Tag Archives: arts

‘What the arts are concerned with’

English: *Works of Hugh of St-Victor *Form/tec...

“This, then, is what the arts are concerned with, this is what they intend, namely, to restore within us the divine likeness.” — Hugh of St. Victor

Hugh of St. Victor is not exactly a household name. Then again, name-recognition is a gauge of only a single, narrow value. As New Advent’s article says, ‘A careful examination of his works has led to a truer appreciation of one whom Harnack (History of Dogma, tr. London, 1899, VI, 44) terms “the most influential theologian of the twelfth century”.’

Andy Warhol’s semi-Stoic psychology — plus 40 more quotations from Thought Catalog

‘Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say, “So what.” That’s one of my favorite things to say. “So what.” “My mother didn’t love me.” So what. “My husband won’t ball me.” So what. “I’m a success but I’m still alone.” So what. I don’t know how I made it through all the years before I learned how to do that trick. It took a long time for me to learn it, but once you do, you never forget.’ — Andy Warhol

Perhaps that’s similar to stoicism, or maybe that’s just a forerunner of F***-it Spirituality (it’s a real movement, folks).

Anyway, read 40 more Andy Warhol quotations — some interesting, some heart-breaking, some just plain Warholian — courtesy of this post on Thought Catalog.

Movies as insight into mass fears and desires

“[Gene] Siskel described his job as ‘covering the national dream beat,’ because if you pay attention to the movies they will tell you what people desire and fear. Movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may be.” – Roger Ebert, from an enriching gallery on the Atlantic’s site

Helen Mirren on how songs and paintings differ from acting

“As an actor I’m always jealous painters and indeed of singers because a song can travel straight into the heart the way a painting can. What I do has to be processed by the brain. People have to follow the story. It has to make sense. A song, just a note of a song, can make you feel something. I think likewise a painting can do the same thing.” — Helen Mirren in this video clip

HT to OpenCulture.com

‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ — the human condition and the carnival

In Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, a mysterious, dark carnival has come to town. Charles Halloway, father and library janitor, tries to understand the human condition in relation to the carnival:

“So, in sum, what are we? We are the creatures that know and know too much. That leaves us with such a burden again we have a choice, to laugh or cry. No other animal does either. We do both, depending on the season and the need. Somehow, I feel the carnival watches, to see which we’re doing and how and why, and moves in on us when it feels we’re ripe.”

Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’ at the National Theatre — broadcast live from the Olivier Theatre


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Thanks to my in-laws, who are working in London, tonight I had the great privilege of seeing Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard performed at the Olivier Theatre inside the National Theatre.

This particular show was broadcast live to five continents.

Five camera guys, two with assistants, were stationed roughly in a crescent around the stage (at one point, immediately following the intermission, a cameraman got on stage with a camera on his shoulder to get closer to the action for a few minutes).

My wife Kristi, my father-in-law Tom, and I sat five rows back from the stage, on the far right of the center section (the stalls in the Olivier Theater). On our end, and on the far left, the cameras were on tracks level to the stage. Those were the cameras with assistants.

The first row was unoccupied, except for a crew member.  About a 15-foot section of track allowed the camera in front of us to move back and forth during the play. The crew member seated on the front row helped guide the chord to the camera as it moved back on forth along the tracks. At one point, the chord briefly caught on something as the camera quietly rolled right.

Throughout the play, we could tell when the camera in front of us was the one broadcasting live. Red lights around the camera’s viewing screen would light up.

This was the only downside: Sometimes the camera, camera guy, and his assistant were directly between us and the action on stage.

I had never seen The Cherry Orchard. By most accounts — Sunday Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Financial Times, The Independent, The Times, The Stage, Mail on Sunday — this was a four-star or five-star way to see it.

Each actor gave a strong, consistent, thorough performance. Andrew Upton’s version of Chekhov’s play, as directed by Howard Davies, told a story of change and class differences, with a balance of humor and bitter loss.

I hope I’m not too far off base to say the “old money” characters lost out in the story, while the middle-class, hard-working entrepreneur and the young idealistic student seemed — equally — to hold the promise of the future.

Milliner from First Things on “When Art Plays Church”

Thanks to Curator magazine’s blog for posting this: Milliner from First Things on “When Art Plays Church”.

The presence of myth in technologically advanced, scientific cultures

Leszek Kołakowski (1927-2009), Polish philosopher

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Leszek Kolakowski:

“In the scientific sense, ‘true’ means that which has the chance of being employed in effective technological procedures…. Metaphysical questions and beliefs are technologically barren and are therefore neither part of the analytical effort nor an element of science. As an organ of culture they are an extension of the mythical core…. A language which attempts to reach transcendence directly violates, to no purpose, its own technological instrumentality. It reaches transcendence in myths which give a meaning to empirical realities and practical activities via relativization. A mythical organization of the world (that is, the rules of understanding empirical realities as meaningful) is permanently present in culture.” — Leszek Kolakowski, The Presence of Myth 


Calendar of religious ceremonies in Jer. Jerus...

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There’s been this raging debate as of late and a storm of controversy

Faith just pins her corsage on Easter morning’s new Mercy

We know the terrain all well but You kicked down the gates of hell

Death’s prison cell opened and You threw away the key

Love is just a plea, at the deepest point of need

We take the reasonable facsimile, most of the time

– “Facsimile,” Vigilantes of Love (Slow Dark Train, 1997)

Grandeur and sublimity serve no social or biological purpose

Today is Ash Wednesday, yet the apologetic task continues. Toward that end, I found this useful:

“The awareness of grandeur does not serve any social or biological purpose; man is very rarely able to portray his appreciation of the sublime to others or to add it to his scientific knowledge. Nor is its perception pleasing to the senses or gratifying to our vanity. Why, then, expose ourselves to the disquieting provocation of something that defies our drive to know, to something which may even fill us with fright, melancholy or resignation? Still we insist that it is unworthy of man not to take notice of the sublime.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

What ‘joy’ meant to C.S. Lewis

“Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.” — C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Inconsolable longing? That makes me think — Maybe joy is not something that fills you up, but something that allows you to see what can fill you up.

C.S. Lewis on silencing the voice of conscience

“One very effective way of silencing the voice of conscience is to impound in an Ism the teacher through whom it speaks: the trumpet no longer seriously disturbs our rest when we have murmured ‘Thomist,’ ‘Barthian,’ or ‘Existentialist.’ – C.S. Lewis, from the preface to his George MacDonald: An Anthology

The urgent need for imaginative expressions of Christianity

“I have long had the custom of lending a copy of Mere Christianity to non-Christian friends and acquaintances who seem to have little clue about what orthodox Christianity is all about…. The book, if I can get my unbelieving friends to read it, has always provoked some interesting reactions and conversations and has functioned as serious evangelistic proclamation,” writes Gene Edward Veith in “A Vision, Within a Dream, Within the Truth,” which he contributed to the book C.S. Lewis: Lightbearer in the Shadowlands.

However, Veith reports, Mere Christianity does not always have the traction it used to.

“One young man, one of my students, liked the book very much and was greatly impressed with Lewis and his faith. And yet he seemed unable to conceive of the possibility that what Lewis was saying might have some relevance to his own life, that what Lewis found to be true would also be true for him. He stated no disagreements and had nothing to say against any of Lewis’s arguments. The gist of my student’s response was that Lewis had developed a strong belief system, but he, the student, had to develop his own. Lewis’s whole argument — that Christianity is objectively true, that Jesus is either the Son of God or He is something worse — rolled off my student’s mind like water on vinyl.”

Ouch. This is an urgent problem: rational arguments are now seen as optional points of engagement in our culture.

What’s interesting to me — as I told the adult forum at Trinity this morning, temporary technical difficulties aside (!) — is that Lewis, who led so many to consider the Christian faith through his public debates with the Oxford Socratic Club and his book Mere Christianity, said the first step to his conversion occurred through his imagination.

While his heart and his mind were still set against God, Lewis picked up a dense Victorian fantasy novel by Scottish preacher George MacDonald. The book was called Phantastes. Lewis wrote, “What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptize … my imagination.”

Lewis entered the kingdom of God, imagination first.

If rational arguments are optional points of engagement in our culture at this time, maybe imaginative works will have more success in engaging the readers of books and the viewers of films.

John Wain versus C.S. Lewis on the role of the writer, with reference to worshiping God with imagination

The novelist and critic John Wain, a former student of C.S. Lewis, had a disagreement with his teacher:

“A writer’s task, I maintained, was to lay bare the human heart, and this could not be done if he were continually taking refuge in the spinning of fanciful webs. Lewis retorted with a theory that, since the Creator had seen fit to build a universe and set it in motion, it was the duty of the human artist to create as lavishly as possible in his turn. The romancer, who invents a whole world, is worshiping God more effectively than the mere realist who analyses that which lies around him. Looking back across fourteen years, I can hardly believe that Lewis said anything so manifestly absurd as this, and perhaps I misunderstood him; but that, at any rate, is how my memory reports the incident.”

– John Wain, Sprightly Running (1963), found in Lord of the Elves and Eldils: Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (1974) by Richard Purtill

Religion and poetry are the only languages which still have something to say

“Religion and poetry are about the only languages … which … still have something to say. Compare ‘Our Father which art in Heaven’ with ‘The supreme being that transcends time and space.’ The first goes to pieces if you being to apply the literal meaning to it. How can anything but a sexual animal really be a father? How can it be in the sky? The second falls into no such traps. On the other hand, the first really means something, really represents a concrete experience in the minds of those who use it: the second is mere dexterous playing with counters…”

– C.S. Lewis, in a 1932 letter to his brother

Frank Schaeffer: A note to artists

“Do not be discouraged. History is on your side. God has given you talent. You are important to him and live in the court of God, not the court of men. You cannot wait for the Sanhedrin’s approval….Remember that as a creative person, the important thing is to create. Who sees what you make, where it goes and what it does is a secondary consideration; the first is to exercise the talent God has given you….Produce, produce, produce! Create, create, create! Work, work, work!” — Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Francis Schaeffer, from one of his older and more evangelical books, Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts

Renounce the world, or engage it? Two threads within Reformed Christianity

“The church of Luther experienced and preached the ideal of renunciation of the world more strongly than the Reformed Church, which desires to proclaim the glory of God in all areas of life. For this reason, the Lutheran Church, when the challenge is made, must judge very harshly (in opposition to Luther and Melanchthon) both the dance and all other arts and worldly pleasures. It can do this and remain liberal in other areas of life. The Reformed Churches do not view this world as a vale of tears, but as the vineyard of the Lord, which is to be cultivated. They do not shun the world, but meet it, accepting the danger of becoming secularized in order to magnify God’s name within it and by its means. Thus in the last analysis they subject nothing to a judgment of absolute condemnation. Everything must and can serve to the glorification of God, even art.” — Gerardus van der Leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art (Abingdon Press, 1963)

1. The above was written 46 years ago by European Protestant, so part of his distinction between “Lutheran Church” and “Reformed Church” isn’t quite so familiar to us in the United States these days.

2. The above passage is a kind of a prosaic backdrop for my poetic experiences during two trips to L’Abri Fellowship (the U.K. branch) in the late 1990s. L’Abri Fellowship, founded in the 1950s by Francis and Edith Schaeffer in Switzerland, once saw numerous seekers of various stripes — dabblers in various religions and followers of philosophical schools — with whom the Schaeffers would share their brand of Biblical Christianity. By the 1990s, however, many of L’Abri’s visitors, at least at its more recent U.K. branch, were survivors of American fundamentalist churches that were much like the “Lutheran Church” mentioned in the excerpt above. L’Abri was an experiential version of what the above author designates as the “Reformed Church” approach.

3. If Jesus was fully God and fully man, then we should view the world in terms of integration rather than separation. Jesus, God, was en-fleshed, used language, went to weddings and feasts, and read Scriptures in the synagogue. In Jesus’ time, a Jewish sect known as the Essenes lived largely in separation from the surrounding culture.

Is this Erich Fromm quote true?

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” — Erich Fromm

I think I would have to be careful about the word “certainties” and how it is deployed.

In one respect, I would bet that most of us live with something more like “probabilities” or “assumptions” than absolute certainties.

Or, maybe, most people live with a few certainties and a lot of uncertainty.

But how do certainties get in the way of creativity?

How does the courage to walk, figuratively speaking, into the dark ultimately help creativity? Maybe it’s something like this: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

If something is hoped-for and not-seen, can it be a certainty?

Then again, is a reasonable human certainty constituted only by precise measurement or air-tight logic?

Affirmations? Rebuttals? Clarifications? Please comment.