Francis and the Via Negativa Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

In retrospect, my reaction to Pope Francis’s election makes so much more sense when I consider that during my tenure at the college my artistic guiding lights were St. Francis and the painter Francis Bacon. About as far from a saint as one can imagine, Bacon is infamous for showing us things that perhaps we would rather not see: nightmarish self-portraits, unnerving studies of screaming popes, and writhing and wrestling biomorphic forms.

But Bacon was not interested in merely horrifying us. He was painting, as he said in an interview, to “excite himself”; spreading paint in a way that was expressive of his anger, his lust, and his love of painting. In a rare explanatory moment, he revealed to an interviewer that his numerous paintings that reference crucifixion were not religious but “an act of man’s behavior to another.”

Some moralists have said that his paintings are corrupting and harmful, but I’ve always felt that they do no more harm than if one took to hanging around a butcher shop or meat packing plant. To me, his paintings, like all great art, make us confront essential questions about the human condition.

My rather vague and unrefined view of Bacon was tested when, in 2004, at a conference at Notre Dame on the future of art in a Post-Christian world, I attended a keynote delivered by the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre titled “What Makes Religious Art Religious?”  Using examples of paintings by El Greco and Mark Rothko, he made the claim that what makes a painting religious is not subject matter but when a “religious intention is communicated to the viewer.”

Over the course of about forty-five minutes, MacIntyre thoroughly supported his thesis, and then impressively fielded questions bent on picking apart his thesis for another thirty minutes.

[Read more...]

Art Is Long, Life Is Short

My wife and I were in Chicago over the summer, and as part of our tourist rounds, we of course visited the Art Institute, which is far too large to take in in a single day. As happens every time I go to a large museum, by the time we walked out I was in a state of melancholy existential astonishment.

One installation was a meticulous recreation of the cave paintings in Lascaux, France, some of them estimated to be as much as 20,000 years old.

Until we reached the modern art, all the millennia of individual creators represented in the gallery were long dead, many not just dead but anonymous.

In the American galleries, I viewed the famous American Gothic which I first encountered in a board game in childhood called Masterpiece. The game was ostensibly about art collecting, which doesn’t sound like much fun for kids. You gather cards with famous paintings on them attach cards with a monetary value by the luck of the draw. Players buy, sell, and trade art. Several fraud cards float around, so you never know if someone is trying to pass off a forgery on you. The goal of the game is amassing the most expensive collection without regard for aesthetics. [Read more...]

Art, Risk, & Image‘s Near-Death Experience, Part 2

Erica Grimm-Vance, On the Question of Being III.

Guest Post by Stuart Scadron-Wattles

Read Gregory Wolfe’s part 1 post here.

The irony of the theme that Greg Wolfe had chosen for the Glen East 2013 conference (“Art and Risk”) was part of the silence between us, as we sat, glumly, opposite one another in two heavy armchairs, pondering our options.

Outside, a heavy rain was falling. Greg was rolling an unlit cigar between his fingers, never a good sign.

Image had risked an alliance with commerce, and it was about to cost us $65,000.

In my experience, the relationship between art and commerce is at best a one-sided affair, no matter how experienced the partners. Art is always the one risking its heart and getting it broken. Commerce walks away, counting the dollars snatched from the nightstand.

The events of the last few months had proved the point. [Read more...]

Art, Risk, & Image’s Near-Death Experience

Jeffrey Mongrain. Faith (detail), 2005.

When I chose “Art and Risk” as the theme for Image journal’s 2013 Glen Workshops, I had no idea that by the time those events took place, through no fault of our own, Image would be facing a serious, unprecedented financial crisis that would decimate our nonprofit organization.

Nor did I expect that I would have to take the further risk of bringing this whole sorry situation to light in order to ask you to help us get through it. (More on that in a moment.)

As I set out many months ago to prepare my opening remarks for the Glen, I searched my mind for what I knew about the subject of risk. Of course I knew plenty about it, existentially speaking. You can’t start a nonprofit arts organization and not know about risk in a visceral, occasionally pulse-pounding way.

But I needed inspiration to help me think about the meaning and value of risk. [Read more...]

Learning to See Beauty

When I taught Spanish in public school I projected Hispanic and Latino artwork on my pull-down screen and had students journal or make comments for a daily grade. Initially, the still worlds of painted color intimidated my media loving students, and they complained.

“How am I going to use this painting in the real world?”

“This isn’t art class.”

“Can’t you just give us a worksheet?”

“We’re going to study it silently for five minutes, then make three comments in Spanish,” was my answer.

“It’s ugly. It’s hard. It’s weird,” someone called out every year.

My students were not stupid, but they lacked the practice required to see. [Read more...]


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