Cranach’s utter coolness

The artist, that is, not the blog. A big tip of the beret to Paul McCain’s Cyberbrethren for alerting me to this story from England about a big Lucas Cranach exhibit at the Royal Academy. The art critic goes on and on about the creativity, the “unruly talent,” and the darting imagination of Luther’s crony at Wittenberg. From “Cranach’s flashes of inspiration” in the London Times Online :

The fantastical religious paintings that surround The Martyrdom of St Catherine in the first outburst of his career confirm the impression that a momentous and unruly talent has been unleashed. Familiar subjects – the Crucifixion, the stigmatisation of St Francis – are reinvented outrageously by an artist determined not to do anything the way others did it. If the religious convolutions in the foregrounds are too complex for you, there are always the backgrounds to enjoy. Cranach was a superb landscapist who always set his biblical duels in recognisable stretches of Upper Franconia, where tottering Harry Potter castles wobble atop mysterious riverside crags.

Because his imagination darted about so much, there wasn’t much he didn’t try. There are portraits, altarpieces, bits of contemporary genre pictures that tug your heartstrings and ones that make you laugh. His woodcuts throb and squirm with events, like an angler’s worm tin. And a gorgeous nocturnal Nativity sets him the tough task of painting candlelit reflections at night. Nowhere does his art settle on a standard look.

Darting from one thing to another, tugging your heart strings, making you laugh, throbbing and squirming with events, religious convolutions, biblical duels. Maybe that DOES describe this blog in his honor!

Nothing to say about the Oscars

Contrary to my usual custom, I really don’t have anything to say about the Academy Awards. I tried to watch some of the show, but I found it insufferable and had to turn away. Which raised another question in my mind: Is it really true lately that movies influence the culture? I think we are seeing the dysfunction evident in the rest of the arts, in which the “high culture” of the artsy elite has become culturally irrelevant, while the “pop culture” of the money-makers simply conforms to whatever trends are out there.

Cranach painting updates

Paul McCain has put up some more material on his blog devoted to that Lucas Cranach altarpiece.  He includes some exposition of the figures in the painting and what they mean.  Note the self-portrait of Cranach, who shows the blood of Christ shooting out from His wounds upon himself.  That’s a powerful confession of faith from the great artist.  Go to A Painting That Preaches Christ.

A Cranach painting gets its own blog

A thousand thanks to Paul McCain, who has started a whole blog in honor of Lucas Cranach’s Weimar altarpiece!  It is called A Painting That Preaches Christ.The first post is an enormously enlightening summary, filled with priceless quotations, about Luther’s defense of using art in church.  The site promises more and more resources exploring this masterpiece of the Reformation. Cranach's Weimar Altarpiece

Another dream fulfilled

My wife’s school held its annual chili cook-off and talent show last Friday.  One of the judges got stuck in traffic, so I was enlisted to be one of the judges for the chili contest.  I had always wanted to do that!  There were nine different chilis.  There was general consensus about the top three (showing the principle of classical aesthetics that beauty is objective), though the various judges differed somewhat in their rankings (showing the principle of classical aesthetics that there are legitimate variations in taste–for example, one of the contenders was a Cincinnatti-style chili, which is sweet and flavored with cinnamon.  It was well-done and good in its way, but I prefer Western-style, with lots of cumin).  Points were rewarded and tabulated, and winners were declared.  (My top choice did come in second–the Cincinnatti-style prevailed–but my choice also won the People’s Choice Award, so I felt vindicated.)  The talent show was quite charming, showcasing some very talented grade-school kids, with vocal performances ranging from “A Mighty Fortress” to Hannah Montana, instrumental numbers to comedy skits.  It was a good night of fellowship and classical education. I have been a movie critic, but the really good gig is to be a food critic.  What I’d like to do, now that I’ve helped judge a chili contest, is to judge a BBQ competition! 

Tastelessness in the Church

Jason Braaten, at Concordia TheoBLOGical Seminary, links to a good Touchstone essay by Anthony Esolen, then draws some incisive conclusions of his own:

Talking about taste is not bad with regard to the arts in the church, unless you have none. And it is this that we as the church have been reticent to discuss-mainly due to the fact that we ourselves don’t actually have taste. We have knowledge of what we want people to think is good taste, but don’t actually have it. It isn’t a part of the fiber of our being. We are fakes. We are phonies. We have no taste-some to a lesser degree than others.

What strikes chords that resonate within me with this essay is Esolen’s ability to say just that. To evaluate tastes, you must have some taste. And what the church hasn’t done, nor is it quite prepared to do because we are in a very real sense victims and perpetrators of the enemy issues, is come out to say some tastes are better than others. We have not inculcated and nurtured people to identify with those tastes that are higher and better. And this is not just the case in church, but probably more so in the home. There is objectivity to beauty and taste, even though we have learned otherwise. And the saddest and most shameful thing about this is that we have chosen simply to maintain status quo and hand it on to subsequent generations.

To remind those of us who say we believe in “absolutes” against the postmodernists who deny there is any such thing, the three absolutes were and are Truth, Goodness, and BEAUTY. Christians are against relativism when it comes to truth and goodness but they tend to agree with the postmodernists that beauty is relative. This must be challenged. Once beauty goes, the other absolutes quickly become unravelled. (This is not, by the way, just the problem of churches; rather, it reflects the even bigger tastelessness of the culture as a whole, which Christians, while criticizing the culture on many points, emulate it on this one.)

Yes, beauty involves a subjective response and that “tastes” differ, but taste, like other human faculties, must be cultivated, educated, and disciplined. We need to learn how to take subjective pleasure in what is objectively GOOD.