Monday, January 10, 2005

Some history and a little rant

Hey, I got a really nice mention in Vaughn Thompson's Icthus blog:
http://www.vaughnthompson.com/ichthus/archives/2004/11/index.php

I haven't had a lot of time to dig around in it, but it looks like he's on track. Good stuff, check it out.

He asked the inevitable question about what my parents think of my "conversion" to Anglicanism. The funny thing about my parents is that they used to be hippies, Jesus People, and they never really changed. They are fairly conservative politically, and I suppose theologically, but they have always trusted that as long as their kids love Jesus, we're fine. They have seen how my switch to the Episcopal church relit my fire for God, and how could that make them anything but happy?

So they haven't been changed by the fundamentalist churches they served in - in fact, they were always much more critical of their church than of their children's search for something better. How's that for a twist on the old story?

I have to get reading (I have a ridiculous amount of reading to do!), but I wanted to post something I wrote during my Theology and Art class. Context: someone raised their hand in class and mentioned that their church is very "arty" and people paint during the services and there is lots of drama etc. etc. ad nauseum (of course they go to Mosaic, famous LA emergent church), and this person was concerned that the church may be losing its focus on relationship with God in favor of spectacle (ya think?). Then a woman raised her hand and stated that her church has the opposite problem: they won't let anyone show film clips or do dramas because they don't want to "sell out" (good for them!). So here is what I wrote in my notes:

The problem is bringing the arts into the church irresponsibly. You can't just have it because it is cool and different and contemporary. And you can't just have it because it is entertaining. You can draw upon our fantastic history of artistic expression, what has worked for 2,000 years, for a long time without getting into anything that is selling out. There is plenty of inherently Christian art. You can't have art for art's sake in the church. If anywhere, it is most important for church to be the place where art is most excellent and focusing all attention on God - never the artist.

There's a lot more I could say about this but duty calls. Perhaps you'd like to join the rant.

5 comments:

Don said...

If you haven't heard of him, you might be interested in the ministry of the late Walter Hussey, a priest in the Church of England. He believed strongly in continuing the tradition of involving the arts in Christian worship. Both as the pastor of a parish, and later as the dean of Chichester Cathedral, he was bold enough to commission the leading artists of his day to create works for the Church, including Henry Moore's "Madonna and Child" (sculpture), Benjamin Britten's "Rejoice in the Lamb" (choral work), Marc Chagall's red stained glass window at Chichester, and Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" (choral work).

Hussey wrote a book about this that is now out of print. I read it many years ago, and admired his confidence in approaching artists and in getting parishoners to accept what at the time seemed like challenging works of art. A few years ago, my parish choir sang for a week at Chichester and I got to see the visual works Hussey added to that old cathedral.

We have to remember that European churches have a long tradition of the artists of the day making religious art, something that American churches rarely experienced. Hussey was disappointed that that tradition was ending in the 20th century.

Don said...

If you haven't heard of him, you might be interested in the ministry of the late Walter Hussey, a priest in the Church of England. He believed strongly in continuing the tradition of involving the arts in Christian worship. Both as the pastor of a parish, and later as the dean of Chichester Cathedral, he was bold enough to commission the leading artists of his day to create works for the Church, including Henry Moore's "Madonna and Child" (sculpture), Benjamin Britten's "Rejoice in the Lamb" (choral work), Marc Chagall's red stained glass window at Chichester, and Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" (choral work).

Hussey wrote a book about this that is now out of print. I read it many years ago, and admired his confidence in approaching artists and in getting parishoners to accept what at the time seemed like challenging works of art. A few years ago, my parish choir sang for a week at Chichester and I got to see the visual works Hussey added to that old cathedral.

We have to remember that European churches have a long tradition of the artists of the day making religious art, something that American churches rarely experienced. Hussey was disappointed that that tradition was ending in the 20th century.

Ellen said...

When I "converted" to Anglicanism, I think my mom was secretly happy - she's a liturgical soul in exile in a generic evangelical church - my dad the Baptist, eh, who knows what he thought. They both love my church, though, and who wouldn't, it's a fantastically loving and welcoming place and I wouldn't be anywhere else...

Ellen (http://ellensjourney.org/stranger/)

Phil said...

I think there is room for variety here. Why can't we have churches painting in the service and others not using any visual art at all - and not criticise each other. Just a thought. Perhaps tolerance is an art form too...

PasadenaPoly said...

I'm an artist. I'm a Christian. I dont do "Christian Art" because it isnt art, it is by its very defined and limited scope, well limited. Its also stiffled. Two years ago I had an art opening at Altadenas UNDERGROUND ARTS SOCIETY. I presented the broad spectrum of my work and forgot until the opening that some of my Christian friends were invited.

I had abstracts, furniture, sculpture, Architectural work, landscapes and er uh....nudes of my wife. Now to me personally, the most Holy paintings, and those actually NOT for sale, were the nudes of my wife. My Christian friends FREAKED OUT. My unsaved friends were not moved by any of my work EXCEPT the nudes...The comments were something like "I've never seen such a spiritual and explicit representation of women" and "Wow Whose the model?" (Wife LOVED that...)

Did my crucifixion in red and prussian blue move anyone? Sadly no. Why? Because if you are a Christian it was too modern and not literal enough (Although its strobe effect I would say makes it more literal than literal and painful to look at any length of time) and if you are not a Christian its just (no offence intended here) "God on a stick" (actual comment)again.

A show of all middle of the road, nice peaceful "Christian Art" may have made my Christian friends happy, but it would not have moved anyone.

Art is what moves you. To delight, to hatred, to disgust, to love and to worship.

Having said that, I'm not real big on Artsy churches, as the "art" tends to be low quality and the "artists" Pompus. The art tends to be better in an Anglican church because it tends to be a COMMUNITY of DIFFERENT KINDS of people (workers, managers, capitalists, socialists...)as opposed to being a gathering of real estate agents or their angry children. Its the diversity within community that actually improves the quality of the art accepted as art. This diversity allows for critical thinking and viewing