When We Just Don't "Get it"

While abstract art is far from part of the landscape of popular culture, it nonetheless shares significant attributes with much of the music, television, and film we often experience. Just as abstract art can be confusing and alienating, many of use felt alienated and confused by There Will be Blood or the ending of No Country for Old Men. Just ask the skill required to produce abstract art is either hidden or nonexistent, we have had similar doubts about rock and rap music. Just as abstract art is often based on eastern religions and subjective views of truth, popular culture comes from a similar place.

While these are significant similarities, probably the most striking similarity is that both abstract art and popular culture major on emotional impact rather than intellectual impact. With that in mind, I offer the following live-blog of a lecture by Dr. Steve Halla, assistant professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Christianity and the Arts at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: Reflections on the Nature and Value of Abstract Art.

These will be reflections, not a formal lecture. It is a chance to think out loud with an audience. I am still working my way through this subject. I want to offer an insight into some of the ideas I’ve been thinking through about this subject.

Why did I choose this topic?

An official reason: There was An exhibition at Sojourn church by Kaori Ishitani, and they asked me to speak on this subject.

2 personal reasons:

First, I am a woodcut artist and so I am a highly representational artist but I am fascinated with Franz Kline and find myself drawn to his work. I am constantly asking myself, why am I continually drawn to his work when much of his work is so similar?

Second, I have been interested in the relationship between Protestantism and Abstract Art. Protestantism has typically maintained a negative or view of abstract art

There are three areas in which Protestants are hesitant to embrace abstract art:

1. Artistic grounds (“anyone can do it” – skill)

(Barnett Newman – Eve vrs. Michelangelo – Pieta) – While Newman’s Eve may be accomplished by almost anyone, Michelangelo’s piece could never be accurately reproduced.

(Ellsworth Kelly, Red, Yellow, Blue – The intelligence behind it: What are the colors that all other paintings ultimately boil down to? RYB)

I still struggle with pieces like this

2. Philosophical Grounds (“I disagree with that” – eg Buddhism, Existentialism, Nihilism)

Because much abstract art has been influenced by various non-Christian worldviews and religions, a negative association has resulted.

3. Church Historical Grounds (Historically the church saw representational art as the only true art)

But we still have to ask why? Where does the valuing of representational over abstract art come from?

We need to establish some basic definitions

Representational Art: “Works of art that closely resemble forms in the natural world. Art in which recognizable objects, figures, or elements in nature are depicted. Art in which it is the artist’s intention to present again or represent a particular subject.”

  • “Blanket term for art that represents some aspect of reality in a more or less straightforward way.”
  • Art that portrays specific, recognizable physical objects (or objects that are visibly true to life)
  • The subject matter is inherent in the artwork (objective)
  • Speaks to the viewer’s intellect (mind)

Abstract Art:

  • Oxford dictionary of art: “Art that does not depict recognizable scenes or objects, but is instead made up of forms and colours that exist for their own expressive sake.”
  • Today, abstract art typically refers to 20th century painting and sculpture (abstract expressionism)
  • Subject matter: inherent in the viewer – whatever meaning is derived will come from within
  • Speaks to the viewer’s emotions (heart)

Dr. Halla breaks for questions:

Student Asks: “Couldn’t abstract art sometimes represent things, but not in a representative way?”

There are actually 3 forms of abstract art:

1. The kind that starts with actual objects in nature (like a tree, etc.) and simplifies it down to something like a couple lines.

2. The kind that starts with an idea in your mind, and works that out on the canvas

3. Action painting: Like Pollock, you open yourself up to the work, make expressionary motions and it’s over. Pollock wouldn’t be able to tell you what the meaning was, but would say it was just an expression.

So yes, some are representational of things, but ultimately the viewer will have to work out what it actually represents which is something different

Student Asks: “What would detailed fantasy art be described as? Abstract or representational?”

The form would be representational but the ideas may be abstract. The abstract ideas are put forth in a representational way.

Student Asks: What if the objects are representational but the meaning is more abstract (i.e. Van Gogh starry night)

If there is no actual or historical basis of the painting, then the subject matter would still be inherent in the viewer.

It would be put in the representational category, though it does get a bit fuzzy with expressionism and impressionism. With Van Gogh the viewer can at least make out that it is a portrait of someone or a starry night, or whatever the picture may be of.

With Pollock, it always depended on who you read about Pollock. Some said it was pure expression with no foundational ideas while others said he was painting based on Native American spirituality.

Protestantism and Representational Art

Protestants put an emphasis on the didactic function of art (art as an aid in communicating biblical truths and ideas)

1. Emphasize theological clarity/artistic clarity (art as illustration)

Martin Luther said, “It is to be sure better to paint pictures on walls of how God created the world, how Noah built the ark, and whatever other good stories there may be, than to paint shameless worldly things. Yes, would to God that I could persuade the rich and the mighty that they would permit the whole Bible to be painted on houses, on the inside and outside, so that all can see it. That would be a Christian work.”

“And what harm would there be if someone were to illustrate the important stories of the entire bible in their proper order for a small book which might become known as a Layman’s Bible. Indeed, one cannot bring God’s words and deeds too often to the attention of the common man.”

The attention of the common man is aroused by illustrations and examples more readily than by profound disputations.

“I prefer a painted picture over a well written book”

Typical Protestant painting clarifies the difference between the two views. There is no mistaking the message.

Calvin, though had a different idea: You should only visually depict what the eye can physically see.

“we believe it wrong… If it is not right to represent God by a physical likeness… only those things are to be sculpted or painted which the eye can see.”

“even if the use of images contained nothing evil, it still has no value for teaching.”

To depict things in front of us is fine, but to depict the glory of God is wrong, because we can’t see that.

Calvin’s Key Principle: the best art “follows nature”

William A. Dyrness: “If artists followed the order that God has instituted in nature, then he or she would discover the essentially ‘spiritual’ character of art”

The Puritans argue that visual images have a role to play, but not independent of the word

Emphasis: illustration

These were the ideas I had in my mind when I entered the University of Texas to pursue the arts.

2 things happened to me that challenged my perspective of abstract art

Merton and Reinhardt

Merton was for many years the subject of my dissertation

Thomas Merton – had a deep interest in the arts (representational and abstract)

  • American-Catholic author, social activist, Catholic Monk
  • Father: Owen H. G. Merton, famous painter
    • Example of his father’s painting: a second-hand shop, Paris, 1910

Ad Reinhardt

  • American painter (1913-1967)
  • In 1953 he began limiting his palette to dark hues
  • Nearly all of his painting followed the same format. They looked virtually identical in appearance. Dark cross on black background.
  • “I’m merely making the last painting which anyone can make.”
  • Influences: Zen budhissm, eastern religions, Christianity, etc.)

Merton became acquainted with Reinhardt through Columbia university’s humor magazine and became friends and confidants.

A Parting of ways: Merton went on to monasticism – Reinhardt remained a painter.

Fifteen years later: Merton asks Reinhardt in a later: have you some small black and blue cross painting (say about a foot and a half high) for the cell in which I perch? – He is asking for a small copy of one of his famous paintings specifically to use as an icon for prayer in his cell.

Reinhardt sends it to him after some delay.

Merton cherished the painting: “You have to look hard to see the cross. One must turn away from everything else and concentrate on the picture, as though peering through a window into the night. The picture demands this or is meaningless, for I presume that someone might be unmoved by any such demand. I should say a very holy picture helps prayer. An image without features to accustom the mind at once to the night of prayer, and to help one set aside trivial and useless images that wonder into prayer and spoil it.”

He liked the fact that it had nothing else around it to distract and that you had to ignore everything else to see anything in it.

Learning about this caused me to consider the idea of abstract art and prayer. Is there a role for abstract art in ones prayer life?

Woodcarving

I became interested in woodcarving and studied the nature of woodcut and and woodcarving. I studied different types of wood and noticed that when you studied representational things on a microscopic level, you began to see myriads of abstractions.

I went back to abstract works of art and noticed a similarity (not that such a similarity was intended). I saw that there was abstraction all around us in nature.

The Value of Abstract Art

1. Representational art is an exercise of the intellect

2. Abstract art is an exercise of the imagination

Result: aesthetic enjoyment – I often simply enjoy the pleasure of abstract art.

Viewing abstract art also usually ends up with a moment of Self-reflection

For example: I was viewing an abstract piece named New York by Franz Kline:

As I was viewing it I thought of buildings, then bridges, then the chaoticness of my subway experience, but then about the people I came on the trip with. Then I started thinking about conversations I had with them, and began to praise and thank God for those people and conversations and to pray for them.

This piece of art served as a sort of springboard for my prayer life.

In our spiritual growth and development we can actively use both representational art and abstract art.

But can abstract art play a role in the church? I know it plays a role in my personal life, but I’m still working through the bigger questions.


Dr. Halla makes a fascinating case for the possible value in abstract art. Whether it’s abstract art, film, music, or any other form of painting, we Christians are often too anxious to denounce or decry it simply because we don’t “get it.” The challenge for us is to embrace those things which are good in a piece of art while not embracing the sinful and ungodly. Most impressive is not simply Halla’s challenge to embrace abstract art but to incorporate it into our prayer life. While this seems odd at first, we do have to come to terms with how we will glorify God in every area of our lives. This doesn’t change when we walk into a museum, movie theater, concert or book store.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. We know that abstract art isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://www.rilosporch.blogspot.com Riley

    Rich, I hate to say it, but I still just don’t get it. For real. Hope there isn’t anything wrong with me. Even though I don’t get it, and don’t necessarily want to get it or feel that I need to get it, thanks for taking the time to help us think about art, in all of its forms.

  • Alan Noble

    “Christians are often too anxious to denounce or decry it simply because we don’t ‘get it.’”

    Well said. I think a healthy approach is to assume that a work of art has meaning and purpose until you’re quite sure that it is rubbish. In other words, always give the artist the benefit of the doubt. Isn’t that the humble way of engaging art?

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  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Couple few thoughts:

    1) “Protestants are hesitant to embrace abstract art.”

    Actually, that could easily be altered from Protestants to “people,” because the average person is every bit as hesitant to embrace abstract art as worthwhile as the average Protestant. Really, the number of groups that abstract art is embraced pretty minimal.

    Experimentalists tend to embrace the form, if only to justify their own use of it. The pretentious love it because loving something that they can both pass off high culture and use to elevate their perceived tastes as “elite” (praising the value of that which holds incomprehensible value is a chief signature of the elite). But really, what other group embraces the form.

    Sure, individuals may admit to liking one work or another, but that’s akin to arguing that you’ve got nothing against gays/blacks/nerdcore rockers and hey some of you’re best friends are gay/black/nerdcore rockers. I mean personally I’ve enjoyed a few abstracts in my day (either for the feeling conveyed or simply for the fact that I think the piece worked as Good Decoration).

    2) Representational vs. Abstract.
    I actually didn’t really appreciate the distinction presented*#8212;or at least the way it was presented. There was a lot of overlap. I mean, come on. Abstract works on emotions while representational works on the intellect. That’s just blowing smoke up my tail. I believe both the heart and mind can be properly engaged in the appreciation of both abstract and representational art.

    Further, is representational really the best term to describe non-abstract work? Because honestly, every work of abstraction I’ve seen was a representation of something. The difference is that the one represents reality abstractly through signs and symbols that have yet to be assigned while the other represents reality more concretely through established signs and symbols, those with apparent cultural or historical value. Further, the implementation of the abstract usually even borrows from established symbology as it presents itself. While a non-abstract figuring the idea of liberty might show the lady herself, brazen, bare-breasted, and toiling amongst soldiers we imagine to be fighting for the nobility of the egalitarian society, an abstract might just show patches of three overlapping colors—blue, white, and red—calling to mind, in a vague sort of way, the French flag.

    3) The quoting: Luther, Calvin, and Other Guy
    None of these quotes had anything to do with abstraction. Luther was speaking of holy art vs. profane art. He wanted Jehovah’s Witness-like scenes of Noah and all the cute animals climbing onto the Ark of the Covenant. Stuff like that. Apparently, he was also a big booster for the muralists.

    Calvin was speaking against imaging God and in support of the Third Commandment. He said nothing about the depiction of fear, of tenderness, of anger, of charity, of warmth. His concern was singular.

    The thing is, we cannot guess how these men would have reacted to an abstract splatter-paint scene quietly entitled, The Wrath of God. Why? Because the abstract movement had yet to rear its head.

  • ken

    I am an artist, and I happened on this site while doing a search about abstract art. I respect the inquisitivness that I feel underlies the question at issue in this talk. The approach to the issue of abstract art here is admirable, but intellectualy timid and not too well-informed, unfortunately. Abstraction is a well-established cultural tradition in Europe and the US for about a century now. You can argue over when it started, but Picasso was onto cubism by 1910 or 1911. Looked at another way, it is as old as the oldest art we know. Cave paintings include representational images, but also grids and patterns that are certainly abstract. There are plenty of books at the library and sources online, so I won’t presume to try to educate you, but I must say a couple of general things. Abstract art encompasses an open-ended and constantly shifting set of visual languages. Styles of visual art communications, just like spoken languages and other human-constructed cultural forms, are constantly evolving, mutating and growing. There is much to learn about all this and it is very interesting and has implications for the understanding of the larger world. I liked the Ad Reinhardt / Thomas Merton story. One final observation– I must state, respectfully, that, like it or not, abstract art is a real thing with a concrete existence and a history. For Christians, there is the notion of accepting the idea of several very large abstractions– possibly the biggest ones ever invented. I mean of course supernatural beliefs in God, etc. In light of that this, scepticism about art, something real that everyone can see, seems strange to me.

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  • Alan Noble

    Ken,
    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate the fact that you point out the complexity of the discussion and theory of abstract art. I think Dr. Halla’s audience for this lecture was probably not artists and art students. Sometimes, in my experience at least, when even a brilliant thinker is addressing an audience that is new to a subject, generalizations (even gross generalizations) can be made in an effort to keep the audience. Perhaps this was the reason that Dr. Halla wasn’t accurate in regard to the dates of abstract art and its function in history. I wasn’t there, so that’s just a guess.

    Dane,
    I appreciate that whenever I’m too busy to reply to posts, I can rely on you to express some of my concerns (not that I always agree with you, that wouldn’t be any fun.)

  • David

    Great thoughts from Dr. Halla…and nice conclusion Rich. It isn’t perfect but it might be good.

    I am not sure where I am at on this but I think I am a little closer to abstract art now.

    Thanks.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com Drew Dixon

    Thanks for posting this Rich. For some reason when I go to an art museum I am fascinated by abstract art but always felt that it was nonetheless a lesser art form. This post helped, I wish I was’t graduating in May, else I think I would try and take some Halla classes!

    Drew Dixon’s last blog post..Sufjan and the Old Covenant

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com Drew Dixon

    In response to Ken, I would like to say that much of what Christians believe about God is not mere abstraction. There is a difference between an abstraction and something that is based in historical witness. Much of what the biblical authors write about is claimed to have been witnessed by the authors–I am not going to pretend I know a lot about art, but I think there is a difference here or else we would have to label all our history as abstractions.

    Drew Dixon’s last blog post..Sufjan and the Old Covenant

  • ken

    I’m following up on Drew’s comment about my post. I hope that’s ok– I don’t want to derail this into a private conversation. Also, before I go any further, I want to further clarify that I feel like a fish out of water to some extent here. My interest in this comes from the point of view of an artist. I am interested philosophical questions and the relationship of belief and religion to art, but I’m not a Christian, nor do I particularly believe in any other personal gods as such(Zeus, Thor, Ra, etc.) Religion is a fascinating and complicated aspect of human culture, though, and has been very entwined with art for much of the history of art. I know that it also provides much that is good for many people (as well as some bad things as we all know). So my intention is to be very respectful of the beliefs that probably are a part of the context in a forum like this, even though I don’t share them.

    There is a book I’d like to suggest that for me was helpful in understanding why religion and art for all intents and purposes became disconnected from one another in modern times. It’s called “On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art” by James Elkins. Maybe it’s a little advanced for people who are just coming to a place of paying attention seriously to trying to understand modern art, but it’s probably ok for a general reader–not full of jargon or anything like that. I think Elkins is pretty good at nailing down issues that are raised by the question being asked in this forum. His answers might not be welcome, as I fear my point of view on this might not, but I’m pretty sure he’s right about some things.

    Back to Drew’s comment (more directly): The historical witnesses you are referring to aren’t around for cross-examination, and we don’t have corroborating documents for many if any of the really unlikely-sounding parts, so I’m not too sure we can talk about biblical texts as historical in the way you mean. A historian can make use of them for sure, but not by taking the at face value unquestioned. That’s not history. Anyway, if we are comparing such unverifiable claims by those authors with the experiential reality of the sensations produced by an art object in the present (which isn’t claiming to do magic or break physical laws), I have to maintain that abstract art is the less “abstract” term in this equation.

  • Geoffrey Seven

    Long before I became a Christian, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to modern art by Kenneth Bendiner, who was then an art history professor at Boston University and my academic advisor. Interestingly, he seemed like rather an apostate when I was sitting in his lectures — I will never forget him holding out his arms to his sides in imitation of the central figure in Goya’s “The Shootings of May 3 1808″ and intoning sarcastically, “remind you of anyone you know?” But I learned that he later edited a volume of Chagall’s biblical illustrations so who knows (that book is also another hint that maybe abstraction and biblical world views are not incompatible).

    One of the things I found most compelling about these works even then was the contemplative dimension of paintings by (say) Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Pollock, etc.

    On Ken’s other comment re: the “abstractions” of the gospel, you are only partly right. Since you have been kind enough to educate us all here and recommend some truly helpful reading, I’m going to recommend some to you. Check out Tim Keller’s new book, The Reasons for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (http://www.amazon.com/Reason-God-Belief-Age-Skepticism/dp/0525950494/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1207482389&sr=8-1)
    It is guaranteed to provide you with some provocative ideas and things to think about.

  • ken

    Thanks for the recommendation, Geoffrey. Really I feel that your pointing me toward a book like that is, from your point of view, a gesture of kindness and helpfullness, which I can appreciate. I didn’t run out and get it, but I read some review and summary material about it, and that absolutely does not qualify me to seriously critique the book or argue with it in detail. I have an awful lot on my reading list already, and arguments his type just aren’t high on the agenda. I have spent some time with bookd that seem to have similar aims.

    I’ll say a couple of things, though. It seems– and you can tell me if I’m wrong– that one point that Keller likes to make is that doubt also constitutes a kind of belief, and that by shining a light on that he will encourage us to doubt our doubt. That type of argument is a non-starter.

    Here’s a parallel example. It’s not meant to be insulting to believers in supernatural gods like the Christian god (I don’t mean to be disrespectful or insult anyone, but it’s a pretty close parallel): It’s not that I “doubt” the existence of Santa Claus. Sad as it may seem sometimes that the north pole doesn’t house the Santa of popular mythology, for me the cat is out of the bag on that for many years now. I have no reason to either believe it or doubt it. It’s interesting as a story and a myth and is real as a part of culture, and can be emotionally really compelling (especially for children).

    I want to resist being drawn into a kind of confrontation where I am trying to enlighten people about their beliefs, or vice-versa. Part of the interest of posting here for me is that I think maybe I’m communicating with people who maintian some assumptions about the world that I don’t. I’m not going to suggest that you read Richard Dawkins (who tends to be heavy-handed and blunt in his arguments, even though much of what he says is true. He seems a little un-imaginative to me.)

    On another note, and in an effort to identify some common ground, Rothko was one of the first artists I really had a deep interest in. I have very much appreciated the contemplative aspect of his work as well as Reinhardt’s. Contemplation, meditation and introspection have all been fostered for me by art experiences and that has been very important in my life. Whatever disagreements may emerge about beliefs, I imagine that we can agree that those things, as well as empathy and compassion are crucial and a part of both artistic and religious experience.

    I’m going to drop in here a part of a statement about my own “abstract” paintings, just to open up a little and give you some idea where I’m coming from as an artist:

    Since optical color effects and illusions (especially when not at the service of representational imagery) can seem to escape physical norms and expectations and evoke the uncanny or magical, they might seem to refer to spiritual or supernatural dimensions. They are in fact real effects that can’t be severed from causes subject to rational grounding in theories of perception, optics and psychology. Used in these paintings, such structures should raise the uncanny and hallucinatory, but keep enchantment in tense (painful?) suspension with the tangible, constructed physicality of the support system, and in suspension with the fact that the hallucinatory image itself arises from a causal systematic structure. Pain or tension proceeds from the way the knowledge of the neutrality of means threatens to deflate aroused hopes of a magical, supernatural dimension (which would offer hope of escape from the problems and pain of the physical world.) A contrary reading might say that the emphatic grounding of “trippy” color experience in a purely physical and systematic origin might reassuringly demonstrate how the pleasures of non-physical movement and frictionless disoriented color effects can still exist within a world without recourse to naïve beliefs and practices.

  • Alan Noble

    Ken,
    In that final paragraph are you describing your paintings? I’d love to see them. Is there any place I can view them? The tension you identify in these abstract paintings which is produced by the transcendent (magical, supernatural, etc)knowingly caused by the mundane (in its non-derogatory sense)and natural is an incredibly interesting motif. The “contrary reading” reminds me, in some ways, of Plath’s “Black Rook in Rainy Weather.”

    How long have you been a painter?

  • Geoffrey Seven

    Thanks so much for your reply Ken. Well, I won’t nudge you to read the book rather than the reviews, but that is not quite what Tim is saying. First off, he’s not talking about doubts like whether or not Santa Claus of the Tooth Fairy exists. He is talking more about the bases people invoke for doubting the existence (or power or loving-ness) of God.

    And what he’s arguing is something smarter and in a weird way more post-modern than what you are suggesting. It is rather that skepticism about God is generally grounded in alternative belief systems that are often 1)as “religious” as the belief in God itself (that is, adherents of those arguments sincerely believe them to be true), and 2) they are rarely the subject of rigorous interrogation.

    He asks people to look at the alternate beliefs that underpin skepticism and doubt, and subject those beliefs to some questions: What reason do you have for holding them? How do you know (or why do you think) they are true? Tim would suggest that if you sincerely seek as much proof for the truth of your skeptical beliefs as you would expect Christians to have for theirs, you will likely discover them to be less solid than you originally have thought.

    totally agree with you on your comments on abstract art. and I should say that guys like Rothko and Reinhardt helped me find my way “into” it, but after that, I was hooked on a whole range of abstract and abstract-ish artists.

    Not abstract in the truest sense, but totally weird and compelling was the recent Lucian Freud etching exhibit at MOMA. Did you get a chance to see it?

  • ken

    Alan– thanks for the Plath link. I like that poem.
    I’ve been serious about painting for about 25 years. I’m usually very interested in letting people see what I do, but I’m a little nervous about giving up the luxury of quasi-anonymity here. Also, if I thought you were going to see my art, I would never have given you that statement to read first. The painting should speak on its own without too much front-loading of intention.

    Geoffrey– Fair enough. I won’t comment on Keller anymore since I haven’t read the book. There is another book on my studio table right now that might speak to all this: Real Presences by George Steiner. The book is an effort to make the case that all artistic creation is underwritten by an assumption of divine presence. I am predisposed not to accept such a thesis, in fact I’m pretty sure I can say from experience that it’s just not true, but I might get around to reading it anyway, and with an open mind. I thought I’d mention it in case anyone else wants to look at it for links between religion and art.

    Maybe it would be interesting for me to mention that one of the major inspirations for my painting in the last couple of years has been the cycle of St. John the Baptist paintings by Giovanni Di Paolo which are at the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve always been very interested in Sienese painting (which is steeped in religious mysticism–hmmmm). The image from that cycle which shows John turning his back on the world and heading off into the wilderness prompted me to make abstract paintings where canvases or parts of canvases turn their back on the viewer and face the wall. The link for Di Paolo:

    http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/16156

    I didn’t see the Freud show. I was there last week and saw the Color Chart exhibition, which I liked.

  • ken

    Geoffrey– Ok, I said I’d leave Keller alone, so Keller aside, can you point to a distinction in principle between deciding to believe there is a magical santa at the north pole and deciding to believe there is a magical human-like personal god? I am enjoying this conversation and don’t just want to be contentious, but I have to return to that and ask. It’s not that I think we all should be rational all the time, or that we should neccesarily be prevented from believing things if we want to believe them, even if they aren’t true. But on the other hand, maybe we are better off not “believing in” things if we can avoid doing so, but instead trying to view things calmly without belief, with a view to percieving reality clearly. I don’t know. I should probably limit my comments to more specifically art-related themes.

  • Geoffrey Seven

    Well, maybe the guys here would find it worth starting a new thread. I would love to hear discussion of Tim’s argument and related issues about the conceptual bases of what we believe.

    What I would suggest to you is to honestly unpack the assumptions that underly your question. I don’t know you, so I’m not sure — but it sounds to me like at least one of them would be something like the idea that a supernatural God (or Jesus’s miracles or what have you)is scientifically impossible, has been proven not to exist (like Santa, the toothfairy and the Easter Bunny before him). And we might inquire deeper than that still — are you simply convinced beyond a doubt that God doesn’t exist (that would be an article of faith to an extreme degree)? Or perhaps you can’t believe there could be a God who does miracles, or who would create only one true religion, or who would allow suffering or who you need to be much concerned about one way or the other. If you could tell me a little bit about the ideas that structure your doubt (or utter, complete disbelief), that would be helpful.

    The point is that you can’t doubt belief A except from a position of faith in belief B. You are asking me to justify my faith in Christ — which I am happy to do, but you have a responsibility to justify your own as well. Open it up to the same level of scrutiny.

    Sorry for going w-a-a-a-a-ay off thread here, dudes.

  • Richard Clark

    This is a great conversation. Feel free to continue it. Just to make you feel more comfortable, I’ve started a new thread as an aside post. You can go here and continue the discussion.

  • Geoffrey Seven

    Thanks Rich!

  • ken

    Actually I’ll post my reply here– I’m going to respectfully sign off from the conversation after this post, so no point in me going over to a new locale for it.

    Geoffrey, I notice that you avoided my santa claus question, so perhaps you think he has been scientifically proven not to exist– not so!– In fact that cannot be proven. (We should unpack that assumption right away.) So why do you believe that he doesn’t exist? Let’s focus on that. He has had an enormous impact on the lives of millions of children! They believe in him! I’m not really just talking about the fat man with the white beard, either. I’m talking about a transcendent, invisible santa– a santa for grownups. Sure, Twas The Night Before Christmas was written by a human hand, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t dininely inspired, and you can’t prove that a word in it isn’t true. And I can find you a scientist who will admit that it can’t be proven that reindeer really don’t know how to fly. Etc.

    I don’t have the time or inclination to try to grapple with all of the other rhetorical script-flipping that you might be considering (borrowing from Tim Keller and?) throwing at me. Even if I had the time, ability and patience to dismantle it all, what would be the point? You seem like a good guy, and I have no real reason to want to change your beliefs in particular. I have no intention of asking you to prove them.

    It is my fault the conversation went to this place– I should have left santa alone!

    It’s been a pleasure conversing with all of you. Thanks for all the thoughtful words, sincerely.

    All the best,
    Ken

  • Dawn Maureen

    I am a faithful Roman Catholic artist, and I see nothing wrong with abstract art. God obviously loves it in nature. If you look at sections of objects in nature closely and crop it down to one spot, pretty much everything can have a piece of it that looks abstract. If we truly believe the heavens declare the glory of God, why do we complain about the splashes of color in his nebula’s, or the rainbow swirl on the surface of the water in a puddle. God loves EVERYTHING he has made, not just the biblical characters. God loves ALL of His creation. I encourage those of you who don’t ‘get it’ to go make yourself a view finder, and go out in nature, or even in your own home and look at close ups of things. One can get TOO religious to the point where you no longer have charity in your heart and you start to think you are better than everyone else. Well, I bet Jesus would choose the finger painting children just enjoying creative freedom over the artists who sit around argueing who is the best artist in the Kingdom, the realist, the cubist, whatever! You are missing the whole point! I can just see Jesus now gathering up the finger painting children and saying ‘DO NOT DESPISE ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BELONGS TO SUCH AS THESE’ And no, I’m not going to pull my children’s finger paint art off of my refrigerator and tell them it is a degradation of what God intended. I am a representational artist, but I quite enjoy looking at abstract art. Some of it is quite peaceful and soothing and other abstract art is full of energy. It is supposed to engage your feelings and emotions and help you to get out of your own head and think about how the other person may have been feeling, so that life is not just ALL ABOUT YOU! It’s not about how well a person can paint the crucifixion scene, it’s about letting go, dying and being born again, and surrendering the materials of YOUR life to Jesus so that he can make a new creation. And God gives us each individual gifts, and did not make us all cookie cutter, so stop picking on the abstract artists already! If an abstract artists has a conversion experience, he can still paint abtracts. The abstract art is not evil. I have said my peace now.

  • http://www.artistnos.co.uk Colin Hall

    Hi Richard,

    A very interesting piece to read through. I have always considered the relationship between abstract art and representational art to be one of simple perspective. As an abstract artist [and quite a depressive if the truth be known] I have always found myself insufficiently impressed with the real world. I love jazz, I enjoy wine and I love to be introspective, so I guess it was obvious that my photography would develop the way it has. Even when I look at the world at large I see only aesthetic patterns above the life that exists within it.

    It’s funny that you should flag the ending of No Country for Old Men as influential in this discussion because I was very impressed that movie … and thought that if I hadn’t become a reclusive abstract artist, I might have made a good hitman ;-)

    All the very best

    Colin :-)

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