From time to time, when I have time, I try to post articles and thoughts related to religion and the arts, and specifically Christian theology and the arts.
Here are a few articles that I've recently run into:
Lucifer, Patron of the Arts
This is an interesting article on the recent movement by the Catholic Church to venture directly into the art world. As the author implies, as a means to "lure" (my nice word choice given the title) lapsed Catholics back to the church via their interest in arts. What I found most interesting in the article was her Protestant utilitarian sentiment stating, "The archdiocese plays art patron on the downtown scene while parishes are shrinking, schools and churches closing". She takes up that old chestnut of Protestant critique against the excesses of the Catholic church suggesting that it should be used for missions etc. And perhaps it should. However, my artistic sensibilities are excited about the idea. Sure, approaching the wealthy lapsed Catholics through art patronage might be well down the slippery slope, but I still find it exciting to see the church catholic engaging the arts in a new way.
5 Ways the Church Can Make Great Art Again
Overall, this is a pretty nice little article put out by Relevant Magazine. While #1 falls prey to the typical Modern romantic notion of the artist, the rest are certainly on track to address some of the surface issues. There are deeper issues of cultural education, sacramentality, consumerism, and entertainment at work in this discussion not mentioned.
Can We Enjoy Good Art from Morally Questionable Artists?
This is another old question from my Evangelical background and obviously it is still alive and well in cultural consumption. Do we, in viewing films, art and listening to music give consent to the actions of the performers, artists, directors etc? Perhaps we do well to reduce this question to the absurd...Do you give consent to the actions of your mechanic or checker at the grocery store when you shop there? The article raises the same question about Yoder's theology (and while not mentioned you could add Paul Tillich to this list) because of his questionable actions toward women. Do these actions discount their brilliant work? Do the actions highlight the distinction between the ideal and the actual in their life? Certainly, we all, whether Christian or not, should be sensitive in their media consumption, but my fear is that we as Christians are too fricken reactionary from our perceived moral high ground. Thoughtfully engage the work...always.
What Can Artists Teach the Church?
Alyssa Wilkinson reflects on her MFA in Writing experience and offers 3 ways artists might help the church. What is interesting here is that she focuses not on the artistic product but the process. Artists are masters of failing well. We all write, paint, play failures and this process of getting back up and trying again is an important spiritual virtue for the church. She also thoughtfully explores the ideas of Practice as Formation and Bodily Knowing.
With the NABPR and CTS conference in the books it is time to transition to my project for the CIVA Just Art conference at Wheaton. In just over a week I will be heading out to join other scholars, artists, ministry professionals to explore the roles of faith, justice and the arts. It looks to be a great conference with exhibitions, quality presenters and presentations.
As I often do, I tend to bite off more than I can realistically chew. I love conferences in theory (and in actuality as well once my responsibilities for it are over). I hate passing up opportunities to present my research so when the call for papers came I waited until the last moment to throw my proposal out there. With the exhibition last week and Maymester the two previous weeks, the paper has sat dormant for some time. Thankfully I did have some time to work on it at the CTS conference while I was attending to the gallery.
My paper will explore the thought of Johann Baptist Metz, a German Catholic political theologian and use his thoughts to engage the work of recent Guggenheim recipient Daniel Heyman. The papers (for good and ill) are only 15 minutes...which actually makes it quite a bit harder to layout Metz' project and make coherent connections to Heyman. But it is exciting to actually be writing this paper that came to mind last year at the CTS conference in San Antonio. In the coming days, I will post briefly about my progress and overall thoughts on their work. Stay tuned...
Formation Matters takes its name from a simple, but evocative play on words. If taken literally, the phrase suggests the relevant topics or concerns relating to formation. Rhetorically however, the phrase implies the overall importance of formation. In a third turn of the phrase, it also hints at the substance or physicality of the artists’ creations through which viewers engage the initial two turns of the phrase.*
This plurality of meaning allows for the same in the directions of work chosen for the exhibit. While all the artwork in some way deals with memory and tradition, it also embodies a variety of conceptual approaches. Both Donovan Widmer and Patrick Luber investigate the dynamic and formative relationships between religion and culture. Whereas Katelyn Reiter and Mary Kocal explore the power of family narratives within their own lives. My own work, and that of Cherith Lundin, raises questions about the ambiguities and possible loss of traditions. Micah Bloom’s recent work on the 2011 Minot flood haunts the space between these two positions as a metaphor by regarding his childhood formation and the passing of the paper book. Additionally, while all artists work from particular traditions and influences, be it media or school, John Kaericher’s work often makes explicit visual ties to his mentors.
In these ways, the exhibit offers another voice into the conference conversations. Building around the theme of Teaching Theology and Handing on the Faith, the exhibition is rooted in the belief that the visual arts can be remarkable catalysts within these conversations, as well as profound symbols and mediations of the Divine. While the church has historically drawn upon the devotional and didactic potential of art, the engagement and contemplation of contemporary art allows divergent points of affirmation and provocation of its traditions.
*The beginning is a modification of Liz Well's introduction to her wonderful text, Land Matters
A theology of fashion? Why bother with such a trivial subject you ask?
Perhaps its not all that trivial.
Perhaps, if your response is similar to the one above, we do well to consider why it is seen as trivial.
During my trip down to Iowa in October to speak at Dordt's Christian Evasion of Popular Culture conference, I bumped into Bob Covolo who is doing work at Fuller Seminary on the topic of fashion. Unfortunately I was so exhausted after my paper I did not have an opportunity to hear his paper. After reading an article someone posted on the new black dandies in higher education, I decided to look Bob up on the interwebs and found this great article on Cardus.
Bob's article surveys a variety of approaches toward fashion and encourages the church to engage in thicker readings and engagements with fashion.
Fashion has always been a sort of guilty pleasure for me. As an artist, clothing has always been another form of expression for me, but has always been subverted by the typical sorts of critiques that Bob alludes to coming from the church. I suspect that fashion, like the visuals arts, are often seen as trivial, and utilitarian in nature (one for covering the body, the other for Evangelism).
I think Bob is on track with the breadth of questions that fashion raises for church. But, I keep coming back to...what seems to me is a avoidance and escapist sense of materiality (including the human body itself). Perhaps its just remnants of my own Dordt paper coming out, but the whole Gnostic escapism thing really could resonate with why the church devalues things like fashion and the arts....they are fleeting, of this world, and distract us from our spiritual duties, until we can leave this place behind. If we dont take bodies seriously, how much less of an emphasis do we place on those things we put on our bodies and around us in our homes and such? But that being said, there are resonances (at least in my mind) between our fields. However, I suspect that Bob is up against even tougher critics that rely upon biblical prooftexting
Take a look at this article and images.
I am not sure how I feel about this. This photo is one of a number of religious statues remade into the forms of superheroes. I look at this with mixed emotions of humor and enjoyment, and then I turn and feel as if someone has stolen and defaced our sacred symbols. This fickleness in my heart and mind comes from my dual vocation as an artist and theologian. I appreciate the wit, I appreciate the humor. I appreciate the conceptual aspects. But there is something within me that still bothers me. But again I am suprised by the some of the thoughtful comments on the page drawing the ties between superheroes and religious figures.
This causes me to ask, where do we draw the line in what is blasphemous? I recently picked up Brent Plate's Blasphemy: Art that Offends. Like most of my amazing book collection, I have not had time to pick it up and work through it. But I hope that when I do, it will help me work through these ideas in an articulate way.
Last week I had the priveledge to attend the joint meetings of the College Theology Society and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. I believe this was my 5th meeting that I have attended. One week ago today I was skimming through my paper in preparation to present it at 9:30. This was also my first real trip to Texas (clipping the corner en route to New Mexico in 8th grade didn't count). It was somewhere in the low 40's in ND when I left at 7am but was around 90 when I got to San Antonio at noon. I will say that I doubt Texas will ever be for me. Between the rattlesnakes and the heat, and other crawling things, it makes me thankful to be a resident of the upper midwest where the winter prohibits much of those forms of life.
That aside, it was a nice visit and a great conference. Between AAR and CTS meetings, I have now attended enough conferences to be at the point where I no longer feel guilty about skipping sessions. I have sat through enough sessions that were either or both outside of my knowledge range or just over my head that it really was a waste of my time. I now take advantage of naps.
I was thankful that my paper was given the first session slot, because I could sit back and enjoy the rest of the conference. I have been on the last Sunday session and not only is attendence usually down as people are already heading home but the anxiety of pushes me to noodle my paper right up until I present. My paper was entitled "Jesus Gave Me This: Deciphering the Overlap of Spiritual Language in the Creative Process" The paper largely grew out of my experiences with a Christian artist group who's members would speak about the source of their creative idea with theological language suggesting both personal revelation and inspiration. They used these terms in a variety of ways from meaning a general urge to create but also that God spoke to them and gave them the creative idea and even created the work through them. The paper then goes on to explore a variety of issues such claims make for both theology and the arts. Since I have returned I have been working on edits to the paper so it can be submitted for consideration in the conferences annual volume. While it is nice to be asked to submit the paper, the quality of papers suggests that it is not likely to be accepted. Oh well...the struggles of editing are always good practice for developing ones writing.
My experiences of conferences are usually a mixed bag. I am often inspired by the work that is going on and how it relates to mine. But I often feel so intellectually inadequate among so many well educated people. Of course many of them are well along in their careers and have books and PhD's. It is about this time when I go back to my room to take a nap which usually rights the world again. The book publishers tables are always a highlight as are the socials and the meals out with friends that I get to see only at this conference. Some conferences can be stuffy and stiff, but this conference is always warm and welcoming. It is a great place to try out new stuff because people are affirming and encouraging, particularly for graduate students. If you looking for a conference, particularly if you are interested in either Baptist or Catholic theology or ecumenism, then CTS is a perfect conference to check out. And a plug for next year...its at Creighton in Omaha Nebraska.
The other day I was surfing through Duke's DITA program webpages and ran across a helpful reading list helpfully broken out into reading levels. As I looked over the two lists, I found several new texts that I was unaware of before. Over-all, its a great list...check it out here.