Saturday, June 21, 2008

Trinity Art Conference: Ruminating on Art and Change

I have now looked at my notes from the Trinity Arts Conference.  As I suspected, they're bad.  In fact, after the second lecture they become non-existent.  I did alright in the first lecture, which is nice because that was given by Greg Wolfe.  Greg is a brilliant guy so he had a lot to say.  The topic of the conference was 'Change.'  One thing that Greg said is that people tend to hate change in art because they want to shoot the messenger.  Society changes, artists respond by expressing that in word, music, paint, etc.  This 'new art' is decried, called non-art, and sometimes anti-Christian (depending on the context).  In reality, the artist is often just holding up a mirror to society.  Understand, I'm saying what Greg said only as I understand it now from my notes.  Don't hold him responsible if I misrepresent his ideas.

The main point of Greg's lecture, I think, was contained in a quote from Walter Brueggemann, which I think I copied down correctly:

"Truthful statements must be continually stated to remain truthful."

This might sound scandalous to ears suspiciously seeking postmodern ideas, but I believe it is true.  To use a silly example:  Many years ago if you called a girl 'cute' she might have sucker-punched you.  Why?  Because 'cute' used to mean 'bow-legged.'  In order for 'that girl is cute' to be true in its original sense, we must restate the proposition:  'that girl is bow-legged.''

On a deeper level we can look at the word 'Gospel.'  One of the speakers at the conference made reference to this.  It was either Greg or one of the guys who did a devotion.  Anyway, the word 'euangellion,' which is Greek for 'gospel,' literally meant 'good news,' but in its context it was good news of a particular type.  One could tell 'the gospel of Caesar,' which would extol his good works and the wonderful things that resulted from his reign.  This affected the way 1st Century people would have understood the phrase 'the Gospel of Jesus Christ.'  It did not mean 'Jesus died for our sins and rose again' to them.  That would be part of it, but not nearly all.  That is how most people understand the word 'Gospel.'  It's either the formula I mentioned or a reference to a genre of music.  In order to help people understand what 'gospel' originally meant, we must restate it.

Greg used an Ezra Pound quote to translate this need for restatement into the realm of art.  Pound said, "the artist's motto is 'make it new'."  The IT, said Greg, is something unchanging.  Great art is still working with the fundamental data of this world.  That statement resonates with me.  I see it in both Rembrandt and Picasso.  Sometimes they might come from vantage points I reject, but even if the images in a painting do not match the world I see in my eyes, I can understand the lens through which it is interpreted and thank God for the truth and beauty contained in the changing form.


Todd Gwennap said...

Glad you had a good time at the conference. I'd love to hear more about it sometime. You have some good thoughts on change also.

It reminds of some of the stuff we talked about in Hebrew in Exegesis. We have to look at words synchronically (what they mean in the context) and not simply diachronically (what they meant in the context). Your example of "cute" was spot on.

Anonymous said...

Do you think the fear of the newer phases of artistic expression comes from unnecessary attachments to the simplicity of Christianity? I mean faith plus this and that... Therefore, if does not immediately give us a sense of serenity we become afraid of it.

Rex Queems (the phony)