Monday, May 22, 2006

Reflections on Art -- the afterglow of glory

As we draw near to our Covenant-First celebration of arts (June 11, for those in doubt), one of the questions that we must ask is “What is art?” That is a whopper of a question – with a multiplicity of answers depending on your worldview and depending on whether you are a producer of art or a receiver of art. We may be tempted to drop back to Marshall McLuhan’s statement “art is anything you can get away with.” (from The Medium is the Massage).

What I’d like to focus thought on today is art as a glimpse of glory. Even in dark art – something like a Titus Andronicus or Heart of Darkness or Animal Farm there is a mysterious power (at least in art that works). In uplifting art, the power makes you yearn to be a better person – you feel cleaner for having read or enjoyed it. I experienced this after watching The Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare in Love -- it was as though I too could be that hero. In dark art, the power chills and haunts by the possibility that the vision presented may just be true. In either case, there is something that clings to the heart and goes away with the receiver of art – and I believe that which clings is the afterglow of glory.

Either it is the glory of aspiration to a better reality – redemption and restoration to an Edenic state. Or it is the darkness of corrupted glory (for that only corrupted glory could so cling to the heart and haunt it so). A part of what makes artists succeed or fail is their ability to evoke that response in the receiver.

Now this is where some hyper-sensitive practicing artists may pounce. “The success of art has nothing to do with the receiver's response, they might say. Great art is often vilified by the masses. Brilliance is not measured by the people. Think, Russell, of the parable of the young man who came out of the Art Museum and said to the security guard “I don’t think much of your museum’s paintings.” And the guard replied ‘Young man, It’s not the paintings who are on trial here – it’s you!’ What do you make of that.”

First – that artists are not concerned about the same thing as receivers in art. Artists are concerned about the process of making art. Receivers of art may be interested in such process out of curiosity, but their real interest is in the finished product and what it does for them. Without a doubt among those who receive art there are both dullards and discerners. There are both sensitive souls and cynical sops. However, it is the reflection of a community over time on a work of art that will strip away pretense for reality. Some artists may come in and out of fashion (Shakespeare for instance has cycled through popularity and disdain over the centuries) – but there is always the question of whether a work speaks to receivers. Else, why should I bother with it?

I don’t mean this in a utilitarian sense – but simply on the level of heart to heart communication. I have no patience for the solipsistic artist who expects receivers to get on board. Some attempt to reach the audience must be made. And I suggest that when it is successful, it is because the artist has captured something of glory.

More thoughts to come
Soli Deo Gloria