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Arts and Letters

Arts and Letters

The Creative Call

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Perhaps you’re a “closet writer” who’s been scribbling in journals for years. Maybe you once had a passion for playing the piano or violin — a passion that is still flickering somewhere deep inside you. You may have a knack for photography, drawing, gardening, cooking, or some other creative gift. Or you may long to express yourself creatively, but have yet to discover your unique talents. Your creativity was meant be used. Whether you are an artist who has already identified your gifts or you believe that you have artistic talent that has never been developed, working through this book will help you grow closer to becoming the person God has designed you to be. “Chapter-by-chapter, with thought-provoking words and exercises, Janice lifts the veil that blinds our thoughts towards our gifts. Most of us will be able to see ourselves somewhere within the pages of this book. We will then have the chance to overcome the lies that have kept us from believing that we can enjoy the wonderment of creating with the talent we possess.” ~ from the foreword by Thomas Blackshear

Gary Kamiya on the Avante Garde

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Again and again, the authors of these manifestos open with a mighty trumpet blast, issuing the most lofty and passionate denunciations of the imbecilic, stale, decadent, safe, bourgeois, vile, outmoded, mechanical, academic, etc. tradition they are rejecting. But when it comes time for them to reveal their epochal new vision, the mighty doctrine that will overthrow the past, turn art on its head and lead mankind into a dazzling new era of truth and beauty, it turns out to be, well, “spatial forms arising from the intersection of the reflected rays of various objects” (Rayonists Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharov). Or a theater in which the actors read aloud from their parts (the Russian symbolist Fyodor Sologub). Or a placard proclaiming “No Girdle!” (The nunist Pierre Albert-Birot, who also incorrectly asserted that nunism is “an ‘ism’ to outlast the others.”) Without discounting the originality of these ideas — rayonist paintings are among the first abstract works ever executed, Sologub’s theater anticipates Brecht, and Birot would have burned Andy Warhol in a game of one-on-one — after the mighty windup, there’s something banana peel-like about these aesthetic punchlines.

Camille Paglia on the Truly Subversive in Art

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Although I’m an atheist who believes only in great nature, I recognize the spiritual richness and grandeur of the Roman Catholicism in which I was raised. And I despise anyone who insults the sustaining values and symbol system of so many millions of people of different races around the world. An authentically avant-garde artist today would show his or her daring by treating religion sympathetically. Anti-religious sneers are a hallmark of perpetual adolescents. When will artists climb out of the postmodernist ditch and accept their high mission to address a general audience? An art of chic coteries, whether in rococo aristocratic France or in drearily ironic, nervously posturing New York, ends up in a mental mousehole.

Beholding the Glory

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Although the arts have played a significant role in both world history and Christian history, the contemporary church has often shunned them in favor of a more intellectual approach to theology. Beholding the Glory argues the necessity of renewing an engagement between theology and the arts. Specifically focusing on the incarnation, the book shows how the arts have an indispensable role to play in disclosing God’s wisdom. With an introduction by the editor, the book consists of eight essays written by practicing artists (a sculptor, poet, dancer, and musician), theologians, and professors-all well-versed in the relationship between imagination and theology. Beholding the Glory demonstrates the indispensable role the arts play in disclosing God’s wisdom to us. Writing from different Christian traditions, practicing artists, theologians, and professors-all well-versed in the relationship between imagination and theology-focus on the incarnation and draw out a wealth of meaning in the belief that God entered our world as one of us.

Visual Faith

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How can art enhance and enrich the Christian faith? What is the basis for a relationship between the church and visual imagery? Can the art world and the Protestant church be reconciled? Is art idolatry and vanity, or can it be used to strengthen the church? Grounded in historical and biblical research, William Dyrness offers students and scholars an intriguing, substantive look into the relationship between the church and the world of art. Faith and art were not always discordant. According to Dyrness, Israel understood imagery and beauty as reflections of God’s perfect order; likewise, early Christians used art to teach and inspire. However, the Protestant church abandoned visual arts and imagery during the Reformation in favor of the written word and has only recently begun to reexamine art’s role in Christianity and worship. Dyrness affirms this renewal and argues that art, if reflecting the order and wholeness of the world God created, can and should play an important role in modern Christianity.

Liv Ullmann on Art

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What are the most authentic moments in movie history? For me, it was to see Miracle in Milan by Vittorio De Sica, when a whole, very poor village was saved, and there was redemption and food and everything they needed. I saw it when I was a child, and somehow it almost changed my life. I wanted to be part of the world, part of doing something in the world — it made me want to be a good person. It really told me it’s important to live, it’s important what you do. [Authenticity in filmmaking] must be possible. Because otherwise you are just bullshit. It’s entertainment with no value. And we don’t need any more of that. You need to have somewhere where you have a conversation with yourself.

Heaven in Stone and Glass

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Barron’s mission is much the same as John Drury’s in Painting the Word: to open a window on the symbolism of Christian art. Whereas Drury aimed to enrich appreciation of paintings, Barron unveils the symbolism of those triumphs of the art of Christendom, the Gothic cathedrals. Exemplifying primarily from Notre-Dame de Paris and Chartres, he discusses 14 features of a cathedral, including space, light, and orientation (e.g., the verticality of every major line in the building), as well as tangible features, such as the rose windows and the labyrinth on the floor at Chartres. Besides what a feature symbolizes — for instance, the cathedral’s interior space represents the womb of Our Lady, a place of safety and comfort — Barron explains the doctrinal rationale and implications of the feature’s significance. He does the latter so literately and congenially that the little book makes fine devotional as well as informational reading. ~ Ray Olson

It Was Good

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The goal of this book is to provide a deeper discussion of what a believer practicing their discipline for God’s glory would (or should) look like. Rather than a defense of the believer’s place in the arts — which has been done very well in other works — this book is intended to be primarily about art MAKING. The premise of this work is that a Christian looks at the world differently than the non-christian due to a restored relationship with the Creator. Imagine a christian sitting down to create a piece of pottery, write a novel or paint a picture. This believer has decisions to make: color, form, content, theme… as well as where they fit into their church and larger community. Of course this book can’t dictate things such as, “Paint a red bird… write the song in standard time… the pot should have three handles…”. But decisions do need to be made and it is the intent of this book to give the readers ideas to work through so they can develop the internal tools needed to carry out their artwork with a biblical worldview. In this way, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God will offer both theoretical and practical insights into the making of art from a biblical perspective. We as believers in the arts can show through the common grace of art a fleeting picture of Eden. We should not allow the arts to be the sole dominion of the enemies of God but instead we should join with Martin Luther in affirming our desire to see all the arts “in the service of Him who has given and created them.”

Theology and the Arts

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Richard Viladesau’s book takes a look at an inviting topic that has come into increasing prominence in a number of fields lately — including theology. Theology and the Arts explores, in a timely and engaging manner, several aspects of the relations between theology and aesthetics, in both the pastoral and academic realms. The underlying motif of this work is that beauty is a means of divine revelation, and that art is the human mediation that both enables and limits its revelatory power. Using examples from music, pictorial art and rhetoric, the five chapters explore different aspects of the ways that art enters into theology and theology into art, both in pastoral practice, e.g., liturgical music, sacred art and preaching, and in the area of systematic reflection, where, Viladesau contends, art must be recognized as a genuine theological text. A reader-friendly feature of this work is the addition, after the central chapters, of a discography of illustrative musical works and lists of internet sights of sacred art and art history resources-a virtual museum — that will complement the text. These enhance the value of this well-written, provocative text. Although aimed at undergraduate theology students, it will certainly capture the interest of art students, pastoral ministers and anyone who appreciates the arts.

The Image of Christ

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The Image of Christ by Gabriele Finaldi is a beautifully illustrated, colorful history of how Christ has been portrayed by artists from the early church to the present. It is not, however, a life of Christ told in pictures. Instead, the book explores the challenges Christian artists have faced as they have tried to imagine what Jesus looked like. Since no eyewitness descriptions of Jesus’ physical appearance survived, the earliest artists’ depictions of Christ played on the symbols and images that he used in his parables–such as the Good Shepherd, the Light, and the Vine. Later, artists became concerned with capturing Christ’s true physical likeness, based on miraculous relics such as the cloth that Saint Veronica offered him on his way to Calvary, which was believed to be imprinted with an image of his face. These stages in the history of Christian art are described by several art historians in brief essays, each of which is lavishly illustrated. The book, which was inspired by Seeing Salvation: The Image of Christ, an exhibition at the National Gallery, London, will be treasured by secular and believing readers alike. A deeper understanding of the religious context of these works will sharpen viewers’ experience of their universal relevance. The dozens of pictures, paintings, and sculptures reproduced here bear profound witness not only to the events of Jesus’ life, but also to the enduring power of a mother’s love for her children, the suffering of innocents, and love’s triumph over death. ~ Michael Joseph Gross

Image Journal’s Top 100 Books of the Century

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In selecting books for this list, Image Journal decided to list an author only once to end up with 100 different writers. Moreover, only creative writing was considered: fiction, poetry, drama, and creative nonfiction. The works selected manifest a genuine engagement with the Judeo-Christian heritage of faith, rather than merely using religion as background or subject matter. Authors featured on the list include notables like G.K. Chesterton, Ray Bradbury, Annie Dillard, T.S. Eliot, Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and many more. The list is orgnaized alphabetically by last name. “We hope that the following list offers but a glimpse of that wealth of talent this past century has seen — talent exhibited both by those who laid the groundwork for the great works now being written and by those whose compelling narratives and lyrics are helping to bring us into the twenty-first century with a renewed hope in the marriage of religion and art.” ~ Image

Jesus Through the Centuries

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Ask anyone to name the most influential person in history, and chances are the reply will be, simply, “Jesus.” Here, Yale historian Pelikan ably explores the universe of power and influence embedded in that revered five-letter name, as he surveys the role of the carpenter from Galilee in “the general history of culture.” Pelikan proceeds from the premise that the “image” of Jesus – his identity as perceived by successive epochs – is a mirror reflecting the course of Western civilization, and that tracing that image through time will reveal the “continuities and discontinuities” of the past two millennia. His project uncovers mostly discontinuities; Western culture’s christological imagery changes dramatically from age to age. Pelikan begins by looking at the early concept of Jesus as prophet and and rabbi, prevalent in the first century. Subsequent chapters cover in chronological order 17 other major representations of Jesus. These include Jesus as Logos, as “bridegroom of the soul,” as “Universal Man,” and so on. Behind these wildly divergent images, however, a rainbowlike pattern emerges: Jesus’s prestige arches steeply upwards from his humble origins as a crucified wonder-worker, reaches its apogee in his medieval elevation to alpha and omega of the cosmos, declines in modern times to his quasi-mundane role as prototypical social liberator. This man, it seems, can be all things to all people; like the Beauty he embodied for the Romantics, Jesus lies in the eyes of the beholder.

The Art of God

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Renowned landscape photographer Ric Ergenbright here turns his attention to the holiness reflected in the beauty of the natural world. Combining scriptural passages with photographic and scientific observations relating to the elements of nature, Ergenbright uses his dramatic, often astonishing photographs as a testament to the power and perfection of God. Though he recognizes that “if all Scripture were lost, we could still know something of [God’s] character by carefully studying the works of his hands,” Ergenbright uses the book to emphasize how God’s Word can illuminate the world around us. This beautiful coffee-table book is a wonderful addition to any nature-lover’s collection, and the detailed notes throughout are an education to any aspiring photographer.

The Evidential Power of Beauty

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The physicist who knows nothing about Scripture and the theologian ignorant of calculus may yet see eye to eye on the remarkable power of beauty to manifest the presence of truth. It is this probative force of beauty that drives Dubay’s impressive reflection on how the perception of harmony instills a sense of conviction among honest seekers in both science and religion. With the help of testimony from a wide range of scientists, Dubay discerns a pattern of elegance and symmetry uniting everything from the astrophysics of the cosmos to the biology of the cell. Disdaining the crabbed literalism of creationist science (which he dismisses as fallacious), Dubay uses the metaphysical intuition of beauty to challenge neo-Darwinian dogmatists who deny the existence of design in our curiously fine-tuned universe. Non-Catholics may protest that Dubay overextends his argument when he concludes with a defense of Catholicism as the supreme depository of truth and beauty, but readers need not endorse Dubay’s Catholic orthodoxy to benefit from his philosophic insights. Bryce Christensen for Booklist

Gene Edward Veith on the Culture War

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Actually, Christian have made inroads into many culture-making professions, but they are often too timid and too eager to be liked to be waging a war. Christian colleges have the potential to be a powerful resource for the church in the intellectual battles against unbelief. And yet, Christian academicians are often so eager to seem intellectually respectable to their non-Christian peers that they capitulate at the first sign of blood. Instead of entering into intellectual combat by trying to refute the untruths of today’s intellectual establishment, many evangelical theologians are busy trying to find a way to make them compatible with a revised version of Christianity.

Kathleen Powers Erickson on Van Gogh’s in the End

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[On Van Gogh] He could not have made it more clear: to the end, he was wrestling with the profound themes of faith, even to the point of revisiting classic paintings with biblical themes and giving new expression to them. Yes, he was tormented in those late years when he was portraying those biblical events and persons. But he was tormented in ways that helped him to see, and not to lapse into nostalgia or second-rate reproduction. Goethe liked to speak of the artist’s ability to see — schauen — really to see.

The Invisible God

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This revisionist study challenges the received opinion that in its earliest manifestations Christianity was a form of religiosity opposed both on principle and in fact to the use of pictures. Paul Corby Finney argues that the well-known absence of Christian pictures before A.D. 200 is due to a complex interplay of social, economic, and political factors, and is not, as is commonly assumed, a result of an anti-image ideology. The book documents the origins of Christian art based on some of the oldest surviving Christian archaeological evidence, and it seeks to show how the Christian products conformed to the already-existing pagan types and models. This study will interest scholars and students in the fields of church history, ancient history, archaeology, art history, classics, and historical theology.

Material Christianity

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It’s tough to be devout and kitschy at the same time, but Colleen McDannell strikes that delicate balance with admirable poise in Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America. Her book is an argument that “American Christians … want to see, hear, and touch God. It is not enough for Christians to go to church, lead a righteous life, and hope for an eventual place in heaven.” This argument is amply defended by smart essays about family Bibles, gravestone design, and Lourdes Water, as well as hundreds of illustrations of vestments, churches, portraits of Jesus, rapture T-shirts, and backyard statues of Our Lady. Where Material Christianity gets really interesting, however, is in its assertion that “Christian material culture does not simply reflect an existing reality. Experiencing the physical dimension of religion helps bring about religious values, norms, behaviors, and attitudes.” For example, the warmth and intimacy of Warner Sallman’s painting “Head of Christ,” which hung in almost every Protestant Sunday School classroom in America until the 1960s, was probably every bit as influential as any given phrase from the Sermon on the Mount in determining the personal nature of Protestants’ relationships with Jesus. Material Christianity covers a lot of ground — from Mormonism to fundamentalism — and every chapter is as theologically wise as it as aesthetically astute. ~ Amazon.com

Art, Creativity, and the Sacred

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A collection of essays concerning religion and art, including contributions by Barbara Novak, Leo Steinberg, Paul Tillich, Wassily Kandinsky, John Dixon Jr., David Tracy, Joshua Taylor, and Langdon B. Gilkey. Addresses themes including: "Concerning the Spiritual in Art", Leonardo’s Last Supper, the use of images in India, "Painting as Theological Thought", "Judaism and Art", "The Art of Deception", "The Religious Impulse in American Art", "An Islamic Perspective on Symbolism", "Theological Reflections" on Picasso’s Girl before a Mirror, and more.

Camille Paglia on Art and Ideology

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Issues of quality and standards have been foolishly abandoned by liberals, who now interpret aesthetics as nothing but a mask for ideology. As a result the far right has gained enormously. What madness is abroad in the land when only neoconservatives will defend the grandeur of art? Greatness is not a white male trick. Every important world civilization has defined its artistic tradition in elitist terms of distinction and excellence.

The Rock That Is Higher

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We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes…" Story captures our hearts and feeds our imaginations. It reminds us who we are and where we came from. Story gives meaning and direction to our lives as we learn to see it as an affirmation of God’s love and truth–an acknowledgment of our longing for a rock in the midst of life’s wilderness. Drawing upon her own experiences, well-known tales in literature, and selected narratives from Scripture, Madeleine L’Engle gently leads the way into the glorious world of story in The Rock That Is Higher. Here she acknowledges universal human longings and considers how literature, Scripture, personal stories, and life experiences all point us toward our true home. ~ Product Description

Alister McGrath on Orpheus’ Approach

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If the world seems attractive, the Christian must ensure that God, as its creator, is seen to be even more attractive. The world reflects the attractiveness of its creator, as the moon reflects the light of the sun. ¶ Two incidents from classical Greek mythology suggest themselves here. Homer introduces us to the Sirens, a group of women whose singing was so seductive that they caused sailors to crash their vessels through inattention to their duties. When Ulysses was attempting to sail his ship past the Sirens, he prevented the Sirens from causing any difficulties by the simple expedient of blocking his sailors’ ears so that they could not hear the captivating Siren song. Orpheus, on the other hand, was a skilled lyre player. His method of dealing with this kind of threat was rather indifferent. He played his lyre, the music of which proved so enchanting and fascinating that its beauty totally outweighed anything else.

The Power of Images

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Analyzing images and aesthetic treatises, Freedberg (art history, Columbia) sets out historical and anthropological evidence for human responses, ranging from religious to sexual ones, that recur through
the centuries. He gives particular attention to the increasing association of art and religious behavior in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. "This learned and heavy volume should be placed on the shelves of every art historical library." ~ E. H. Gombrich, New York Review of Books. "This is an engaged and passionate work by a writer with powerful convictions
about art, images, aesthetics, the art establishment, and especially the discipline of art history. It is animated by an extraordinary erudition." ~ Arthur C. Danto

Annie Dillard on Witnessing and Abetting Creation

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We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. ¶ According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. Buckminster Fuller hinted at a reason we are here: By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even. A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish,’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.

Gene Edward Veith, Jr. on Art

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This does not mean that Christianity can be successfully expressed in every style. Some styles are wholly interwoven with aberrant philosophies (indeed, such styles are often nothing more than philosophical statements, which is why they are so bad aesthetically). Sometimes, Christians follow a particular style uncritically without recognizing the implicit contradictions between their faith and the style they are using to express it. Such incompatibility between form and content results in bad Christian art. (Late Victorian sentimentality, heavy metal nihilism, and pop culture consumerism would not seem to accord with a Biblical sensibility, but such misbegotten hybrids fill the Christian bookstores.)