24 September 2011

Five-minute Beauvois

Instead of a "five-minute book review," here's a five-minute film review.

Xavier Beauvois's 2010 film Of Gods and Men (des Hommes et des dieux), which won the Cannes festival prize that year, is one of the best movies I have ever seen. My favorite movie before this was another foreign film, Babette's Feast (in Danish and French); Of Gods and Men trumps it. It is gloriously beautiful, but slow, quiet, peaceful, and gently terrifying. It transforms horror into beauty and joy. I won't say much here, because my upcoming Curator piece compares it to 1984 and a short story by Tony Woodlief and goes into plot, etc., in some detail. But I just want to say that it is one of the most moving, most beautiful, and most well-made films I have ever seen. For someone who usually loves the huge blockbuster fantasy films, as I do, this is good. This is high praise. So, get it from Netflix right away!

Curator: There & Back Again

Here is a selection from my latest Curator article:

We humans make sense of our lives by shaping them into narratives. Childhood is the exposition; romances, tragedies, and accomplishments soar up the slope of conflict to peak at the crisis of marriage, death, divorce, a degree, promotion, or publication. We organize little experiences like short stories: beginning, middle, end. Maybe this is why fiction is addictive: each new beach novel or young adult fantasy offers another compelling visualization of that neat arc. Maybe my life will make sense if it matches the triangulation of a fairy tale, novel, or epic.

You can read the whole article here. Your thoughts are welcome.


15 September 2011

Ekphrasis Report #12 part three

please read part one and part two

Finally, we started to work on a Vision Statement or Statement of Purpose. We have asked my church for use of the building once a month, and they requested to see some kind of statement of who we are and what we're about. So we're working on it. 

Here's what we have so far (very rough)

Striving for technical excellence and orthodox profundity
[maybe that should be “theological profundity”?]

  • Ekphrasis is a Greek word that translates "to express, enunciate, detail, phrase, signify." We are a group of artists seeking to translate, express, and signify Christian faith and human experience through the written, visual, and performing arts.
  • We are not "Christian artists." We are artists. We are Christians. Our primary goal as artists is skill in our chosen fields.
  • Our concept of “art” is informed by history, tradition, and training. Any cultural product that is created without education, practice, and a past is suspect.
  • We are a community of professionals, semi-professionals, and serious amateurs (actors, choreographers, composers, dancers, directors, filmmakers, musicians, visual artists, writers...) and appreciative observers. At regular monthly meetings, we workshop each other's pieces and performances. While our critiques are constructive, they are incisive.
  • Appreciative observers are also welcome to attend meetings, listen to the works, and provide constructive feedback.
  • We believe God, the Creator, is is the source of our creative abilities: He crafted a beautiful, complex world full of pain, glory, and subtlety, and gave His human creatures the amazing gift of “subcreation”--we can, in turn, create little imaginary worlds full of pain, glory, and subtlety. Art is not merely mimetic nor merely diegetic; it is also subcreative, generative, and potentially redemptive. As Andy Crouch has it, we must be culture-makers.
  • We are conscious of what Gregory Wolfe calls a “tragic sense of life,” due to the Fall. We try to communicate in a mode that does not shamefully speak of the things that the wicked do in secret (Eph. 5:12) and yet exposes the unfruitful deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:11). We sympathize with Flannery O'Connor, who used violence to shock readers into an encounter with sin. We commiserate with T. S. Eliot, who believed modern literature needed to be complex and allusive to communicate truth. We are not afraid of content, lest the secular world have nothing to fear in us.We abhor cliches.
  • We want to reach into the local Christian congregations, find the artists therein, and provide them with a place where they can grow artistically and spiritually in their vocation. We want to reach into the established local arts communities, find the Christians therein, and invite them to share their expertise and receive nurture in a faith-based community. We want to network with established faith-and-the-arts groups and learn from them as we grow.
  • We desire to help the Church reclaim the arts. The Church, broadly speaking, was once the center of patronage and creativity. We believe She can be so again.

14 September 2011

Ekphrasis Report #12 part 2

(Please read part one first).

After we finished workshopping pieces of writing, we turned to discussing the promotion and growth of "Ekphrasis:Fellowship of Christians in the Arts." We talked about making the group more open to those who just want to observe and appreciate the arts but who don't have works to share. We will plan to do that, and to promote art appreciation by starting each meeting with a little chat by one of the long-time members on how to appreciate some genre (poetry, drama, modern painting, etc.).

We decided to reach out to three communities, thus:

1. First, we want to reach into the Christian community to find the artists. We would like to request local churches to run an announcement in their bulletins. We'll be typing up such an announcement and sending it out soon. It will read something like:
"Ekphrasis: Fellowship of Christians in the Arts" invites artists of all kinds (actors, choreographers, composers, dancers, directors, filmmakers, musicians, visual artists, writers..) and appreciative observers to attend a congenial evening of workshop and dialogue. Ekphrasis is a Greek word that translates "to express, enunciate, detail, phrase, signify." We are a group of artists seeking to translate, express, and signify Christian faith and human experience through the written, visual, and performing arts. We are committed to technical excellence and orthodox profundity. We meet on the first Monday of every month at Living Hope Church, Allentown, PA, 7-9 pm. Please join us! For more info:

2. Secondly, we want to reach into the local arts communities to find the Christians. We thought one way to do that would be to design a poster and see if museums, concert venues, colleges, the Lehigh Valley Arts Council, and other institutions of that nature would allow us to hang such a poster and/or share our meeting announcement. We're going to postpone this step until after our next meeting. More later.

3. Thirdly, we want to tap into the faith-and-arts communities that already exist. I'm going to investigate IAM membership and other organizations of that nature. Any other suggestions are welcome.

tune in tomorrow for a discussion of our vision statement

13 September 2011

Ekphrasis Report #12 part 1

Things are about to change! Our Ekphrasis meeting last night focused on how we can change, develop, and improve to embrace more people, more genres, and a wider vision. Here's what happened.

First, we spent some time in our usual workshop mode (which has actually been on hold for the summer while we had larger, performative-style events). Sharon Barshinger read a new monologue she has written as part of a series. These monologues are quite varied: Biblical, allegorical, mythical, fantastical, realistic. Last night's was spoken in the persona of Haddaseh (Esther), reflecting on her awful marriage and her place in God's huge, painful plan. We discussed the dilemma of a writer who "writes in the blanks" of the Bible: how to balance fidelity to the Biblical text with literary originality. Sharon has also set herself a challenge: the piece was really a dialogue between Esther and Mordecai, with Mordecai's lines left out. So we talked about how difficult it is to write one side of a conversation in such a way that it both sounds natural and recreates the missing half of the discussion.

Next, Marian Barshinger shared a piece of creative writing she composed in connection with performing in the play Shall We Join the Ladies by J. M. Barrie. This murder mystery drama ends indeterminately: the audience has to decide for themselves whodunnit. Well, one time when the Barshinger's drama company was producing this play, the cast was encouraged to write their characters' "backstory": what happened to them before the play began. They decided Marian's character had committed the murder, so she wrote why and how she did it, while the rest wrote up their alibis. Marian's piece was brilliant. She has a great sense of character development, dialogue, and timing/pacing. The story was delightful. I think she could publish it as a short story to accompany Barrie's play.

Next, John Alexanderson shared one of his lovely, well-crafted poems. This one is set in Sante Fe, and is a crafty description of the landscape in the narrative frame of the narrator and another person doing a crossword puzzle. The language plays with the idea of crosswords, bringing strikes, squares, pondering, and hints into the landscape and the relationship.

tomorrow: part two on how Ekphrasis plans to grow and change. Thursday: part three on the crafting of a vision statement for Ekphrasis