01 February 2010

Ekphrasis Report #3

(7 Jan 2010)

I wrote in the last Ekphrasis report that “I’m going to talk later about how far one can go and still be a creator of ‘Christian’ art—or even a Christian making art. Surely there must be a line, beyond which too much profanity, or heresy, or pornography, disqualifies one from membership in the roll of ‘Christian artists’?” Interestingly, the next Ekphrasis meeting brought that topic to my mind with even greater force. I’ll get to that in its proper place.

This was an interesting meeting, for two reasons. First, we held it in my new house, which we’ve finally just finished building, and into which we moved on New Year’s Eve. Surrounded by boxes, scrambling for anything to sit on, trying to find batteries for a keyboard so we could have some music, giving people the “Now try to imagine that this room is painted and that there are carpets on the floor” tour—all this made the day very interesting. The other was that we had two phases of the meeting. Due to some scheduling complications, I indicated a long range of hours, so some people came at the beginning and some came at the end and only two stayed the whole time (because they had traveled long distance). So here’s what was shared.

JA traveled up from Doylestown. I had never met him before, but we were published in Windhover magazine together, and I saw he was local. I always cull the “Contributor bios” sections of literary magazines to see if there’s anyone around here who might like to come. He’s been trying to make it for months, and finally did. He was very gracious about the surroundings and the company. It was just myself, my sister, and LH (a friend from Massachusetts who was on her way from Florida back up North and stopped by!) at that point. Anyway, JA read a poem to us, and we workshopped it. We had a delightful time pretending that he wasn’t there and trying to decode the poem, as it were. Since I want us to create classic, canonical poetry, we try to read poems as they’ll be read when the author is not longer accessible, to see if the poem stands on its own. This one did. It took some figuring, but it finally came to light as a short, emotionally descriptive, spare, almost Hemingway-esque tale of a fight between a husband and wife. After JA talked about it a bit and confirmed and clarified our reading, I congratulated him on how little critique we had. “We usually shred the poems to bits,” I told him. “Well, I know,” he responded. “In our email exchange, you really shredded my last poem!” That’s proof of how good his poem was; it survived our critique, intact!

He had another poem, unintentionally printed on the back of the one he meant to share. We read it and talked about it only briefly. I also really liked this one: a tale of dockworkers looking for jobs. But “tale” is the wrong word, because it was not narrative. More reflective. I look forward to reading more of JA’s work, and hope he has success in publishing more of it. We need more thoughtful, non-cheesy Christian poets.

Then NK, my sister, shared her work with us. She’s getting her Master’s in Vocal Performance at one of the SUNY campuses, and is pursuing some independent research. As she explained to DS later, “Every singer needs a niche of some sort, some specialization on which to focus. I’ve found my niche.” Her niche, then, is Greek vocal music. She’s studying Greek traditional and composed forms: opera, art song, folk song-and-dance. She gave us a wonderful little lecture about the musical techniques and dance style of Zeibekiko, the most popular of these dance forms. She intends to travel to Greece and do scholarly work on Greek song; specifically, on the diction of the Greek language as performed by singers of both popular music and opera. So, after a very lively description of the bizarre and delightful conventions of this dance (which was traditionally sung, as well as danced), she sang one of these songs, while we kept time in the crazy 9/8 meter! Jumping ahead in my narrative: in the second half of the afternoon, she also danced for us! It is a powerful dance, strong and moving. Fantastic!

In the second half of this Ekphrasis meeting, LH and I collaborated (I use that term very loosely) on a musical-poetic presentation. Way back when, I had begun a poem about a profound mountain-climbing experience, but had given up after three of four sections. Well, L called me on her way from Florida, said that someone had given her a keyboard, and that she wanted to play some background music while I read a poem. I didn’t have anything new that would be suitable for this meeting, so I sat down that morning, rewrote section three, and wrote section four. I’ll post these tomorrow and the next day, with links back to the previous sections. When she arrived, just at the time the meeting began, we had no time to practice together, nor even to choose suitable music. She had a film score with her, somewhat “atmospheric” music, so she chose that and played away while I read. The resulting synthesis, while not what we would have developed if we had had time to discuss and rehearse, was a fascinating combination of verbal and musical sounds. I do like reading over music, although that can be distracting. I once read a similar poem, about diving underwater, accompanied by Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan. The other members of the group said that they enjoyed the experience of music and poetry, but that they listened only to the sounds of the poem, not the sense (or the “meaning,” if you will). That’s what I often encourage listeners to do; one can hardly grasp the meaning of a complex poem on a first hearing, and most readers need to see it on the page to get it; I do. So this was a different sort of experience. Then I went back and reread the last section out loud in order to be able have some discussion. But as a performance technique (rather than one for a workshop), I like the musical accompaniment.

I’m going to narrate out of order here, for my own purposes. NJ, NJ, NJ, and TJ attended: three siblings and their mother. Only NJ the first had something prepared to share; he brought a poem that he wrote about his college, where he has spent one semester, and which he loves. The poem was tons of fun. It was written in rhyming quatrains, but with such strong enjambments that the rhymes were subtle. It described the narrator walking around the campus and enjoying each of the buildings in turn. But he hinted that there was some kind of, I don’t know, hidden code? That’s too strong a term; there was something allusive that I would find if I searched. Then and there, during the discussion, I couldn’t find it. Later on I spent more time rereading it and discovered what he meant; each stanza smuggled in words and images that alluded to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, thereby praising his college’s architecture and academics even more. Nice work, N!

Right after my little duo with LH, DS shared two of his paintings that are intended for a triptych of sorts. Again, we talked about one of the paintings for a while without allowing him to say a word, to see if we could decipher them. Although we had lots to say, we could not decode them. We were fascinated by the images: a dismembered Cubist head down in a blood-filled ditch, a dead-white arm thrown off to one side, a corpse- or mummy-like figure caught up in a circle, entangled in or hanging from a brambled tree. The whole surface was completely flat—no perspective—and employed startlingly different styles. The Cubist head and the thorn bush/hanged man sections looked as if they had been done by two different artist at different times. While we had lots of theories, we couldn’t agree on who the two people were; we generally thought they were two impressions or expressions of The Artist himself (especially since his name was signed across the decapitated head in the bloody ditch). Finally, D spoke to us. We were all wrong. It depicted Cain and Abel; the first murder. We suggested a title to that effect to get viewers on the right track sooner. He explained that the circle around Cain signified Sacred Space, and that Abel’s blood crying out from the ground might very well be crying for mercy towards his brother rather than revenge. He pondered whether even a fratricide like Cain could enter into sacred space.

Then DS showed us his second painting. This one was much more abstract, I would say even surrealistic, although I’m not an expert on style labels in the visual arts. TJ, who was there, is an art teacher; T, if you’re reading, maybe you can let me know if I’m right? Anyway, this one also had a circle, green red and black with three blue spots, in the middle of a golden keyhole shape. Outside the keyhole stood two unidentifiable figures, with flower blossoms scattered over them. One figure was much larger than the other and had three flowers directly over it. D explained that this was Eve; the smaller figure was Adam. He proceeded to expound his pondering the beauty and intuitive power of women (perhaps I should say Woman) and whether Eve’s act of eating the fruit were not at all the beginning of all our woes, but rather was the ultimate act of human courage; she dared to step in to where God was and to where God had forbidden; she pierced the sacred space. Rather than condemning this act, D thought that perhaps Eve should be commended for the greatest human creativity. So I, naturally, asked him if he were joining with Philip Pullman in affirming The Fall as humanity’s first step into creative autonomy and that we should all fornicate in order to express our independence and then end by murdering God. OK, I didn’t phrase it quite that strongly (there were children present), but I did ask him if he were on Pullman’s side, the Devil’s side. He didn’t answer.

So this is why I asked that question at the beginning: Surely there must be a line, beyond which too much profanity, or heresy, or pornography, disqualifies one from membership in the roll of ‘Christian artists’? Affirming The Fall as a positive event is heretical. Well, let me qualify that. I’m not sure it is a heresy, if by a heresy I mean some unorthodox suggestion within the Christian religion. It’s just flat-out not Christianity. The basis of the Gospel is that the Fall was a bad thing from which people need to be redeemed. I guess taking the Fall as a good thing is a rather Rousseau-esque humanism. I’m not sure about that.

Now, I don’t think that artists should be forbidden from expressing Rousseau-esque humanism; I love Pullman’s fantasy trilogy, both as Art and as a great chance for me to debate with him in my head and get young people to ponder the reality he proposes. And I don’t think that asking the question necessarily excludes one from being considered a “Christian” artist (or a Christian, but that’s not for me to judge). But I do believe that answering the question in favor of Eve’s act does put one outside the pale of public Christianity. So that’s a problem.


Annelise Holwerda said...

'I thought,' she said, 'that I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things He sent drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms, as when we go swimming. I feel as if I were living in that roofless world of yours when men walk undefended beneath naked heaven. It is delight with terror in it! One's own self to be walking from one good to another, walking beside Him as Himself may walk, not even holding hands. How has He made me so separate from himself? How did it enter His mind to conceive such a thing? The world is so much larger than I thought. I thought we went along paths- but it seems there are no paths. The going itself is the path.'
'And have you no fear,' said Ransom, 'that it will ever be hard to turn your heart from the thing you wanted to the thing Maleldil sends?'
'I see,' said the Lady presently. 'The wave you plunge into may be very swift and great. You may need all your force to swim into it. You mean, He might send me a good like that?'
'Yes- or like a wave so swift and great that all your force was too little.'
'It often happens that way in swimming,' said the Lady. 'Is not that part of the delight?'

Annelise Holwerda said...

DS's picture on the beauty of Eve is a perfect symbolic space for this artistic question. It's interesting how you talk of what should or shouldn't be 'forbidden' in Christians' art. I so understand the desire to find out what choices we should teach ourselves to make, if Jesus is truly our Lord of all, without placing tired and unreal restrictions on theme, content or expression of very real uncertainty. It's tricky to have both integrity and freedom. Even Biblical composers, OT in particular, often met a place where questioning God was the most honest thing they could do in relationship with him; and they founds so many places as well where the most ordinary subjects shed deep light on God and their full lives in him, in his world.

Still, there are real responsibility and relationship. It matters that we live out the new law written on our hearts, and that this makes us different, like God himself; sometimes it goes against our own intuitions and enjoyment as we honour his perfect glory, seek first his kingdom and righteousness. We belong wholly to him (the very thing exploring Christian artists are trying to catch, yes?), and we’re known by our fruit against a Word that pierces our intentions deeply. Somewhat surprisingly, when we rightfully submit to what is /good/, we suddenly find how full a space and how rich a hall we've been allowed to enter.

A Christian artist's responsibility towards his or her audience can't be understated. It’s hard to say “this is always appropriate, this always not”, of some things, but we should be fairly safe if our attitude is one that diminishes our own ‘freedom’ in comparison to considering how others may be impacted by what we portray. Artistic expression is simply a powerful form of communication and influence, not too much unlike that of a teacher or leader; we should be humble (and in fact desirous) towards critical feedback on our portrayal of truth. The line that Christian artists should draw is essentially a practical and selfless one. Intuitive impressions can be both celestially true and infernally misleading, so ‘artistic licence’ should require more prudence, not less, than direct speech! Audiences are particularly vulnerable to attitudes that question 'old things', and should be protected from accepting those without filter. Maybe there’s a difference between what is appropriate for expression among public and ‘private’ (particular close, mature, clued-in) spheres of audience.

Of course we can explore our uncertainties- in that regard Psalm 73 is so helpful, hinging on verse 15. “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children.” It's true. And as for 'rebelliously novel’ ideas, mainly for shock value, they are infinitely further out of the question of integrity: I sincerely hope that I’d choose to be perfectly boring, rather than treading there :)

Maybe at the core of it all (as on the surface, only this time so much fuller!) is in fact the question of aesthetics. The thing that seems alluring isn't always the thing that is beautiful and good, but when appearances are stripped away there are certain charms that will come to light as ugly and foolish. Who, if they knew, would want to hold them, even while they seem good? So when Christian artists, knowing their real relationship with a God in whom there is no un-goodness at all, choose restraint against self-held desire in the places it is needed, they can invisibly (for now) portray the most truly worthy subjects. Shadow and reality come closer, which is one of the true functions of art :) Why should art's best attempt at goodness find substance if torn away from its source- simply for the sake of a tearing? There is a lie in that impression. The capacity to submit, to share directly in God’s glory, is considered by the Bible to be one of Eve’s greatest beauties, and it’s ours as the Church as well.

Annelise Holwerda said...

...There's symmetry here with the humanist virtues of late ancient society, desiring Man to reaching 'divinity' on his own terms, which felt honourable and worthy of the feat in the first place (they even called the early Christians atheists). So their selfish enjoyment of ‘mud-pie glory’ made it impossible to recognise the truth, let alone the beautiful grace and covenant, of a God who has reached down to us as his own bride, restored to perfect life by kindness and royalty so far beyond our smallness. Such a fully attractive, spark-filled thing to express, and it already finds endless echoes in tangible spheres of exploration.

With that caution and sacrifice in mind, there’s still a wide treasure field to explore, even if there are things we have to let go of to gain it. Maybe we should take the whole book of Job as a model (it reminds me of the lunar divide and theme of clarity in The Silver Chair): Christians can explore our real experiences of desire, or broken pain that God himself knows only too well, or the mundane, or the uncertain- but our expression should /never/ at its deepest level forget the 'final word', the chapters where God himself passes by and shows himself with clarity above our current experience. One can't top that, and mustn't- and who could seriously want to? For example (falling into Planet Narnia’s helpful terminology), I would consider a lot of Modernist, ‘saturnine’ work to be artistically brilliant because of its technical capacity to capture its generation’s donegality, but in a Christian light these aren't 'good' pieces. I don't envy their writing, though I adore their skill. They aren’t things I love or find essentially beautiful, because their whole tapestry is an intricately ornate lie: it can all be told so much better, much less cheaply, and for all that true technical beauty it’s just hollow. Something like Lewis’ The Last Battle, on the other hand, captures Saturn without a bit of escapism, but makes him always and finally subject to the deeper kingship of Jove: here are both truth and beauty. So that work is good Christian art (whether or not it had been so ‘allegorical’- but the world’s best story should never be indiscriminately avoided by the ‘post-traditional’ Christian reaction...). Therefore, to me, it’s simply good art. I adore it, I would give a lot to be able to write things like it, and most importantly it has encouraged me and led me more deeply into the vast reality of our God.

So in the end, an awareness of our relationship with this personal and all-consuming God (with perceptions very open to the insight of other Christians), of our audience as more valuable than ourselves, and of our (readable, received) expression of /ultimate/ reality beneath the smaller real details, should keep us fairly well on track. Do you think? In fact, it opens up new hoards of richness and substance. None of this is necessarily simple, but it’s still a helpful attitude, I guess.

(Apologies for the length of this comment! Much to say... Though it could all be really succinctly and perfectly caught up in more creative media, no doubt :D)

Iambic Admonit said...

Annelise: On your comment #1: Bless you, bless you!

On your comment #2, just a quick reply/clarification for now (more later, I hope): I am NOT espousing any form of censorship. I do NOT want any subject matter (short of out-and-out pornography) to be FORBIDDEN to artists, Christian or otherwise. I'm simply asking, "How far can an artist step outside of the affirmed, credal doctrines of the church and still be considered Christian?" That's all.

On your comment #3: Later! :)

Annelise Holwerda said...

Sorry, those first few lines weren't well phrased! Of course I meant that you'd brought up the subject of censureship and disagreed with it... But that I could relate to all the pressure causing it to be considered in the first place.

I feel that it’s important that we do at some point consider artistic expressions against an absolute standard of what God has opened to us. It's not always what we see as all right, at first glance. But they must be taken as a whole, with sensitive, intricate categories that shy away from labelling particular elements without reference to their context, and that recognise how both good and bad stories can be told within one work. Even the parts that are indisputably bad can have a wonderful place within discourse. History challenges us that somehow we need to protect people, and illuminate what's going on around us, without becoming an authority in and of ourselves.

There’s the open danger that the majority might get it wrong, and cause damage to a person and their message... This is so serious. It's why we have to work so hard to define how we should respond. But that’s no reason to be silent about disapproval (there are many levels for that, too, if one is wise) or perceived danger. We should only extremely careful, and often also rather gentle, I think?

Anyway. Great post, very much makes me think :)

Rosie Perera said...

I once read a similar poem, about diving underwater, accompanied by Wagner’s Prelude toTristan.

I might also want to try it with Wagner's Das Rheingold, because that's about the primordial underwater depths of the Rhine.

Affirming The Fall as a positive event is heretical.

What about "felix culpa" though? That is the theological doctrine that the Fall, though not good in itself, was permitted by God and had a happy outcome: it allowed him to reveal more of his nature through the work of redemption. In the words of the Easter Vigil, attributed to St. Ambrose: "O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem" ("O happy fault that merited for us so great a Redeemer"). Augustine and Aquinas were among the other theologians who held that doctrine. It is by no means universally accepted, but I don't think one can say categorically that any affirmation of something positive coming out of the Fall is completely heretical.

Now, that was really just a digression. I do agree with you that praising the human drive towards autonomy from God is heretical. And affirming the Fall itself as inherently good is also unorthodox.

Annelise Holwerda said...

I agree with you, that comes from an attitude that's quite different... But it's interesting. I don't really know all the particulars of what God has planned, and the 'what if' side of things. Only that our breaking of obedience has been awful, and has cost him most of all. And that his mercy in this has been the most beautiful and glorious thing I've ever seen.

Iambic Admonit said...

Rosie: Yes, indeed. Thank you for reminding me about felix culpa. As a matter of fact, I tend to concur with Augustine et al that the Fall ultimately brought a great good: it is somehow better that we should fall and Christ should come to redeem than if we had remained unfallen and been confirmed in perfection. And indeed, I believe (but with much confusion and many holes in the belief) that God planned the Fall (i.e., was not surprised by it, knew it would happen, allowed it, etc) for that greater good. I suppose I follow Milton in that way. But, yes, that's different than saying:
"Way to go, humans! Good for you, disobeying God! Now you can be free!"

Rosie Perera said...

Interesting that you should mention Milton. While reminding myself to what extent felix culpa could be applicable in this situation, I came across a new book by Dennis Danielson called Milton's Good Good: A Study in Literary Theodicy. Roger Lejosne in The Modern Language Review calls it "a competent, well-argued, highly consistent account of Milton's theodicy: easily the best to date." Danielson is a Christian, a professor of English at UBC here in Vancouver, and the author of a recent parallel prose edition of Paradise Lost. In Chapter 7 of Milton's Good God, ("Paradise Lost and the Unfortunate Fall"), Danielson argues against the widely accepted theory that Milton supported the idea of a Fortunate Fall, proposing an alternate view. That entire chapter can be viewed in the sample pages on I'm planning to buy the book, as Danielson and his wife have many Regent connections (he is a member of the board). Here is Stanley Fish's review for the NYT of Danielson's prose translation of Paradise Lost, which I own already (as I also do The Book of the Cosmos which Danielson edited). So, already being a fan of his, I was delighted to find this new book and am looking forward to reading it.

Iambic Admonit said...

Back to some of Annelise's earlier comments:

You wrote "we should be fairly safe if our attitude is one that diminishes our own ‘freedom’ in comparison to considering how others may be impacted by what we portray."

Interesting! I love the idea that charity, rather than exclusively artistic expression, might drive at least the sharing of certain works, if not the creation of them. I am struggling a little with one poem of mine that contains profanity and is a bitter expression of the narrative character's anger. I would like to put it in my next book, but know that some people (i.e., my Mom!) would be hurt, confused, and offended by it. Can I put it in and warn/explain it to her? Leave it out? Let it speak for itself? Is it a good enough poem and is the subject important enough to warrant that? 'My Name is Asher Lev' by Chaim Potok is a good exploration of this issue.

But that's a bit different from heresy. And while I think that DS, if he's struggling with a doubt or question in this area, needs to be able to express it, there are (at least) two peripheral questions. 1. Should he share it? Could he not wrestle with these in the privacy of his own home, or with close friends, and not subject an audience to this painful rebellion against God? Well, our group is a small one, and ideally suited (usually) for intimate conversations. But this time there were children present -- and DS did not present it with any kind of questioning humility. He /said/ that he is not proposing answers, just asking questions, but he was not open to anyone's criticism of or discomfort with his theme.
2. Is it good enough? Is the technical skill or the art at a high enough level to justify our spending time, effort, emotion, and faith analyzing and debating it? Well, I don't know the visual arts nearly as well as I know most of the others, so I can't determine. But another attendee who has done some visual art said that it was technically worthless. Hum.

And then there's a completely tangential difficulty: I'm worried about his orthodoxy, as a brother in Christ. So I guess I should talk to him.

Annelise Holwerda said...

Rosie, that book looks fascinating! I haven't read any substantial amount of Milton, yet, but he keeps turning up around nearly everything I study or read about :) Maybe I should make some time, and then have a look at Danielson's work. But time...

Anyway. The following comment is a message I sent to Sørina, and which she thought was worth adding here. Large apology for its verbosity (I have moments :P), and the way it might feel too personally directed to be publicly said. This artwork was just a really apt jumping point for some important thoughts- and I suppose that even though art is often a personal kind of speech to people we know, in broader circles it must also become open as basically conceptual material. Hope that doesn't too much hurt the personal side of discussion, and that it's read with open mind.

Annelise Holwerda said...

...This is just such a fascinating area of thought, and not an easy one to address simply. Where there's an all-encompassing sphere of God, whom we must live within and we love to live within, and then on another level also a historical/social sphere of cultural tradition with which we sometimes love to associate ourselves, but that doesn't stretch deeply enough into our whole lives and creative desires- how can we, when necessary, step outside the barriers of the second and very visible circle, without breaching the first and less tangible one? And how can we measure our own faulty steps in a medium that depends so much on self-referential intuitions?

I didn't pick up that you were suggesting censorship; I don't either. Politically/socially intuited frames of reference can be even worse, and we come back to the democracy/theocracy debate. We want to make God's kingdom clear in the expectations we have of each other and the things we don't permit people to do to each other, but censorship often leads us to the very opposite side of the spectrum.

But maybe I need to think about that, since there are some creative approaches that I would openly disapprove of from a non-Christian, and be really distressed at from a Christian. Things that just aren't o.k., things that will be destructive and deceitful to their audiences. Artistic speech is much like any other, in that way, and I think we mustn't blur that line as much as we might be inclined to. But I think the clue is self-control within relationship with God's Spirit, rather than a set of indiscriminate rules about what one can and can't portray in any context whatsoever. And of course, some biblically-themed, non-offending work isn't worth a great deal either, nor does it well portray the real nature of its subject.

And I have to admit that I would be ready to say I think the Eve artwork is not really a Christian expression (though easily could be a mistaken tangent explored by a genuine Christian- who nonetheless is accountable for it), and that it might be wrong to place it as an influence before some audiences. Perhaps if its deepest intention is spiritually sound, its central imagery is poorly arrived at? I think it's destructive, on a simple level.

It appears to me that symbolism inverting the feminine gift of submission is almost always ugly, for a few reasons: not because of millennia of cultural conditioning, but because it’s one of the realest symbols of rebellion against the authority and love of the one who is perfectly worthy of our worship, and pours out his blessing within that place. There comes a point (I think) where elements of the artistic palette are linked, on an absolute level, to certain parts of the real terrain they attempt to portray. Some symbols are less open than others to transposition. The great blessing of marriage with our creator, described so amazingly at the end of Revelation etc. (and “what we will be has not yet been made known”) is the highest honour held by our cosmos, our humanity. The apt and given symbol has become central to all we know and are. So to suggest that a Queen might rise above the King as the ‘high goddess’ is inseparably caught up in an image of rebellion- on one level or another, always. It’s not alright to teach this way. And certainly, it’s all been made so messy because the proper expression of that symbol has been exploited and twisted... But regardless of that, the genre tapped here is an old and well-tried one. It’s essentially humanist, self-worshipping and un-beautiful. Femininity, as she embodies a deep symbol, has so many great strengths, but the pagan/feminist and ‘autonomous’ image should ring a cacophony of alarum bells. (“Or did you mean another kind of heathenry?”)

Annelise Holwerda said...


That said, it’s not all black and white either. There seems to be great conceptual skill in both the artworks mentioned. I like the artist’s intention to re-think his cultural notions in an artistic and freeing way, illuminating the beautiful mysteries among God’s ways with us. The use of old, and especially biblical, accounts and myths is a treasure-laden path for asking questions and telling stories like these ones.

The theme of the Cain and Abel artwork is interesting to me. Cain was sent out of God’s presence, but now, in the end Jesus’ blood calls out with mercy for those who by nature are murderers and betrayers. Could DS be on to something? I would caution that it’s important to distinguish that the ‘sacred space’ entered by Cain’s descendants isn’t found in the great cities (or achievements, cultural glory, mythological reflections) he and his people built outside the favoured presence of God, but only in the normal way of restoration- through the promised atonement to come in Jesus. The veil was torn, and here more than anywhere else is a road through submission and simple righteousness. Hebrews 12:22-29 speaks to the heart of this :) So I guess personally I would encourage this sort of process, but would also warn that in /publishing/ his creativity he has very real responsibility of caution towards his audience, and also a personal one to his allegiance of relationship and worship. The fact that this is 'art' doesn't really affect that at all; it's also just communication, inherently.

Rosie Perera said...

"Rosie, that book looks fascinating! I haven't read any substantial amount of Milton, yet, but he keeps turning up around nearly everything I study or read about :)"

Same here. I audited a class on Milton & Bunyan once, but since I didn't have to do the coursework for a grade I only managed to read through the first 3/4 of Paradise Lost and his sonnet "On His Blindness" (which I love). I've been meaning to get around to rereading the 9 books of PL that I read already and then finishing it, but haven't found the time. I'm finally getting around to reading Dante's Divine Comedy though now, in a reading group. So there's hope!

"The following comment is a message I sent to Sørina, and which she thought was worth adding here. Large apology for its verbosity (I have moments :P), and the way it might feel too personally directed to be publicly said."

No worries at all! I enjoy reading your extremely thoughtful and challenging posts. I can't keep up with really digesting them all, but keep 'em coming.

Annelise Holwerda said...

M'm, Dante is another. I've read and loved lots of bits, but not the whole thing itself.

Oh, and you just made me realise how you actually can use italics in comments. Thank you! :P

tom c. said...

I found your blog via an article in Comment ("Stranger than Diction"). I liked your writing about sacramental art and wanted to learn more about your Ekphrasis group (I am not an artist, but I would like to approach my academic work in what might be called a devotional way).

While I find the overarching direction of your work with the group inspiring (I would love to organize an informal salon of academics who are Christians in my area), I am troubled by reading your depiction of the discussion with DS. If I had been asked if my work were heretical and thus on the side of the devil, I too would have been speechless, and I do not think I would have returned to your group.

It's not that I think that (among Christians) credal discussions are out of place in assessing artworks or expressions of personal belief, but I would place emphasis here on discussion. I think there is a legitimate discussion to be had over what the role of autonomy or free will might be in a life of faith (especially in our modern/post-modern world). From the way you describe the discussion, it sounds like you shut down the conversation by playing the heresy card. I find this unfortunate.

Iambic Admonit said...


Thank you for your comment! If you'd like to know more about Ekphrasis, please read all of my postings on the topic here, and then if you want to chat more personally, you can email me: iambic dot admonit at gmail dot com.

You said: "if I had been asked if my work were heretical and thus on the side of the devil, I too would have been speechless, and I do not think I would have returned to your group."

I can understand how that is your response to what I posted. However, that is not the way it went in "real life." There was already no conversation: the artist in question was simply airing his thoughts. He had no response to my question about Pullman, and I think this is because he has not read Pullman's trilogy. But he went on talking and sharing about his work. so conversation was not shut down. Usually I am much more tactful than that! But I do have some responsibility for the orthodoxy of the group, I suppose, as its leader. And there were children present.

Thanks for your comment: keep them coming!

Annelise Holwerda said...

There's a difference between an artist who uses biblical imagery like any other, to express their own perceptions, and one who presents as using it to portray truth in a biblical setting. The first artwork has no intrinsic concern with heresy, whether or not it can be accepted as truth. As to the second, I also agree about not 'playing the card’: discussion is vital where tradition and revelation are hard to tell apart. But the way I read it, this painting was saying "Maybe things are this way" in a potentially applicable way. The issue is much less ‘free will’ than blatant relational rebellion... As if the idea of Deity is one artists can play with as we wish, while the truth of the person, and the fact of actual goodness and worth, afford no remembrance at all.

If someone is saying "What we saw as light is dark, and vice versa", that may well be their opinion. Once they present it as a comment on truth, it’s fair enough to critique it against the absolute standard of revealed truth, which we've accepted (to debate this is another realm of discussion). Whether this is 'good art' is also separate; the conversation was purely about the biblical integrity of its idea, both on artistic and personal levels.

If someone were to make an artwork about me, even a conceptually and technically brilliant one, it wouldn't be out of line for a friend to suggest "But she's not actually like that" and to begin discussion there. In the real world, there is something that I actually am, which the painting has by nature aspired to capture as something and not another. Not only that, but among loyal friends there would personal reasons for my actual nature to be defended- I’m glad of that kind of friendship :) Basically, if art is not essentially not portraying the deeply real world in one way or another, I would wonder what its point is. (Art is very practical, at its heart.)