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Denny Wayman

Christian Art and Transcendent Value -

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Not only in your experience, but also in Scripture: We have not been left without witness (I forget the reference to this paraphrase).

Yes, that is true. In such texts as Acts 14:17 and Romans 1:18ff.

Joe, I like what you said - good insights.

When you said

I think "harm" is not so obvious. What looks harmful about a peanut and to whom? Or what separates a nourishing mushroom from a fatal one? I guess intent can play a part of that, but even then the viewer has the final "say" of how the art affects them--sometimes intentionally, sometimes not so much.

I can agree with you about peanuts - and things that are not harmful to all but some have to avoid for personal reasons. Nudity may fit that, though being a counselor I would be leary of saying that.

However, I can think of many things that are toxic to all and to eat them would kill any of us. There harmful things include: vicarious violence that sets us up to hate and then satisfies that hated by a spree of vengeance; vicarious orgey that calls us to let go of our faithful thoughts to our spouses and entertain a fantasy that distorts our sexual desires; falsities, of any kind, that weave a pattern of lies but are not easily seen by the viewer who is caught up in the moment and the logic.

I think of this last one when I remember back in college where I learned how to sell GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN WORLD door to door. We were taught how to actually take a persons thoughts with us rather than talk with them and honor their thoughts and help them make an independent decision. Since then I never allow a salesperson to give me their "shpeil" without interrupting and disrupting their verbal and logical cadence.

Denny

Edited by Denny Wayman

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Err, not to be disputatious or divisive or anything, but the Roman Catholic church *does* have its own Sacred Congregation of Propaganda

Do you get the impression that the Pope is expecting this in his address? I can't say I do, but I could be wrong. I kind of took what he said at face value with no presuppositions implied. If there is more than meets the eye, he did an "artful" job of hiding it.

I don't know that there's really any way to filter out the "propaganda'' element in the depiction of sacred subjects in Western Christian arts - most particularly when the pieces were created for public places (churches, for example) and were meant as teaching devices. That's one of the basic ideas behind propaganda of any kind.

Well, regarding most of the 20th Century Christian arts that I've encountered, I'm not sure there was any intent or ability other than "propoganda" and evangelism. To me that is the problem with much Christian art.

But this is not to say that sacred depictions are only capable of propoganda. As someone who recently visited many old churches in Italy (including the Vatican), Belgium, Holland, and one or two in Switzerland (still the high points of my job with Pilobolus) the depictions evoked more than what was depicted, from my point of view. I would say much of the art found in such churches intended to do more than just depict Mary or the Apostles or even Jesus. We are meant to sense the emotion or pain or other essence of the moment captured. I don't think it was meant to be merely illustrations of scripture. I think this speaks of the artistry the Pope was speaking of.

And speaks highly of the artistry involved. So even if illustration was all they we commissioned for, the artist accomplished much more. [edited: I also don't think ALL of the work accomplished this. Some pieces were pretty much what you saw and no more.]

Again, though, I could be wrong. I'm not all that educated on the history. I can only relate how the works affected me. And I do have the habit of letting the history of a place envelop me. So maybe I was feeling more enamoured with the locale than the work. But I don't think so.

Joe

Edited by jfutral

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However, I can think of many things that are toxic to all and to eat them would kill any of us. There harmful things include: vicarious violence that sets us up to hate and then satisfies that hated by a spree of vengeance; vicarious orgey that calls us to let go of our faithful thoughts to our spouses and entertain a fantasy that distorts our sexual desires; falsities, of any kind, that weave a pattern of lies but are not easily seen by the viewer who is caught up in the moment and the logic.

Is this really art? I suppose it is in that the intent is to evoke something within the viewer. If so, then, yes, this is malnutrition.

To be tempted is not a sin. And if such work tempts one, then one should not expose oneself to such work! I remember hearing Glenn Kaiser talking about his early days with Rez Band and someone coming up to him after a concert and talking about how Glenn's music makes him stumble. Essentially, IIRC, Glenn asked forgiveness and then asked what the brother was doing there to begin with??? Not that your examples reflect Glenn's work or anything like that. Only that sometimes we need to take responsibility for ourselves.

I think your examples are more illustrative of artist intent. I would label this more manipulation than art. Again more propoganda-esque, or at least something that can only be viewed or is expected to be viewed on one level. And if the intent of the artist is to take a viewer to this place and LEAVE them there and not do more, as in maybe to show the derpavation of such behaviour, AND then bring them back, that speaks more of the artist than the art.

But that's just my opinion.

Since then I never allow a salesperson to give me their "shpeil" without interrupting and disrupting their verbal and logical cadence.

I love playing around with sales people! As a Christian, I know I shouldn't, but they are such easy targets! Especially after travelling around as tech support for several sales instructors. I have learned a lot. I can pretty well stop a sale person dead in their tracks or run them in circles. Talk about being manipulative! Father forgive me! Especially as I DO know what I do!

Your approach is definietly more Christian than mine.

Mea culpa!

Joe Futral

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Err, not to be disputatious or divisive or anything, but the Roman Catholic church *does* have its own Sacred Congregation of Propaganda (aka "Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide," established in 1622).
Um, not quite. :)

First, "Sacred Congregation of Propaganda" is a mistranslation of "Congregatio de propaganda fide," which is correctly rendered "Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith" (the "official title" of "Sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando" means "Sacred Congregation for the Propogation of the Name of Christ").

In fact, it would appear that "Sacred Congregation of Propaganda" couldn't possibly be correct, as this would seem to be an etymological fallacy. The word "propaganda" is actually derived from the Latin name of this very curial office. In other words, the congregation was not set up to do "propaganda," "propaganda" (in the non-pejorative, pre-WWI sense) was named that after the work of the congregation vis-a-vis propagating the faith.

Thirdly, when using the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia, remember that while it is an excellent resource in many respects, it does have the disadvantage of having been compiled in 1917... before, for example, the word "propaganda" took on negative connotations in the first two World Wars... and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples acquired its newer, more contemporary name. :)

Incidentally, the official website.

I don't have my lecture notes (from back when) available, but post-Council of Trent, there were official rules on how Mary should be portrayed (clothing, colors, setting, etc.). IIRC, this is true of other saints and Biblical characters.
Suffice to say, I have seen so many things misrepresented as "official rules of the Church" (see here for a recent example of official Vatican rules on dramatic portrayals of the Passion... oops, I mean USCCB rules... oops, I mean a subcommittee draft document) that I tend to be very, very skeptical of these sorts of claims. (Remember how the Catholic Church labeled the saxophone the "devil's horn"? Oops, maybe not.)

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If it's in a public place (church, civic buildings, etc.) it's probably meant to be more than decorative. My gosh, Washington, D.C. is *full* of art that's primarily propaganda! (Architecture, too.) If you start studying art that's meant (in the broadest sense) as propaganda, you'd have to include things related to Mother's Day and most every cover Norman Rockwell did for the Saturday Evening Post.

Good grief! I HOPE it isn't just decorative! Otherwise it will just end up on HGTV.

Disregarding that propaganda can also intend "biased" or "misleading" information, of course this is what I mean by great art NOT being propaganda. I could be wrong but I think I did try to make sure that I didn't say art cannot be propaganda, only that great art isn't. I have to be more conscious about that. I can easily find myself saying propaganda is not art. Mostly I mean great, even good, art is not propaganda or maybe it isn't _only_ propaganda. I like what I said earlier in the thread. Whatever that was go with it!

Since there are certain givens these days regarding propaganda, as mentioned above, I also don't think teaching is a bad thing for art, unlike propaganda. From a complete point of ignorance regarding the discussed document, I would take something as the Catholic arts S. and P. manual as a means to also be sure Mary is depicted as more than human, a way to ensure her (arguable) transcendent nature is conveyed. So again, we find art is _expected_ to do more than teach the literal, regardless of one's view on Mary.

Now does every work of art in churches accomplish this? Hardly. But some of the commisioned work exceeds expectations.

For instance I just came across Makoto Fujimura's blog. His latest entry has some insightful things to say about The Last Supper. Go here http://www.makotofujimura.com/. In this instance art has even transcended history. Regardless of the original intent of the commission, the artist did so much more and the work communicates more than a bible story, more than a teaching moment for the literate or illiterate. That is NOT art as propaganda, regardless of your definition. History may give us a context for the creation of the work, but it doesn't define what the work as art.

I particularly like the discussion and quote from C. S. Lewis:

" 'If you want to

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For instance I just came across Makoto Fujimura's blog. His latest entry has some insightful things to say about The Last Supper. Go here http://www.makotofujimura.com/.

Joe,

Thank you so much for referencing the Fujimura blog. That is an amazing analysis of de Vinci's LAST SUPPER and weaves together the power of true religious art with the Gospel story and experience. A great read!

Denny

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Yes, but did you check the link? that's how the Catholic Encylopedia has it, and much that's in that entry hasn't changed. history is history.
Of course I checked the link, but it doesn't change the fact that "Sacred Congregation of Propaganda" is not a correct English translation of "Sacra congregatio de propaganda fide." It drops the crucial word "fide" (faith) and simply leaves "propaganda" untranslated.

Also, FWIW, you didn't limit yourself to a historical statement -- you wrote "the Roman Catholic church *does* have its own Sacred Congregation of Propaganda," with emphasis on the present tense verb "does." That wasn't the real name back then, and it's certainly not the name now.

note also the way the word "propaganda" is handled in the American Heritage Dictionary. The 1st entry is what I'm mainly talking about, although the other definitions apply, too.
Yes, including the third definition ("A division of the Roman Curia..."), which shows that the definition is a quarter century or so out of date. Having worked in educational publishing, I can't help wondering whether this kind of thing gets passed down from edition to edition without anyone bothering to check the currency of their facts?

Anyway, in technical usage, yes, it remains possible to use the word "propaganda" in a non-pejorative sense, one that is compatible with art being art and not being nefarious or distorting in a bad way. Practically speaking, I'm not sure how viable this usage is today in common discourse.

Since C. S. Lewis has been cited, consider this sentence from The Abolition of Man:

"In a word, the old [pedagogy] was a kind of
propagation
-- men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely
propaganda
."

That Lewis -- a classicist fluent in Latin -- could so blithely contrast "propagation" and "propaganda" seems to me evidence that the English term "propaganda" has drifted too far from its eytmological roots to remain reliably useful in that sense.

Here's what i was trying to get at, from the American heritate Dictionary's definition of "propaganda":

1. The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.

The part of this definition (and the one above, which seems to be identical) that strikes me is the phrase "reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine," especially the "interests" part.

This seems to me to hint at a view of "propaganda" that sees the propagation of doctrines and causes in a rather reductionistic light, not in terms of education in the classical liberating sense (e-ducare, to lead out, to liberate), but in political terms, having to do with maintaining power structures and serving established interests.

The Abolition of Man is essentially a critique of this reductionistic outlook, which reduces education to -- well, I was going to say "indoctrination," but come to think of it, that's another word that, like "propaganda," has a perfectly respectable etymology but has acquired a bad taste in the mouth because of the very reductionistic philosophical outlook critiqued in Men Without Chests. To be "indoctrinated" is now almost akin to having been brainwashed; it implies an uncritical incorporation into and subordination to a particular power structure and the interests thereof.

In a similar way, it seems to me that even when "propaganda" is used in an ostensibly non-pejorative sense, it may often be with the implication that what is being served here is the "interests" of a particular group, rather than anything like truth or beauty. To use another Lewisism, there is a whiff of Bulverism about the word, an unstated suggestion that "They [only] say [fill in the blank] because they're [fill in the blank]."

It's also worth noting that the definitions above specify that what propaganda promotes is "a doctrine or cause." By this definition, propagation of something else would not qualify as "propaganda." But sacred art is not ordered toward promoting only a doctrine or cause, but faith and devotion, which is something different. Faith and devotion are distinct from the whole sphere of politics and interests, which is where the weight of the word "propaganda" seems to lie. Also by this definition, "propaganda fide" -- propagation of the faith -- would not strictly count as "propaganda" by this definition.

Steve, what is clear to me is this: the Roman Catholic church (and other churches, too) have indeed used art as propaganda, in the modern sense.
Given that your usage of propaganda includes "things related to Mother's Day and most every cover Norman Rockwell did for the Saturday Evening Post," I have no problem with this, I guess. My only caveat would be the implicit philosophical implications and limitations of the word as suggested above.

Why else would there have been such tight strictures on the way many people and events were suposed to be portrayed - for several hundred years?
I'm not saying this didn't happen, but again, I'd like to see documentation before accepting this claim. Here's where my skepticism kicks in: Those who hold reductionistic theories about other people's pedagogy often act on the same theories themselves, and claims like this often get made in the context of particular power structures, and reflect the interests thereof.

Of course if it happened, it happened. But I've seen too many similar claims collapse under cross-examination to accept them without question.

The Council of Trent was very focused on turning people away from what is now called Protestantism, and art was one of the crucial tools in this fight.
Sure, in a sense, especially since some segments of Protestantism were rather iconoclastic in disposition. But again, I'm not sure about the rather utilitarian implications of the word "tool," which seems to imply setting a value on something solely for pragmatic reasons, for its utility in manipulating objects to bring about a particular outcome.

I wouldn't call a sermon a "tool," even though it is intended to propagate particular ideas and could thus be called "propaganda" in the broadest sense. It is not a tool because the pastor is not trying to act mechanically on his congregation to bring about a particular outcome. He is trying to inspire, challenge, enlighten, educate, liberate. The same applies to sacred art. It's not a utilitarian thing.

I'm not saying this to criticize anyone - or anything - but if you start studying the history, you're going to run into a lot of things that are pretty unpleasant.
Oh, absolutely. Believe me, I need no reminding on that score. I came into the Catholic Church under the pope of mea culpas. I'm more than ready to acknowledge the horror show that is (the dark side of) church history.

Edit: one common theme in earlier centuries was Ecclesia contrasted with Synagoga. here's a good analysis of it: http://www.flholocaustmuseum.org/history_w...ia_synagoga.cfm

More example (lots of pics): http://www.sprezzatura.it/Arte/Ecclesia_Sy...ga/res/art1.htm

That is pretty dreadful, certainly. Incidentally, did you notice this sentence from the first link?

"A question that emerges from such images is how they affected everyday attitudes toward the Jews. Were they instrumental in a propagandistic way of maintaining hatred on a religious basis toward the Jews of that period?"

Note the clear negative connotations of the word "propagandistic."

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Sheesh! You people must not have anything to get up for in the mornings ;)

Good grief! I HOPE it isn't just decorative! Otherwise it will just end up on HGTV.

Just to say, and I don't think this is what you mean, there is nothing wrong with decoration. It, traditionally, is what a lot of people would put in the category of "craft" and not "art," but it's still valid in and of itself. It's particularly an important function in architecture, going all the way back to the chains and pomegranates in the temple (or was it the tabernacel? I get the two confused.). To our knowledge, these were purely decorative, but they were also still ordained by God.

Disregarding that propaganda can also intend "biased" or "misleading" information, of course this is what I mean by great art NOT being propaganda. I could be wrong but I think I did try to make sure that I didn't say art cannot be propaganda, only that great art isn't. I have to be more conscious about that. I can easily find myself saying propaganda is not art. Mostly I mean great, even good, art is not propaganda or maybe it isn't _only_ propaganda. I like what I said earlier in the thread. Whatever that was go with it!

What is "great art?" What is "good art?" Are you going off of historical precedent, as I assume? Otherwise this is pretty subjective.

For instance I just came across Makoto Fujimura's blog. His latest entry has some insightful things to say about The Last Supper. Go here http://www.makotofujimura.com/.

I'll have to read this. Must be new. He doesn't post very often, and when he does they are usually very looooooong! and hard for to read, the white lettering on black background.

I'm intrigued by all of the dicscussion on propoganda, but for some reason don't feel like I can relate. It may just be that I haven't had the time to read the conversation well, and certainly haven't had the time to follow all of the given links.

Continue . . . ::pcwhack::

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Sheesh! You people must not have anything to get up for in the mornings ;)

...

What is "great art?" What is "good art?" Are you going off of historical precedent, as I assume? Otherwise this is pretty subjective.

...

Considering historical precedent still doesn't seem to have really answered the question to many people's satisfaction, I've always kind of felt we are a bit on our own. The discussion STILL rages. Is Jackson Pollock's work art? Is Norman Rockwell's? Ornette Coleman? What does historical precedent say? Why doesn't everyone agree?

As for my own subjective conclusions, objective considerations aside (technique, composition, colour, lines, chord progression, etc.) the only thing I can consider great or good art is, as I've said here and elsewhere, art that is able to be more than the sum of its parts, essentially. I haven't put it that way yet, but it comes to mind the quickest and I think essentially says the same thing I've said before. It is the ellusive quality that artists always struggle for. What makes one melody seem to transcend the notes used and another melody sound sophomoric? What makes one portrait of a woman make people wonder for decades or centuries and another portrait simply a likeness of a young lady?

In and of itself, I don't find technical proficiency a good measure of art, though most good and great works demonstrate a high regard for technique. Nor is personal preference. Degas and Monets do little for me, but that doesn't mean they aren't good or even great works.

Does it communicate? I don't think O'Keefe's or Rothko's work communicates more than it conveys a sense or an image not really on the canvas. Maybe that is communication. But it is ambiguous communication at best. I still contend that communication as a requirement reduces art to utility. Maybe my definition of communication is too narrow.

Is there beauty? Giacometti or Poe is hardly beautiful. But I guess there is a certain beauty to sadness or horror, but not the glorious kind found in flowers or the clouds.

Me, I'm drawn to Pollock's work. I sense the urgency and turmoil in his strokes. I find myself thinking about him maybe in his barn, frantic about his canvas, dripping and splattering and wonder about those times I felt mad and wild and wished I could have done something to release that energy. To view his larger works is to feel infinity charging at you like a hurricane.

Norman Rockwell, while having done some technically masterful work, strikes me a bit like kitsch. But I don't consider his work kitsch. Just the same, I can't escape the sentimentality of his work.

Does that help?

Joe

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Considering historical precedent still doesn't seem to have really answered the question to many people's satisfaction, I've always kind of felt we are a bit on our own. The discussion STILL rages. Is Jackson Pollock's work art? Is Norman Rockwell's? Ornette Coleman? What does historical precedent say? Why doesn't everyone agree?

As for my own subjective conclusions, objective considerations aside (technique, composition, colour, lines, chord progression, etc.) the only thing I can consider great or good art is, as I've said here and elsewhere, art that is able to be more than the sum of its parts, essentially. I haven't put it that way yet, but it comes to mind the quickest and I think essentially says the same thing I've said before. It is the ellusive quality that artists always struggle for. What makes one melody seem to transcend the notes used and another melody sound sophomoric? What makes one portrait of a woman make people wonder for decades or centuries and another portrait simply a likeness of a young lady?

In and of itself, I don't find technical proficiency a good measure of art, though most good and great works demonstrate a high regard for technique. Nor is personal preference. Degas and Monets do little for me, but that doesn't mean they aren't good or even great works.

Yes, yes and yes. I agree with your sentiment; it just doesn't make for easy discussion <_< Of course, once again, it's not an easy topic. Of course, that's why it's fun!

Does it communicate? I don't think O'Keefe's or Rothko's work communicates more than it conveys a sense or an image not really on the canvas. Maybe that is communication. But it is ambiguous communication at best. I still contend that communication as a requirement reduces art to utility. Maybe my definition of communication is too narrow.

I would suggest that for our purposes in this conversation, your definition of communication probably is too narrow as you postulate. Personally, I would consider beauty communication, and conveyance a subset of communication — although they are not synonyms in a strict sense of the word. And you're right that much communication (not just artistic, but some things that need be clear, unfortunatately :blink: ) can be ambiguous. But, as I've already said in this post, much of art (and life, if we're honest) is not so clear as humans wish it (IMHO).

Is there beauty? Giacometti or Poe is hardly beautiful. But I guess there is a certain beauty to sadness or horror, but not the glorious kind found in flowers or the clouds.

Mmmm, clouds. Thunderstorms on the prairie, to be specific. My greatest inspiration in nature, if not in all of creation. Personally, I think they best convey the character of God to us — within our earthly realm — in their beauty, power (lightening and tornado), life-giving (rain). I wouldn't every argue this point, though I might make my own case for it. It's merely "the rocks crying out" for me, personally.

Edit: grammar

Edited by Chashab

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Erks. I think Giacommetti's work is beautiful. 8O

I did stipulate that there is, or at least can be, a certain beauty in sadness, also pain and tragedy. So I did an about face in one paragraph of two sentences!

Apologies, all, for having taken this discussion on a major tangent....

Don't blame yourself! I'm the dweeb who brought up propaganda to begin with!

Joe

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