Sunday, April 22, 2007

TASTE IS DEBATABLE, BUT IT IS NOT INFINITELY DEBATABLE

Do you remember the old air fresheners that looked like a cone? When you lifted up the plastic cone a bit from the base, there was a waxy substance that gave off a “pleasant scent.” Did you ever look and see what the waxing bar on the inside looked like after using the air freshener for a couple of weeks? It twisted and deformed, holes forming through the body of it. Keep this image in mind for a moment.

There is a beautiful Romanesque church in the heart of downtown Akron. When I was in college at the University of Akron someone donated a piece of art for their sanctuary. It looked a whole lot like the inside of that air freshener accept that it was white, was a water fountain, and was HUGE. It sat right up in the sanctuary. It was considered appropriate for church use because of its title, “The Holy Spirit.” But is all art, even good art, appropriate for church use or does liturgical art have further qualifications?

At my last parish there is a very large statue of Mary. It is well loved by a few, but most either hate or ignore it. Personally I think it an interesting piece worth contemplating as art, but am not so sure that it qualifies as liturgical art. The statue depicts a bloated woman with few features holding a child against her shoulder who appears to be in a jump suit. Because of this she gained such nicknames as Tundra Mary and Stay Puffed Marshmallow Mary. The artist purposefully made the face bland so that one could impose on it any person he desires. I think those who dislike the statue are reacting to their inability to relate to her not as art, but as a person. In other words, this statue lacks “the personal”.

In similar fashion is another piece in the diocese that has earned the title, “Tinfoil Jesus.” The crucifix for one of our parishes looks as though someone crunched up a bunch of tinfoil and formed it roughly into the shape of the crucified body of our Lord. It is actually a much nicer piece than that. It is carved linden wood which was then painted silver. Once again the artist’s intent was to allow us to impose upon it our own image of Jesus.

The problem is, we do not impose images onto pieces like this well. If tinfoil and marshmallows are presented we tend to see tinfoil and marshmallows. Now, it could be argued that most of our images of Mary and Jesus look more unlike them than like them. (Or take poor Saint Thomas Aquinas, how many fair representations are made of his ample girth? Or Saint Augustine? There is the thought that he was actually a man of color. See that often?) But still, we are less irritated by these specific yet erring images than by the less specific images that allows us to imagine the “essence” of a person. Why? Because it is ultimately the most personal that becomes the most universal. We are far more moved by the suffering of a specific mother at the death of her son than at the concept of “mothers mourning sons”. That is why we depict God the Father as an old man with a beard. It is difficult to love “a distinct mode of being.” (Boff)

For these reasons it is rare that the Church has ever commissioned art for art’s sake. First and foremost she uses art to teach and inspire. Because of this, a language of symbols has developed over the centuries that clue us in about the various persons being depicted whether in glass or paint or what have you.

The only thing about the Mary statue that clues you into the fact that this is Mary and Jesus is the title of the piece and the fact that it sits to the left of the sanctuary. The wood relief of Saint Joseph and Jesus in the same parish has the same deficit. If it would be stored away in a basement and drug out some day in the future by someone who was unfamiliar with it, there would be no clue as to whom it represents. Is it Joseph and Jesus? Is it Abraham and Isaac? Is it just two anonymous people?

Beauty, unless she is wed to something more meaningful, is always superficial.” – Donna Tart

The one, the true, the good, and the beautiful, they come together and they go together.” – Fr. Benedict Groeschel

Liturgical art is always about something more than beauty. It must convey truth, it must lift up, and it must give glory to God. When any one of these are neglected we end up with some odd creation that while it might attract our attention will fail in its primary duty to touch and instruct souls in the manner we intend as Church.

Liturgical art at its best then is instructional, personal, beautiful, and inspirational to the fullest extent that the community can muster. Do I believe then that Fr. O is a liturgical art snob? No. The windows in question may be of artistic value and they do seem to be somewhat useful for instruction. An argument could ensue as to whether they are inspirational or not (you may guess my position on that.) But where I find them (and much of modern liturgical art) most lacking is in the personal. The figures are so abstract (and I do think somewhat scary) that they fail to inspire an affinity with the persons they intend to portray. They are distant figures of another race and therefore have no relationship to me. They are untouchable.

What a shame.
HAPPY 160th BIRTHDAY DIOCESES OF CLEVELAND!

12 comments:

Adoro te Devote said...

OK, no one has commented. I take that to mean that everyone is shocked into speechlessness by the atrocitity of the "art" shown here.

That is, without a doubt, the ugliest, most detestable stained glass I have EVER seen, BAR NONE! In fact, I would prefer the works of certain secular abstract artists to be preferable. Or even Art Deco. (I hate Art Deco).

Un-freaking-believable.

I realize I'm not much of an artist myself, although I dabbl(ed). But still...is there no such thing as artistic integrity, especially with regard to sacred art?

This stuff is neither sacred nor is it art. It is an embarassment to the church it un-graces.

I am feeling this intense need to pray for the person or persons who designed such an anti-creation.

Perhaps the parish in question could commission some kindergarteners to put some finger-paintings up in place of this stuff? It would be far prettier and more meaningful.

Or maybe bring back the felt banners we all had to learn how to make in our CCD years..never thought I'd say such a thing.

I could go on but I'm becoming uncharitable....

uncle jim said...

so i've been contemplating a response by viewing the stained glass windows in my parish church - cornerstone is 1963 - windows created by some Parisian artist - somewhat very modern style with irregular shapes of glass heavily grouted between to form almost el-greco like forms to the bodies - and, as mentioned by the dear father, in most, if you didn't have a plaque identifying the saint in the window you'd probably never guess who it represented. in a gallery they might draw "oooh"s and "ahhhh"s but in the church people say "and who is that supposed to be?"

and at the risk of joining the veritable uncharitable adoro te, i'll reflect on my phillipians 4:8 and wonder.

sattvicwarrior said...

well c'mon adoro let me tell you something...... after being in the art world for the last 40 years I can tell you that it was totally awed by the human quality of those stained glass windows. . TOTALLY magic. expressive. .
adoro.
girl.
GET OVER YOURSELF. I found them inspirational. you have control issues . they transcended the mundane.
lighten up.
it takes a LOT to impress me. and I have seen a LOT of GENIUS. those are GENIUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Its hard to believe that anything as uptight as the contemporary church of today can be so wonderfully expressive and human with what's running the church today..
not only did I find the stained glass inspirational it was SPIRITUAL. it went beyond the boredom of the tradition of the accepted concept and gives the viewer an opportunity to go beyond their own consciousness .. and that's what its all about . isnt it?? getting CLOSER to GOD without the dictum???
if you feel a " need" to " pray" for the person. . its not the PERSON that created those windows. its YOU !!!!!!!!!!!!!! thats right . YOU!!!!. not comfortable being " outside the box"..
so pray for your self. .
those windows are BRILLIANT!!!!!
lets hope the pope does'nt see them . . he would probably have them BURNED AT THE STAKE. [ german mentality ya know:)

Adoro te Devote said...

With all due respect, Satvic, I'm not surprised you like the windows. You have a right to disagree with my opinion, and thanks for the personal attack. Just what I like to start my morning.

God bless you.

sattvicwarrior said...

adoro!!!!!!! ATTACK???? good grief. why is it when someone DISAGRESS with someone else’s perspective its an ATTACK??
thats SO passé.
try and look at it from a DETACHED PERSPECTIVE. or dont attach any feeling to it, and you will see its just another facet of this illusion we call reality. its neither right nor wrong, just color and light though form, nothing is permanent, everything changes, its NOT absolute , its just a differnt form of the same thing, LIGHT through glass to inspire a perspective of ones spirituality.
There certainly isnt anything vulgar about it.
The classic stained glass windows are most certainly beautiful and almost a lost art, this is the same thing, just a different perspective. and I'm not moved by much. but I though they were totally cool. now have a nice day. but then again that's up to you . life is about CHOICES. so if you chose it as an attack, then your limiting your thinking to see a different perspective.
i have seen a LOT of LOUSY art. but that dosent make it wrong. beauty is TRULY in the eye of the beholder.

Adoro te Devote said...

Sattvic ~ Why are you really so angry all the time?

Why do you attack and withdraw behind other attacks? Why is there all CAPS, sound and fury, "signifying nothing", and no true opening to others who have reached out to you in spite of your blustering posts and outrightly hostile "tone"?

Really.

I'm glad you're passionate about art, and I certainly respect that, however, I reserve the right to disagree on both personal preference and a theological understanding as to what specifically liturgical art is about.

Sorry you can't respect my opinion about the ART as well as my sincere prayers for the artist who apparently has not understanding of theological beauty.

I will not engage with you any further than this on this topic unless you can chill out, cut the CAPS and "speak" to me with the same respect any other human being deserves.

Thank you and God bless you, no matter how you choose to respond.

sattvicwarrior said...

dear ADORO..
i Type in CAPS BECUASE IT SEPEREATES THE QUOTES. IF YOU DONT LIKE IT. TO BAD. I COULDNT CARE LESS ..
YOUR ILK WHENEVER QUESTIONED ALWAYS COMES BACK WITH THE ANGRY: CARD.
YOU REALLY HAVE CONTROL ISSUES. . ITS OK . \
I COULDNT CARE LESS.
BUT TO TELL OTHERS YOUR, KNOWLEDGE OF ART IS THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH [ i.e.my sincere prayers for the artist who apparently has not understanding of theological beauty.]
well dear. THATS THE HEIGHT OF EGO ON YOUR PART FOR SURE. . THE GOOD THING IS .
YOU DONT HAVE TO USE THIS DUDES FORMAT AS A SOAPBOX FOR YOUR SWEEPING ROMATICIZED GENEREALIZATIONS.. to address my perspective..
HAVE A good DAY!!!!.!!!!!!!!!!.

Fr. V said...

Satvic,

As art I think your position is defencable, but as liturgical art I have my doubts. I would be interested in understanding how you would defend them as liturgical art.

sattvicwarrior said...

Dear fr.v
There is nothing to defend !. it is what it is. i personally like the more traditional look and have seen many" new" works which are really awful. Its confusing to call it LITURGICAL. maybe i dont know how you are applying that word, or know its full meaning from your perspective.
. To me it seems[ SPIRITUALLY AND ARTISTICALLY] to really inspire because of the DRAMA of it all, it has a HUMAN quality,[ there is no " shock" value" as most all contemporary works seem to want to do, . even in its " impressionistic" form it gives one a sense of wanting to belong or connect to what the church is all about getting to closer to god. not distancing or deifying ones spirit from the divine which most of the traditional works seem to do.
.. yup.. for me. i think its the HUMAN quality that evokes ones spirit in those windows. and thats a WELCOMING EFFECT rather than the ususal " distanceing" effect which is ever so evident in most places of worship.
I guess i dont understand you word "LITURGICAL". art is art.
Its just someone speaking through their soul.. whether they hang in a church or a off a tree limb BEHIND A BARN it makes no difference. its how the person who views it responds with their own reality, which is always subject to change, and that's the basic purpose, to inspire!!!
there are MANY facets to a diamond. this is just looking at the " jewel" from a differnt angle

Nathan Augustine said...

Yeesh.

As an artist I can say I didn't like the stained glass windows, even though I liked the statue.

Fr. V said...

Nath -

Ooops - I realize that the post is misleading. the statue pictured is NOT the picture refered to at the beginning of that article. I simply used it as a reference against the other images. I really need to learn how to identify my pictures better. Sorry. I like this statue too.

Foxie said...

hmm.. I am amateur artist, but I really don't like the stained glass here. Actually, I like more "abstract"(not sure if it is a good term) stained glass as http://www.inmagine.com/miwt029/miwt029044-photo

because you don't need to be right underneath it to know what is on.

another nice example is this: http://www.spiritofmedjugorje.org/dec1.jpg from St. James church in Medjugorje. I've prayed at that church many times and stained glass there is really inspiring.

...let me comment also on CAPS that sattvick uses: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caps_lock tells it all in a nice way. Caps is considered rude. By everyone I know. And is harder to read. For quotes, there are quotation marks: "lorem ipsum" or 'lorem ipsum'. Being polite doesn't hurt. Being rude can hurt others. I will pray for everyone here tonight:) I think we all need it;)