A Craig Detweiler article from an old issue of Relevant Magazine
A pretty good article but the author does seem to suffer a bit from the common misconception that the artist is trying to hold a mirror up to the world and that great art (maybe we should call it capital Art!) describes life as we know it. The thing is, sometimes artists are trying to present that mirror and sometimes great art does reflect the truth of the world.
But not always.
Sometimes an artist is not trying to distill the world but simply trying to make something rad, to revel in his creativity. And sometimes great work’s don’t actually reveal much of anything about the world. Starry Night is a wonder, but it neither effects a worldview or changes perception. Michelangelo’s horned Moses is incredible but it’s not pushing an agenda or describing the world. Benini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa is breathtaking, but does little to raise questions other than “How did he do that?” or “Could Bernini actually separate spiritual ecstasy from orgasmic ecstasy and is it just our post-Freudian framework that pollutes the image to our eyes?”
In short, art is better and more diverse than he thinks. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt in his limiting philosophy.
I disagree that Michaelangelo’s Horned-Moses is not saying something about the world. There is great debate about what exactly the artist is saying but a number of theories are possible answers and each offer good reflection on the world, art, or individuals.
Okay, maybe. But my point is that great works don’t have to say anything in particular. Of course, a creative work will reflect the creative spirit of its creator, but this is more a holding up a mirror to self rather than broader reality.
As an example, here is a piece featuring me riding a manatee in the desert. It’s not a “great” work, but it is art. And really it portrays little save for the fact that I enjoy a touch of absurdism as much as the next guy. I’ve also done works that reflect the world, but some of my best and favourite pieces* do not do anything of the sort.
*note: the manatee is not among my best and favourite pieces.
I would understand all art to say something…even if what it says is rather inane. And I think you agree with that point:
“And really it portrays little save for the fact that I enjoy a touch of absurdism as much as the next guy.”
The work at least portrays a “little,” at least that you enjoy a touch of absurdism. Doesn’t it?
I guess I just don’t understand how a piece of art can be void of saying something about the context in which it was created. Perhaps you can help me understand better.
No, I agree that art is a medium of communication, so it will say something. I only meant to say that it doesn’t have to say this, that, or the other thing, but can instead say something entirely other. And as much as we are tempted to say things like Great art holds up a mirror to the world, we shouldn’t, because a lot of times it doesn’t, preferring instead to hold up a mirror to self or to hot dogs or even to smash mirrors.
I always welcome articles like this that raise the Body’s awareness of Art and Faith, but there were some points that I disagree with. For example, the entire descriptive and prescriptive divide is artificial. The very act of describing a situation requires a worldview and a POV, which creates some sort of claim about the world.
I also disagree with the idea that good art should be “realistic.” I agree with the Dane here, art doesn’t always have to be a “mirror.” But the author is on the right track. I guess I would just adjust his language to say that all good art is honest about the Truth. It’s realistic in the sense that people are fallen and need Christ; it’s realistic because it either presents a Christian worldview, or it presents a differing worldview which alludes to the Truth in a way that creates a tension.