When I ultimately decided to attend Conservative Christian College, I didn't just let go of that love. While touring CCC, I asked if I could see their art gallery. My first red flag should have been how surprised my student tour guide was by that request. She led us up to this small gallery nestled above the auditorium where student work was currently on display. My heart fell. It was all so cliche and contrived. Images of Jesus on the cross, lions and lambs, etc. At that point, I knew I could never pursue an art major there. If the work of these students reflected the approach of the staff, it wasn't what I was looking for in an art education. I had no interest in a path that seemed to lead only to shallow paintings that would be used as sermon illustrations or designing a set of Bethlehem for the church every winter. That's how I made up my mind to pursue a youth ministry degree. (As a side note, I would like to give a warning to all those making college decisions. Never, never, NEVER choose your field of study by default. You'll tell yourself it isn't exactly what you want, but you'll tweak it to apply to the environments you'd prefer to work in. I'd be willing to estimate that 9 out of 10 times that doesn't happen and you're forced to choose between working jobs in your field that you don't really enjoy or paying off a degree that you now have no intention of using. I'm currently engaged in the latter.)
So what type of art does the AEC enjoy?
1. Thomas Kinkade
recent DUI, bankruptcy filing, alleged fraudulent practices, and partnering with big companies such as Disney will affect his standing in the American Evangelical World. Odds are they'll feel too warm and cozy to care.
2. Anything that portrays a Bible story or character (unless it's a Renaissance painting that includes nudity)
3. Anything that shows Jesus intervening in a modern situation
4. Anything that depicts a dove, lion, and/or lamb
5. Anything that combines Christianity and our Founding Fathers
6. Anything that looks good as the background to a Bible verse
In contrast, what types of art do I relate to the most on a spiritual level??
1. The works of Anselm Kiefer
2. Works that Manipulate our Perception of Reality
|Monochromatic Hallway at "Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson" |
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
|James Turrell's "Sky Pesher"|
Walker Art Museum Minneapolis, MN
James Turrell creates spaces in which you perceive reality more vividly and see things that you weren't previously aware of. When you sit in the "Sky Pesher" (pictured above), the night sky which had looked to be a dull dingy black while you walked underneath it is revealed to be a shockingly rich shade of deep blue. The lighting of the installation also creates the illusion of the absense of architecture. You cannot percieve the corners of the opening in the ceiling, so it looks as if the sky has descended to hover directly above you. He also had an amazingly extensive walk-in piece known as "The Wolfsburg Project" that created a sense of a never ending interior. It provided visitors with a sense of eternity, for once inside it didn't seem like there was anything beyond what they were experiencing. There was no identifiable beginning or end.
3. Modern Art, especially Abstract Expressionism
|"Red, Orange, Tan and Purple" - Mark Rothko 1954|
The reason that I find modern art so complimentary to faith is that it requires you to interact with it and ask questions in order to understand it. You'll get out of it what you're willing to put into it. It isn't about trying to show reality exactly how you already see it in every day life or provide a comfortable experience for people, but rather create this relationship with its viewers that invites them to reevaluate their understanding of reality. Isn't that essentially what faith should be? A place where you are invited to ask questions and examine things more closely in order to gain a better understanding of the true nature of things?
I truly believe it would be beneficial to people's faith if their churches encouraged interaction with these types of works rather than simply clinging to that which is easily identifiable as Christian.
What about you? What works most inspire your own spiritual contemplation?