Art, Beauty, Interpretation
Ric Ergenbright (Tyndale House: Oct 1, 1999), 160 pages.
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.
Thomas Dubey (Ignatius Press: Sep 1999), 320 pages.
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
Richard Viladesau (Oxford University Press: Mar 25, 1999), 320 pages.
This book explores the role of aesthetic experience in our perception and understanding of the holy. Richard Viladesau's goal is to articulate a theology of revelation, examined in relation to three principal dimensions of the aesthetic realm: feeling and imagination: beauty (or taste); and the arts. After briefly considering ways in which theology itself can be imaginative or beautiful, Viladesau concentrates on the theological significance of aesthetic data provided by each of the three major spheres of aesthetic perception and response. Throughout the work, the underlying question is how each of these spheres serves as a source (however ambiguous) of revelation.
Paul Corby Finney (Oxford University Press: Sep 18, 1997), 352 pages.
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.
Colleen McDannell (Yale University Press: Jan 24, 1996), 328 pages.
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
Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, ed. (Continuum: Aug 1, 1995), 356 pages.
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.
Madeleine L'Engle (Doubleday: Sep 1993), 320 pages.
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
David Freedberg (University of Chicago Press: May 28, 1991), 560 pages.
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
Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans: Jun 1980), 240 pages.
This book advances an argument rooted in Christian narrative but driven largely by a philosophical engine that privileges rigorous analytic logic and careful scientific scrutiny. I see this as both the book's great strength and weakness. Wolterstorff spends an overwhelming majority of the book developing exacting analysis on what he rightly considers the narrowness of contemporary Western notions regarding the arts, with frequent discussions of analytic/scientific evidence regarding the arts and the nature of perception. Unfortunately, this privileging of analytic/scientific discourses significantly undermines the development of a prophetic, coherent narrative that distills a broader, more compelling Christian view of the arts in our lives. I make this criticism partly because Wolterstorff himself claims that this volume is meant to be the more accessible work of a set of philosophical reflections he has written on the arts. Those whose philosophical leanings run in the pragmatic/poststructuralist direction, or those whose theological narratives are indebted more to a Christ-story rather than a creation-story (Wolterstorff relies primarily on the latter), will find that the arguments of this book occasionally seem to miss the mark. Nevertheless, they will also find a cogent analysis and critique of contemporary Western notions of the arts as well as the messy birth of a Christian perspective for the arts. ~ D. Clemens