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techne

art and justice

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a little while ago, i found out about An Idea Called Tomorrow, an exhibition taking place at two Los Angeles institutions, as part of a unique collaborative partnership between the California African American Museum (CAAM) and the Skirball Cultural Center. the exhibitions' goal is to inspire visitors to reflect upon the active role we must all play in bringing about a more just, equitable, and peaceful future. to quote from artdaily.org (a really great art enewsletter):

The participating artists’ ethnicities and backgrounds are as diverse as their presentations, which address a broad range of social justice issues of both regional and global relevance, such as environmental sustainability, shelter for all, human equity, equal access and respect, healthy living, reconciliation and forgiveness, and cooperation and peace.

i'm often challenged by the question of art's ability to effect societal change. i believe it can be a catalyst for changing thinking around subjects, but if i truly want to help the poor i'm probably better off doing somethingconcrete. don't get me wrong - raising awareness around issues is important - but at some point i have to be the [active?] change agent. i mean, education by itself rarely impacts behaviour -- information doesn't equal knowledge, and knowledge is useless unless it's exercised with wisdom. that being said, i still think that artists (including visual artists, writers of all flavours, dancers, musicians, performers of every stripe, mimes and graphic designers) have a role to play in seeing justice.

in his book, the prophetic imagination, walter brueggeman writes: the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. further, he states that

the alternative consciousness to be nurtured, on the one hand, serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness. to that extent, it attempts to do what the liberal tendency has done: engage in a rejection and delegitimizing of the present ordering of things. on the other hand, that alternative consciousness to be nurtured serves to energize persons and communities by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move. to that extent, it attempts to do what the conservative tendency has done, to live in fervent anticipation of the newness that God has promised and will surely give.

essentially, these 2 approaches - criticizing and energizing - encompass the prophetic, or declarative, role of the artist as they engage with the culture(s) around them.

this raises an important question (for me, anyway): how can we, as followers of christ, and as artists, engage with the world -- what issues of justice, ethics and righteousness must we speak about?

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This is a question I've asked myself as well. I'm an Idealist who never felt able to act on my ideals. I think that in some small way affected my vocation of a Religious Brother with the Capuchin Franciscans. Especially in my Province, we are very concerned with Social Justice. We have soup kitchens and such things, but also a school for bringing up good Christian men as well as brothers who work in Immigration reform, ecological movements, and sit on the boards of companies to strive and get them to respect the rights of their employees. I don't know what I'll do yet, but there are plenty of opportunities. Will my art and writing affect people? I don't know. I'd have to find a way to display it or publish it. I see my creative work as my main ministry and expression of Christ in me. The important thing is, though, that my subject matter almost always springs from my interactions with the people I try to minister to.

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I think an artist main concern is to bring beauty into the world. If he can do that, it is enough. I like this quote:

Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.

Hans Urs von Balthasar

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I think an artist main concern is to bring beauty into the world. If he can do that, it is enough. I like this quote:

Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.

Hans Urs von Balthasar

nice quote jim, (and btw, i love your paintings)

i'm curious, what's your understanding, then, of "beauty" (Beauty?)? i'm assuming you mean something more than simply aesthetics, which are quite subjective (though not totally subjective) and often culturally bound.

i've always understood beauty as 'fittingness' or 'unity' (of content and form) and, for me, that is tied into the artist's responsibility to present Truth.

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I like your definition which is very like The definition of Thomas Aquinas: The beautiful, he said, is “wholeness, harmony, and radiance,”. I heard Barbara Nicolosi speak about beauty at a conference last year; the first part of it is on David Taylor's blog and she uses Aquinas' definition as a jumping off place. All the lectures from the conference are coming out in a book, edited by David, soon.

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I like your definition which is very like The definition of Thomas Aquinas: The beautiful, he said, is “wholeness, harmony, and radiance,”. I heard Barbara Nicolosi speak about beauty at a conference last year; the first part of it is on David Taylor's blog and she uses Aquinas' definition as a jumping off place. All the lectures from the conference are coming out in a book, edited by David, soon.

thanks jim. i already follow his blog...the book is on my "to get" list...

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essentially, these 2 approaches - criticizing and energizing - encompass the prophetic, or declarative, role of the artist as they engage with the culture(s) around them.

I believe, Walker Percy called these qualities the diagnostic and the celebratory. The artist can diagnose the ills of his society or he can celebrate the goodness of which he is aware.

I was approached by a gallery once, a pretty well known Christian art gallery. Upon seeing the images I sent them they declined to represent me because my work was too diagnostic or prophetic (my words not theirs but that was the reason). They said no one would want to buy those kind of paintings and they are right but it is still the artist responsibility to make those kinds of paintings.

Here are a couple of examplesof what I consider diagnostic or prophetic paintings:

LastJudgementsm.jpg

This is a painting about abortion.

JesusCarriesCrossSM.jpg

And this one is about consumerism.

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