricately carved & precious gold.  The men even gave up their ear~rings for the temple gold.  Worse [from my point of view] the priests were peacockily gaudy with their breastplates with 12 different jewels flashing in the sun ~ or the light of the lamps.  They burnt incense to the Lord ~ expensive stuff that ~ & butchered their offerings in the courtyard.  Not that I think the priests did their butchering in their breastplates but the overwhelming vision is one of a riot of colour & visual stimulus.

I know too, from my study of the Jewish festivals, that God had no qualms about instigating whatever means he thought would work to make sure the Israelites remembered what He wanted them to remember.  Now I'm a homeschooling mama & I've done my homework on the different learning styles so when I turn to the festivals & find how God has incorporated visual, auditory, kinesthetic & hands on in to the festivals I'm pretty amazed & pretty stoked.  How cool is that?

We have the Renaissance men: Michelangelo, Da Vinci,  Botticelli, Donatello,  Inigo Jones... a long, long list of talented artists & architects who produced some of the most stunning artwork ever seen.  Much of it depicts God, in one way or another, seeing as the church was handing out most of the commissions. Much of it is incredibly moving.  The sight of Mary cradling her crucified son as though he was still the little boy she'd carried sleeping to bed is a stunning portrait of mother & son but do I want to bow down & worship it?  No. Do I think either Mary or Jesus looked like that?  No.  Good grief, it's not even realistic ~ in the sense that I doubt very much a small woman could have held the dead weight of a grown man in such a way for very long ~ if at all. 

In Michelangelo's own head, for example, he was given this great gift by God & he was exercising that gift by glorifying God in his art. Putting aside, for the moment, the vexed question of whether or not such artwork is *graven images* I slam up against modern art.  Our idiot government paid 1.3 million for Jackson Pollack's Blue Poles.  I think my bias is showing.  I do not like Jackson Pollack's work.  We have moved from a position where the artist was glorifying the God who created him to one where man is glorifying man ~ or worse descending into the mire of plain grottiness ~ for those Australians who remember the Bill Henson furore.

I like art.  I like all sorts of art ~ including art that depicts representations of my Lord & saviour but art raises some vexed questions.  When does a representation become an idol?  When does nudity become lewdness & gratuitous voyeurism? [Always, according to Star]  What defines great art & when is it no more than unadulterated ego posing under the guise of art?

The Amish refer to t.v.s [which they don't own] as *the sewer in the living room* ~ & I'm sure that many of us would agree that most of what comes out of our t.v screens is neither edifying nor beautiful & does anything but glorify God. Yet have you ever listened to people interviewed about this muck?  It's supposed to be art!

The old Puritans made it really simple.  Music?  It was a sin.  Dancing? Sin.  Art? Sin.  Going to the theatre? Sin. No choices to make.  Not only does that not make biblical sense to me [ think of David prancing before the Lord & all the psalms, the Song of Solomon...long list goes here] but what do you then do with all those people God has so wonderfully gifted?  Where do you direct their talent?

Now I'm not in the business of telling anyone they must do this or that & not do that & the other thing [children & other aliens excepted] but one thing that seems really clear to me, the missing ingredient in so many discussions on so many issues, is the one simple directive James admonishes us to apply: if any of you lack wisdom ~ ask...

I believe in the Word of God ~ & I also believe, being human & fallible, we often misunderstand it & misinterpret it ~ & I think God has made it this way quite deliberately because it forces us into a position of dependency where we must turn to Him & say: "I don't understand.  Explain this to me."

Just the same, I think I can safely say I'm not about to rush out & buy The Life of Brian.


seekingmyLord said...

Such an interesting grouping of subjects, Ganeida!

I personally do not see artwork as something to be worship regardless of who or what it is meant to represent even if God, and as I stated on Ruby's blog, I think it is a matter of the heart as to whether it is worship or simply admiration of the artwork of itself.

However, you mentioned TV and that opens a whole can of worms for me right now. How many look at artwork in churches as idolatry because people pray before them (although that is not necessarily to them and again I say that a matter of the heart) yet spend hours in watching TV occupying their minds to the point they have no thoughts of God at all for hours each day? I have been one of those people and so I can say, having our TV service turned off right now, that it steals much from one spiritually. Now God did not "forbid" TV in the Bible, so does that make it okay with God? Seems like lots of Christians think so.

In legalities, there is the spirit of the law and the statute or what some would call the letter of the law. No one statute can cover every possible situation and so the judge must consider if the spirit of the law is applicable. I thank God that Jesus was teaching people that the spirit of the law, the heart of the law, was what God found more important than the letter of the law.

So when it comes to the second commandment, it quite literally says that we are not to make an idol of anything and, to me, at least, and idol is intentionally worshiped or perhaps detracts from one's worship of God to the point it seems "loved" more than God...just my thoughts on that.

Jo said...

Art tells us the story of our past - and even though I am not a huge fan of religious art, it has played a very important part in the history art and gave rise to many great artists, such as Peter Paul Reuben. Religious art during the Baroque period is very interesting as it was used by the Church, in fact encouraged by Rome as a way of getting the Catholic message out to the masses. It also showed how wealthy they were with their magnificent works they commissioned. But it took the focus of God and onto the church.

As Christians, worshiping art/icons is wrong, sadly many do worship "things" rather than focusing 100% on God and his Word. I don't have a problem with the art, it is how we have turned to it as part of worshiping God. This to me is wrong.

Massive churches have been built through the ages eg St Paul's, even though we don't need these structures to worship in - a small modest building is far better than some huge building. But, in saying this I am glad they were built as they are masterpieces of engineering - Christopher Wren was an amazing designer. (PS I do love stain glass windows)

I can't help but comment on Blue Poles by Jackson Pollack. Even though very expensive at the time it was purchased, it has turned out to an excellent buy - now worth many more millions than when bought. It is seen as one of his best works and I will have to admit when seen in the "flesh" so to speak it is pretty amazing. I am not a fan of all modern art, but I do love the colour and texture of Blue Poles.

The question of nudity - what about the statue of David - good or bad? I did not agree with Bill Henson idea of art using naked children - that overstepped the boundaries.

Jo said...

PS Don't worry - I will be staying away from modern art on my art Wednesday segment!! As I know many people don't like it:)

Ganeida said...

Seeking: T.v has little appeal to me as an art form & we are to keep the spirit of the law. Certainly there is a lot of *idol worship* about with singers & actors & that does botter me because no~one seems to think it's wrong.

Jo: lol I like lots of modern art but I had the misfortune to see a Pollack exhibition in Paris & it really put me off. I don't like geometric designs much either ~ personal preference rather than a comment on modern art per se.

Loved all the imformation in your lovely long comment. Nudity is always difficult. It doesn't bug me as such but is it wrong? And putting *fig leaves* on afterwards [as the Catholic church notoriously did, along with a box of removed penis'] is just wrong. And he is rather gorgeous, isn't he? ☺

Gerry Snape said...

I'm going to back Jo and say that when I went to New York with college while I was doing my degree, I went to the MOMA and saw the Pollocks in a room especially for them. I was really moved by the depth in them. The paint although applied in a way some may think completely random was obviously carefully thought out before hand. In many ways we need to separate the art from the artist in the same way that we separate David from his infidelity with Bathsheba. He went on to be called the Lord's beloved. I think we need to have grace in so many things that can appear one way and may be other. Things are not always as simple as they appear.

Ember said...

This is a bit of a vexed subject in our household which contains 2 jobbing artists yet we prefer our living space clear and simple and free of ornamentation. For example, I have 2 stunningly executed stained glass panels made by a dear friend, now deceased, who was a first-rate stained glass artist: but though there are plenty of windows where they could be displayed, in every case we prefer the simplicity of plain glass and looking out at the clouds and the trees, the moon, the birds, the sunlight.
I love worship in the context of Quaker meeting houses IF they are kept simple-beautiful. The one at Aylesbury and the one at Jordans (both in Buckinghamshire UK) were both like a song in my soul, but the one in Hastings where I now live, with its grotty plastic chairs and assorted junk irritates my soul like an itch. And the main London one is pretty depressing as well.
Likewise I can't bear Westminster Cathedral, which is so cluttered with plaques and statues and general religious memorabilia it looks like God's under-stairs cupboard.
I think religious art is good for housegroups and seminars: one piece out to consider for a while, stimulate discussion, then put back in store.
But I hate storing stuff.....
So - ah! Maybe the acceptable art-form/expression would be the actual building itself?

Sandra said...

The Pieta is one of the more emotionally gut-wrenching pieces of art, religious or otherwise, that I have seen. Who can look at the face of Mary and not have compassion for the mother who has lost her child. I don't need to believe the religious story to have an emotional connection to it. Who can look at the mastery of the art itself and not be in awe?

Art is subjective. And it is necessary.

Ganeida said...

Gerry: it is always good to look at something through another's eyes. ☺ Next time I view a Pollack I will think of you & Jo & look twice. On the other hand I like many of the surrealists for which I get dissed constantly. lol I think I've said before, I tend to have very strong reactions to art. Bit of a problem really...

Ember: The loveliest church I was ever in is on Coochimudlo Island. Very small, very plain but Behind the alter there is a huge window of plain glass which looks into the bush behind the church building. It gave me such a sense of peace when I first visited ~ a long time ago! The gargoyles, dragons & sheela~na~gigs decorating many of the churches bemuse me. What did they think they were doing?

Sandra: I couldn't agree more about it's emotional impact. Michelangelo is just amazing but in some ways I like his last works even more with the bodies still half trapped in the stone.

Jo said...

Ember - When I look at cathedrals such as Westminster Cathedral or St Paul's I look with wonder at how they were created without all our modern technology - they are master pieces in their own right. They are works of art and even though I don't think we need masterpieces to worship in, I am so glad they were built. Compared to modern churches, these old ones are very special.

The effort to save St Paul's during the blitz of London was huge, it could have burnt if people didn't put some much effect into saving one church - I am glad they did this - it is intertwined into our history.