Christianity and Art

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Book Review: “Modern Art and the Life of a Culture” by Jonathan Anderson and William Dyrness

malc-adJonathan Anderson and William Dyrness analyze how modern art reflects the cultural mindset in Modern Art and the Life of a Culture, the inaugural entry in a new series on Studies in Theology and the Arts from InterVarsity Press. The most important thing is whether the book will be of interest to those who have little-to-no training in arts or theology. That is, can the book really bridge the gap between these fields? As one trained in theology, but with only the most introductory (read: general studies requirements) knowledge of art, from that side, I’d say the answer is a resounding yes.

Anderson and Dyrness explore modern art through the lens of H.R. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. However, they are not uncritical of this source material. Rookmaaker, they argue, was too quick to see more points of contact between Christianity and modern art than might be intended. However, Rookmaaker also provided a paradigm for viewing works of art as the basis for critical interaction rather than the life of or intentions of the artists themselves. This paradigm is quite useful, but it would be remiss to completely ignore the intent or life of the artist when looking at a work of art. It is this latter point which carries throughout the book, as the authors look at individual works of art, critically reflecting on them while also giving a holistic view of the artists themselves.

These descriptions are never boring or overdone. The authors write in an engaging style that weaves theology and art together in ways that are often surprising and frequently thought-provoking. The artists included are from a range of theological background and understandings. Thus, the book provides a broad look at different geological regions and their art from about the 1800s on (with some dabbling into earlier periods) that will give readers a working understanding of how the development of these styles interacted with the surrounding culture. At times, these stories are fascinating–how did the aristocracy or church react to differing depictions of icons in Russia, for example–and they always provide needed background and concrete examples.

The book also includes a number of full-color pictures to examine which are integrated into the text in useful ways. They are beautiful and often haunting. If there is one critique I may offer of the book, it is that more pictures would have been helpful. Some chapters have almost no images. Some have only black-and-white pictures. It is great to have more pictures, but the black-and-white ones make it a little difficult to discern details. More pictures would have helped readers like me–untrained in the arts–to get a better grasp on what some parts of the text were discussing. I looked up multiple paintings and images online to get a better understanding, but having them included in the text would have made it an even more excellent resource.

What is perhaps most important in the book, however, is the critical perspective the authors offer. It is impossible to give a wholesale acceptance or rejection of a field of art, and the authors provide ways to engage with both individuals and single pieces of art in ways that go beyond simply looking at the painting. It can be said, honestly, that the book will make readers want to go out, look at art, and let it speak to them in new and more profound ways. To say that about a book intended to get Christians thinking theologically about art is to give it the highest praise.

Modern Art and the Life of a Culture provides an excellent way to kick off a series on theology and the arts. It is engaging, eye-opening, and beautiful. Readers from many fields will find things of interest, and the authors provide numerous points of contact for future study. It is a highly recommended work.

The Good

+Introduces reader to an array of topics
+Critical interaction with source material
+Provides example of art criticism from Christian perspective
+Draws from international sources
+Includes beautiful color artwork

The Bad

-Difficult to discern some details in the black and white pictures

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of review whatsoever.

Source

Jonathan Anderson and William Dyrness, Modern Art and the Life of a Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

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SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Thomas Kinkade and Christianity- What do we learn from “The Painter of Light”?

thomas-kinkade-10

A favorite of Kinkade’s works.

Thomas Kinkade is a polarizing figure. His art is beloved and hated. Some see the art as picturesque and hearkening back to a simpler time. Others see his art as gaudy and outlandish with terrible lighting effect. Whatever your own view, it must be admitted that an artist with paintings in thousands upon thousands of homes is vastly more influential than most. Here, we will examine Thomas Kinkade’s art from a few different angles.

The image featured in this post, “Sunday Evening Sleigh Ride,” exhibits a number of features of Kinkade’s art. Light is featured prominently. It is used in a kind of spiritual fashion–its warmth beckons from the church to the cold, snow-covered land around it. The viewer’s attention is not upon the sleigh itself, because the light is centered upon the place of worship: the church. Note also the fish symbol displayed above Kinkade’s signature. The image is one of familiarity–particularly for those who are most assuredly Kinkade’s audience: broadly mainstream protestants.

There is something to be had in the image for different parts of the country. The mountains could place it in the winter of Colorado, but the feel of chill found in the image reminds me, at least, of the Midwest. The Northeast may reflect upon their love for sleigh rides. The uniting theme, of course, is found in the call to the church as found in the image.

Others who are better equipped for critique of art have noticed these themes in Kinkade’s work as well. I have been reading through Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall. The book analyzes Kinkade’s work from a number of angles. Some of the contributors enjoyed his work–or at least appreciated it as art. Others dismissed it as clearly obscene or hideous. One undercurrent in many of the essays was the notion of Kinkade’s professed religious values and how those may come out in his art.

One of the essays actually seemed to accuse Kinkade of specifically exploiting foolish middle-class Protestants through the use of pseudo-religion to cause them to open their wallets and spend money on his works. Another explored the way in which Kinkade consciously displayed light and other features in his artwork to convey a message he clearly conceived of as evangelical, while also appealing to a kind of picturesque, idealistic view of Christian culture (45ff, cited below). The artist viewed nature as imbued with God’s beauty revealed, and felt he should paint it as such (46).  In my opinion, the least flattering image portrayed of Kinkade was the essay entitled “The Painter of the Right.” In this essay, Micki McElya basically paints Kinkade’s project as one of glorifying a kind of civil religion of American Christianity (see especially p.73, 76 cited below).

There is clearly a broad spectrum of views as to the project Kinkade pursued through his life. The fact that he plastered his art over coffee mugs, blankets, ornaments, and anything else an image could be placed upon might strike the more cynical as truly an exploitation of the foolish religious masses with money to spend. However, one must wonder whether the sincerity of one’s professed religious beliefs must be reevaluated in light of consumer success. Of course, one might also suggest that Kinkade’s public failings regarding his marriage and alcohol may be grounds for doubting his religious affectation. But again, this would be to act in a fairly Pharisaic manner–to condemn another saint who remains yet a sinner while one is the same. Regardless, it seems there is much to perhaps learn about and from Kinkade, as ridiculous as that may sound to some.

Returning to the art itself, there is little doubt that Kinkade masterfully pursued his project of attempting to subtly evangelize through his art. The image I selected is more obvious than most, but the themes of light and other religious imagery may be found throughout his body of work. Perhaps one may see these as the marks of a man’s dedication to trying to use his skills most fully in the best way he knew how to adhere to his faith. Perhaps not. I tend to favor the former rather than the latter.

Although I realize some of the criticisms of his art may be on-point, I cannot help but be drawn in by his art. I don’t enjoy all of it, but “Sunday Evening Sleigh Ride” is one I particularly do enjoy. I realize it is constructed in such a way as to tug at my heart–I am most certainly part of Kinkade’s target audience–but that does not, in itself, belittle the art’s value. Nor does Kinkade’s own life, which stirred some controversy towards the end, destroy the possibility for his true belief. I’m keen to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I think that Kinkade’s did little to mar his own image as the “Painter of Light.” It is possible to be a sinner-saint, as are all the redeemed in this life. Kinkade’s art may not be your cup of tea, but it should be of interest to see how someone may integrate their faith into their life.

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Source

Alexis L. Boylan, Editor, Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall (Duke University Press, 2011).

The image is copyright Thomas Kinkade and I do not claim any credit for it. I am using it under fair use as a critical examination of the artwork. Be sure to check out Thomas Kinkade’s website if you would like to browse his art and purchase it in various forms.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Christianity, Hope, and Art- An Interview with Lisa Guinther

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Lisa Guinther. Lisa is a late-in-life college student who has been accepted as a philosophy major (undergraduate) at CU Boulder (2014 expected graduation) She had been a student at Colorado Christian (College of Adult Studies) since 2009 with an undergraduate Certificate in Biblical Studies.

She is the owner/designer of Woman of Wisdom Creations and is an illustrator who was published in a national Christian magazine, and is illustrating a children’s book scheduled to be in book stores summer 2013.

J.W.: Describe for me your journey as an artist.

Lisa: I started being involved in art in high school. I was a freshman in an art department and surrounded by art majors. I was surrounded by people starting to experiment in art.  I learned from some sessions and took some classes. So I’ve always fiddled around with art, a lot of classes in oil painting, water colors, and acrylics. It never really was encouraged, but I never let it go.

I never considered how my art could affect my Christian walk until recently.

I was apostate for almost 12 years. Within a year or two of my “coming back”, so to speak, I went to the Denver Museum of Art. They had a featured handwritten Bibles and they just caught my attention and wouldn’t let me turn away. They were pre-Gutenberg press, handwritten Bibles, and the care that it took to write out and draw out the words and frame each passage clicked with me. I began thinking what if I could make the Bible art? That was when I started Illuminated Texts [Lisa’s Blog].

I was making presents… eventually I was done with that and decided to express Bible verses in a painting.

J.W.: How has your Christian worldview influenced your art?

Lisa: Something I noticed with art in the Christian tradition: I find when I visit the Lutheran churches that they still have a tradition of promoting art. But in a lot of other evangelical-type churches, there is little promotion of art. There’s not a lot of art. It’s gotten really short shrift.

An artist friend who used to be involved in the Abstract-Expressionism movement explained to me that the whole ideology of abstract impressionism is actually idol making. About the time of impressionism, which started with Monet, at that point people thought art was dead. Paintings were seen as a framed window. But with the camera, artists had to see art in a different way. They began to put themselves onto canvas and put themselves on the wall. Artists kept trying to outdo each other—this is a truncated explanation—but it became creating idols. It became the artist’s impression of nature, and then it became the artist emotional expression.

If you’re creating art that’s just that—the inner expression of a moment—then you can put anything on a canvas. Now is that really art? I don’t know! What is the nature of art? Nicholas Wolterstorff gave a lecture on this topic—is art an intrinsic good or an instrumental good? It may be both, I don’t know.

Is there a part of this that we could get possibly back to a definition of art as representing God’s creation and the beauty within that creation that’s there because beauty is a part of God’s nature? …[T]here is just so much gratuitous beauty in the created world. I think that’s one way to do natural theology, a way to point to God. Is there a way to get back to a representation of beauty in art that would point us back to God?

We can be authentically Christian and authentically artists. You have to engage… [some kinds of] art to begin to see its beauty. The Bible is kind of like that. You can surface read it and you learn things and this is good, but you don’t really get the deep level of beauty in Scripture until you really dig in and study it.

At times when I’m painting or drawing, it’s almost as though I’m praying. There is a mystical aspect—I feel like there are times when I’m thinking about prayers or meditating on Scripture or just thinking about God as I’m painting or drawing and I know these are God’s gifts that He gives me, but I feel like in some tangible way I’m showing what I feel. It’s a tangible way to express other than in writing—it’s the way abstract impressionism should be.

I think we need a better working definition of art. A paperclip… might be under the definition of instrumental art, but we need to  bring back representational art but we can also see abstract art that can draw us into a deeper understanding just like the way we read Scripture.

J.W.: What are some ways for the Church to promote art and artists?

Lisa: Look at the history of art in the church. You needed people for stained glass, for alter decorations, and there was a whole system in place that would support artists. But we haven’t been doing that since the Reformation.

People don’t understand what a painting costs. A 30×40 canvas is 100$, along with the palette of colors, and the other costs—tubes of paint as 4-12$—and I have a full palette of colors. It’s expensive.

J.W.: How could the church support artists more effectively, in light of that?

Lisa: In a larger church, there could be an art show. Some churches do this every quarter or even every month. You generally find that within every church there are artists. They’re there. You just need to put up a sign up sheet and people will come out of the wordworks. Remind parents that if you really want to stimulate imagination—the same skills you need in math are important in art and music—to promote kids to do artwork is to promote their reading skills, creativity, and math skills.

We want creative expression in how we worship. Worship is creativity and if you’re worshiping you generally have some spark in you of artistic talent. If we could encourage art as a form of worship, we can’t lose that.

I’d like to share a quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar [The Glory of the Lord: A theological aesthetics 1967 as “Herrichkeit: Eine theologische Asthetic, I: Schau der Gestalt” Ignatius Press, San Francisco Translated to English in 1982]:

Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness. Now longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face with threaten to become incomprehensible to man. We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past—whether he admits it or not—can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. (p. 18)

Within Roman Catholicism there always was a theology of beauty as an attribute of God.

J.W.: What can you tell us about the “Bold Girls of the Bible” and your illustrations?

(c) Lisa Guinther 2012

Lisa: One of the points I’d like to make is that I’ve tried to keep the illustrations as real as possible. I think it is important that we not present Biblical stories in some kind of airbrushed, phony way. I’ve always been a history buff. I’d like to present these characters in a way that people see them as real—the kids can see them as real. I don’t think that beautiful pristine white robes is historically accurate.

Can I present characters that illustrate the stories in as real way as possible so that kids can relate? Can I make it real for the kids reading it so they can relate to the people? When I was growing up I saw the Bible as something not really real. Can I, in artwork, make it real for us? And that’s what my friend Mary [the author of Bold Girls of the Bible] tries to do in her writing.

Can we make the characters in the Bible real enough that little girls can relate to them? Everyone knows about David and Goliath, but I never had a Bible hero.

J.W.: How are you composing the art?

Lisa: I pose kids, take a photograph, print out the picture, and do an outline sketch. Then I put the backers on it, drape the clothing, create the character, and create the image from the sketch.

J.W.: Do you have a Bible hero now?

Lisa: Hands down, St. Paul. I often try though, if I had to pick a character that I could write a story around or draw a picture of, I wonder a lot about Deborah and what she had to go through.

J.W.: You mentioned natural theology, how would you look to integrate your art with apologetics?

Lisa: We all have a sense of beauty in art and in nature and in music even though it may be amorphous. Everyone has a universal sense called “beauty” and the only way there can be a [Platonic] universal is if there is a creator. It’s why we have the idea of good, beauty, truth.

I agree with the idea that we know good because God is the exemplar of that. We know beauty because it is a part of God’s very nature. I think we know beauty and we can see it in the world around us because we are created in the image of God. We also want to, in our own way, create. That creative spark within us is really a part of the image of God in man.

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My thanks to Lisa for this wonderful interview. I think we both had a lot of fun talking about God, apologetics, and art.

You can view some of Lisa’s art at Illuminated Text…. by Lisa.

Lisa has her own apologetics site, Insights from the Furnace, which integrates the arts with apologetics.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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