The greatest work of art in the whole cosmos?

Karlheinz Stockhausen, the German advant garde composer of mostly non-melodic music, has died. He became best known to the public when he commented that the September 11 attacks constituted “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos.”

“Minds achieving something in an act that we couldn’t even dream of in music, people rehearsing like mad for 10 years, preparing fanatically for a concert, and then dying, just imagine what happened there,” he elaborated. “You have people who are that focused on a performance and then 5,000 [sic] people are dispatched to the afterlife, in a single moment.”

Later, he backtracked a little, saying that the attacks were “Lucifer’s” greatest work of art.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fwsonnek

    This very disturbing statement seems similar yet is quite different from the idea behind the phrase “art for art´s sake” in it´s seeming ultimate nihilism.

    I am cool with this view of art for arts sake at a deep level if it is asserting merely that things do not have to have utility to justify their existence. In this sense this idea squares profoundly with a Christian worldview.

    This artist´s quote I think comes from a much wider view of the function of art that is somewhat different. This view could be perceived as at unity with a message based christian view of art, if we see it much like the parables of our Lord, in provoking thought by seeing reality differently and in a way that challenges our basic assumptions, or inimical to it. Indeed , God uses these happenings to provoke us to think again.

    “My view is that art should not be comforting,”

    Joyce Carol Oates wrote in her introduction to The Best American Essays of the Century;

    “for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

    Joyce Carol Oates happens to be one of my favorite Canadian authors by the way. Her “Wonderland” is a difficult yet profound read. It perfectly illustrated exactly what she describes here.

    The disturbing part of all this in Vieth´s quote is that it appears to perceive 5000 + 10 human lives as something of a cold abstraction.

    Which is exactly where modern art and architecture leaves me cold or angry while informing me and provoking me to think at the same time, often exactly as natural and manmade tragedies do. Even in this modern chaos we can see a certain order imposed by our order-loving God that makes us ask “what does this mean?”.

    Compare the structure of “What does this mean” in Luthers small catechism to the “what does this mean” nihilism of what this artist says.

  • fwsonnek

    This very disturbing statement seems similar yet is quite different from the idea behind the phrase “art for art´s sake” in it´s seeming ultimate nihilism.

    I am cool with this view of art for arts sake at a deep level if it is asserting merely that things do not have to have utility to justify their existence. In this sense this idea squares profoundly with a Christian worldview.

    This artist´s quote I think comes from a much wider view of the function of art that is somewhat different. This view could be perceived as at unity with a message based christian view of art, if we see it much like the parables of our Lord, in provoking thought by seeing reality differently and in a way that challenges our basic assumptions, or inimical to it. Indeed , God uses these happenings to provoke us to think again.

    “My view is that art should not be comforting,”

    Joyce Carol Oates wrote in her introduction to The Best American Essays of the Century;

    “for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

    Joyce Carol Oates happens to be one of my favorite Canadian authors by the way. Her “Wonderland” is a difficult yet profound read. It perfectly illustrated exactly what she describes here.

    The disturbing part of all this in Vieth´s quote is that it appears to perceive 5000 + 10 human lives as something of a cold abstraction.

    Which is exactly where modern art and architecture leaves me cold or angry while informing me and provoking me to think at the same time, often exactly as natural and manmade tragedies do. Even in this modern chaos we can see a certain order imposed by our order-loving God that makes us ask “what does this mean?”.

    Compare the structure of “What does this mean” in Luthers small catechism to the “what does this mean” nihilism of what this artist says.

  • fwsonnek

    how interesting to see the inner musings of a sick mind who an artform to nihilism and chaos, that cannot express beauty when bent out of the mathematical order that literally defines it and dictates it.

    “To see what is in front of one´s nose needs a constant struggle” . (George Orwell by way of “the Atlantic Monthly” Blogger Andrew Sullivan.)

    Man this man MUST have struggled mightily NOT to see order in art, and so God´s hand in it. Now I see how deeply twisted one needs to be to be so blind.

    Contrast JS Bach and his passionate obsession with order in the Divine Service and it´s music and just how truly liberating and beautiful AND human, AND emotional order can be.

  • fwsonnek

    how interesting to see the inner musings of a sick mind who an artform to nihilism and chaos, that cannot express beauty when bent out of the mathematical order that literally defines it and dictates it.

    “To see what is in front of one´s nose needs a constant struggle” . (George Orwell by way of “the Atlantic Monthly” Blogger Andrew Sullivan.)

    Man this man MUST have struggled mightily NOT to see order in art, and so God´s hand in it. Now I see how deeply twisted one needs to be to be so blind.

    Contrast JS Bach and his passionate obsession with order in the Divine Service and it´s music and just how truly liberating and beautiful AND human, AND emotional order can be.

  • allen

    Amen, Frank.

  • allen

    Amen, Frank.


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