29 October 2010

NYC report part 2

In my previous post, I summarized Dr. Fee’s introductory talk at Redeemer’s InterArts Fellowship. Now here’s my report on David Taylor’s keynote talk.

II. W. David O. Taylor on “Art, the Spirit, the Fig Tree and the Problem of Abundance.”

This phenomenally inspirational talk just lifted my soul up out of its [freezing cold] body to soar and dance up in the architechtural beauties of St. Michael’s Church (decorated by Tiffany), and even higher, to dance in Eden, to sing in Heaven. Wow. This was a seriously amazing talk. And I can’t really reproduce it here, because so much of what was amazeing came from the delivery and personality of the presenter. David Taylor is a guy on fire. He’s just burning from the inside out with his passionate adoration of God and crazy hunger for good art. He’s so in love with it he can’t stand still, he can’t keep his voice from making cantatas of oratory, he can’t keep his hands from conducting the pleasure of God’s creation and our subcreation (even when one of those hands is in a cast)! So I’ll do my best to summarize the content, but just know that the reality was even greater, so much more fun, the provoker of much laughter and many tears.

David started out by asking Dr. Fee if he would like a bite of some fig jam, homemade by David and his wife Phaedra. He talked about how many figs they college to make the jam (some huge number, like 40 figs, in one little jar?), but that the tree still produced so much fruit that lots and lots of it just fell to the ground, unused. There was too much fruit for the jam! The point here was about the superfluity of the cosmos. Both the superfluity in in cosmos—there’s way more wonderful stuff than we could ever experience or appreciate—and the superfluity of the cosmos itself. God didn’t NEED to make anything! But He did, and all of it is Gift. And this amazing, extra, over-the-top universe is full of excess. Excess is a sign of the Spirit’s work.

But we have problems:
1. We do not see God's economy of abundance
2. We don't live like it. We live as if we fear there will not be enough stuff to go around, not enough money, not enough talent, not enough time; ultimately, we’re living like we think there won’t be enough God.

Artists help us to see the excess we otherwise would not see.

Then David launched into his three main points to illustrate and develop this main concept of EXCESS.

I. Biblical story retold: wedding at Cana.
When He turned water into wine, Jesus generated an excess of quantity: 800 gallons of wine! He also made an excess of quality: it was better than any wine the guests had tasted that day. He also acted out of an excess of kindness; the guests were too far gone on poor wine to be able to appreciate His gift! Thus this miracle was a superfluity, a luxury.

II. Arts generate abundance
When Jesus fed the 5000, He made so much there was more left over. But we think (or fear) that we live in an economy of scarcity. Mary poured out the perfume over His feet, and Judas worried that the cost should have been used for the poor. We live like that; afraid to pour out our arts and our gifts in abundance and even in excess. Jesus’ resurrected body was hyper-alive; it could eat and drink, but also walk through locked doors. So do not fear! There is more grace than you can imagine: grace piled on top of grace.

There is artistic excess:
1. Art has an expansive quality. What is too much? What is necessitous? Think of huge, gorgeous cathedrals. Think of monstrous long epics. Think of the hidden complexities in Bach’s music that take talented scholars years to discover.
2. Art has an allusive quality. It teaches us how to see. Art can point to something else (as in symbolic art), or it can simply teach us to slow down, to look, to listen, to enjoy.
3. Art has a non-useful quality. It can generate an intensive experience of aesthetic pleasure, which is itself a valid raison d’etre.

III. God gives His Spirit without measure. We get to pour out our lives for our neighbors. The giving of ourselves and our artistic gifts protects against temptations:
The temptation to be engorged with excess, and the temptation to want instantaneous excess. We need to practice patience. A cathedral is not built in a day. There may be a time for waiting. But even in the meanwhile, give yourself away! Give your arts away! And while you are living in a time of waiting or of apparent scarcity, artists can help you. They can show you the beauty. They can show you how to live, how to love, and how to give yourself away.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful! wonderful! The current New Age movement likes to talk about the excess in nature and our loss by living like there is no excess; but how much more free, how much more delightful, to know that there is more than enough & live to share that with those who do not yet experience it! Great conversation

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! wonderful! The current New Age movement likes to talk about the excess in nature and our loss by living like there is no excess; but how much more free, how much more delightful, to know that there is more than enough & live to share that with those who do not yet experience it! Great conversation

A. said...

Ah, how good! I want to explore what it is to live as generously as Jesus did, from the riches of His infinite and very close love. There are so many people who do this well, and it's one of the most beautiful things. If our art can contain this, it's so good.

I read just the first few pages of a fascinating book while I was away: The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin, written in the nineteenth century. Even what I've read I need to look at much more deeply. There is a point that (as I interpret its beginning, at least) speaks well to what you've been saying about using 'Christian' as an adjective for the content or style of art when we should really be 'Christians who make art'.

Ruskin's notion of the Renaissance as the period when the "domestic and individual religion" declined in Venice, causing the decay of the entire civilisation in its art and its politics, seems both to illustrate and to qualify your notion. Our faith in a secular society is quite different to that within the state of Christendom or through the a poetry of folk religion- which once were, though flawed, genuine instruments of the knowledge of God. The conversation regarding 'Christian art' may be different in other cultural light, and even in the heritage of our own formative art and literature. I don't yet know enough to write more, but here are some lines from the book...
[See next comment. Seems there are too many words!]

A. said...

"1st. Receive the witness of Painting.

"It will be remembered that I put the commencement of the Fall of Venice as far back as 1418.

Now, John Bellini was born in 1423, and Titian in 1480. John Bellini, and his brother Gentile, two years older than he, close the line of the sacred painters of Venice. But the most solemn spirit of religious faith animates their works to the last. There is no religion in any work of Titian's: there is not even the smallest evidence of religious temper or sympathies either in himself, or in those for whom he painted. His larger sacred subjects are merely themes for the exhibition of pictorial rhetoric,- composition and color. His minor works are generally made subordinate to purposes of portraiture. The Madonna in the church of the Frari is a mere lay figure, introduced to form a link of connection between the portraits of various members of the Pesaro family who surround her.

Now this is not merely because John Bellini was a religious man and Titian was not. Titian and Bellini are each true representatives of the school of painters contemporary with them; and the difference in their artistic feeling is a consequence not so much of difference in their own natural characters as in their early education: Bellini was brought up in faith; Titian in formalism. Between the years of their births the vital religion of Venice had expired.

SECTION XIV. The vital religion, observe, not the formal. Outward observance was as strict as ever; and doge and senator still were painted, in almost every important instance, kneeling before the Madonna or St. Mark; a confession of faith made universal by the pure gold of the Venetian sequin. But observe the great picture of Titian's in the ducal palace, of the Doge Antonio Grimani kneeling before Faith: there is a curious lesson in it. The figure of Faith is a coarse portrait of one of Titian's least graceful female models: Faith had become carnal. The eye is first caught by the flash of the Doge's armor. The heart of Venice was in her wars, not in her worship.

The mind of Tintoret, incomparably more deep and serious than that of Titian, casts the solemnity of its own tone over the sacred subjects which it approaches, and sometimes forgets itself into devotion; but the principle of treatment is altogether the same as Titian's: absolute subordination of the religious subject to purposes of decoration or portraiture.

"The evidence might be accumulated a thousandfold from the works of Veronese, and of every succeeding painter,- that the fifteenth century had taken away the religious heart of Venice."