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#1 Denny Wayman

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Posted 03 August 2006 - 04:12 PM

I came across this quote by our recently deceased Pope John Paul II writing in 1999

QUOTE
The Church needs art.
"12. In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.

The Church has need especially of those who can do this on the literary and figurative level, using the endless possibilities of images and their symbolic force. Christ himself made extensive use of images in his preaching, fully in keeping with his willingness to become, in the Incarnation, the icon of the unseen God." Pope John Paul II Letter to Artists, 1999.


There are several things I like:

1. Purpose: In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art.
2. Method: Art makes perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible of God.
3. Translate: Art must therefore translate into meaningful term that which is itself ineffable.
4. Capacity: Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which NOURISH THE INTUITION [I love that phrase] of those who look or listen
5. Limitation: Art does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.

I read from this that art is a NECESSARY part of the church if we are to communicate the message. I also read that art has boundaries to its methods – that it cannot empty itself of its transcendent value or aura of mystery. This is where many discussions could be held. What exactly does it look like when a work of art “empties itself of its transcendent value?” Perhaps that is the best definition of “pornography” of whatever sort – sexual, emotional, relational, political, etc.

Denny



#2 Chashab

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Posted 04 August 2006 - 09:12 AM

Fascinating. Truly.

What's interesting is that this is what I've personally been trying to do with my own artwork — as I've had the rare opportunity — since graduating in '01. In my own words (and this isn't exactly what the Pope was driving at, but nearly), I was trying to put into a physical form (via painting or sculpture) the invisible, particularly certain character traits of God (such as holiness) and certain aspects of our relationship with God (such as praise). These ideas don't really have palpable presence in the physical realm, yet have a lot of influence. You could do the same thing with with ideas not explicity Xian as well, such as justice.

Thanks for sharing. I'm going to add that to my collection . . .

#3 Denny Wayman

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 12:34 AM

QUOTE(Chashab @ Aug 4 2006, 07:12 AM) View Post

Fascinating. Truly.

What's interesting is that this is what I've personally been trying to do with my own artwork — as I've had the rare opportunity — since graduating in '01. In my own words (and this isn't exactly what the Pope was driving at, but nearly), I was trying to put into a physical form (via painting or sculpture) the invisible, particularly certain character traits of God (such as holiness) and certain aspects of our relationship with God (such as praise). These ideas don't really have palpable presence in the physical realm, yet have a lot of influence. You could do the same thing with with ideas not explicity Xian as well, such as justice.

Thanks for sharing. I'm going to add that to my collection . . .


I went to your website and found your sculptures fascinating. I think it is a helpful thing to try to portray character traits in any art form - but your freestyle of sculpting would be the most difficult - and in that way you keep the Pope's call to not empty the art from its "aura of mystery."

Denny

#4 jfutral

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 12:44 PM

I have not read the whole article, but I do find potential concern on a couple of points and wouldn't mind other's personal perspectives until I get an opportunity to read the whole thing for myself.

First is the whole point of "Purpose". Is he asking art/artists to help in communicating, but not neessarily saying art _must_ do this? I feel this sounds like crossing over into the propoganda aspects of art. One of my gripes with some of the church today is that they say they embrace the arts/artists, but they really only mean in as much as they can add their skills to either the service or as an evangelistic/religious tool.

QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 3 2006, 05:12 PM) View Post

What exactly does it look like when a work of art “empties itself of its transcendent value?” Perhaps that is the best definition of “pornography” of whatever sort – sexual, emotional, relational, political, etc.


Or even kitsch, which seems to pervade much of the church (and culture) today.

Joe Futral

#5 Chashab

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 03:27 PM

QUOTE(jfutral @ Aug 5 2006, 12:44 PM) View Post

I have not read the whole article, but I do find potential concern on a couple of points and wouldn't mind other's personal perspectives until I get an opportunity to read the whole thing for myself.

First is the whole point of "Purpose". Is he asking art/artists to help in communicating, but not neessarily saying art _must_ do this? I feel this sounds like crossing over into the propoganda aspects of art. One of my gripes with some of the church today is that they say they embrace the arts/artists, but they really only mean in as much as they can add their skills to either the service or as an evangelistic/religious tool.

Joe Futral


Had a similar thought, as I recall, when I read it. But for some reason it didn't in the end come across that way to me. I'll have to think on it.

QUOTE(Denny Wayman)
I went to your website and found your sculptures fascinating. I think it is a helpful thing to try to portray character traits in any art form - but your freestyle of sculpting would be the most difficult - and in that way you keep the Pope's call to not empty the art from its "aura of mystery."


Thanks for looking at my stuff. You can see some more of it at www.MissionaryArts.com (artist Paul Nielsen). I actually feel as though most of what I've done lately, what is on my website and MArts.com, are only fledgling examples of what I described. Partly, I'm switching mediums (not necessarily by choice) from clay to wood (although always, still, "mixed media") and I'm also lacking some necessary tools to actually make what's in my head and sketchbook.

Ascension I may be the best example of where I'd like to go. But it's still a little bit too stiff, not organic enough, compared to where I'd like to go.


#6 techne

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 05:59 PM

but what's wrong with propaganda (information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause or Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation aimed at serving an agenda. At its root, the denotation of propaganda is 'to propagate (actively spread) a philosophy or point of view' or Any ...ext which seeks openly to persuade an audience of the validity of particular beliefs or whatever)? are we not trying to convince someone of a message?

what i have a problem with is the heavy-handed and simplistic and flat presentations of any message, including that of christ. then again, i think art's purpose is to communicate something. and this is to distinguish it from simply expressing (which is not the same thing) oneself, which is think is more therapy than art.

i once attended an arts in healthcare conference and one of the fascinating things was the very clear point (made repeatedly in a number of seminars) that art as therapy and the therapeutic effects of art were two very different things. in some ways i would say that the ideas of art as communication (or, better, communion a la eugene peterson) and art as self-expression are two very different things.

anyway, getting back to the original post, i'm still trying to figure out what What exactly does it look like when a work of art “empties itself of its transcendent value?” means...

it connects in some ways to another post by chashab on the sublime (transcendent?) in art. what does that mean? what may it contain/ involve? what will it address? what is its purpose?

Edited by techne, 05 August 2006 - 06:01 PM.


#7 Chashab

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 06:32 PM

QUOTE(techne @ Aug 5 2006, 05:59 PM) View Post

but what's wrong with propaganda (information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause or Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation aimed at serving an agenda. At its root, the denotation of propaganda is 'to propagate (actively spread) a philosophy or point of view' or Any ...ext which seeks openly to persuade an audience of the validity of particular beliefs or whatever)? are we not trying to convince someone of a message?


I think the concern is taking this to an extreme, and ending up with something that is just trying to be pious. Francis Schaeffer called this "reducing art to a tract," which is more or less what most Christians have done, at least in America.

Art has always had social and political implicationsa and agendas, although it doesn't have to have these to be art. Modern artists, aspiring to "art for art's sake" or some other self-centered, artist-is-genius ideal will probably scoff at the idea of intentionally making art as propoganda, only as propoganda. I don't agree with the above ideals, but if a person's intent is just to convey information to further a cause I'm not sure, off hand, if I like that idea either.

#8 Denny Wayman

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Posted 05 August 2006 - 11:54 PM

QUOTE(techne @ Aug 5 2006, 03:59 PM) View Post


anyway, getting back to the original post, i'm still trying to figure out what What exactly does it look like when a work of art “empties itself of its transcendent value?” means...

it connects in some ways to another post by chashab on the sublime (transcendent?) in art. what does that mean? what may it contain/ involve? what will it address? what is its purpose?


Yes, that is what caught my mind and why I posted this. It sounds so impressive but what does it mean?

If we reverse it we could say that art which is "full of descendent" values lowers us into a subhuman place - and art that is "transcendent" lifts us into a truly human place - image of God place - where we are better for having engaged the art.

But I know that many artists see art as the question and we have to bring our own answers to the experience. I disagree with that, similar to what Techne was saying. I think art can also pose answers. How it does that while keeping the mystery which invites participation is the "art-form."

Denny

#9 Chashab

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Posted 06 August 2006 - 08:47 AM

QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 5 2006, 11:54 PM) View Post

QUOTE(techne @ Aug 5 2006, 03:59 PM) View Post


anyway, getting back to the original post, i'm still trying to figure out what What exactly does it look like when a work of art “empties itself of its transcendent value?” means...

it connects in some ways to another post by chashab on the sublime (transcendent?) in art. what does that mean? what may it contain/ involve? what will it address? what is its purpose?


Yes, that is what caught my mind and why I posted this. It sounds so impressive but what does it mean?

If we reverse it we could say that art which is "full of descendent" values lowers us into a subhuman place - and art that is "transcendent" lifts us into a truly human place - image of God place - where we are better for having engaged the art.

But I know that many artists see art as the question and we have to bring our own answers to the experience. I disagree with that, similar to what Techne was saying. I think art can also pose answers. How it does that while keeping the mystery which invites participation is the "art-form."

Denny


Hmm, great thoughts. I'm on my way out the door for vacation, so I may or may not be able to reply in the next week.

I particularly like your second paragraph though Denny, the subhuman/truly human bit . . . have to think on that some more.


#10 jfutral

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Posted 07 August 2006 - 05:12 PM

QUOTE(techne @ Aug 5 2006, 06:59 PM) View Post

but what's wrong with propaganda (information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause or Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation aimed at serving an agenda. At its root, the denotation of propaganda is 'to propagate (actively spread) a philosophy or point of view' or Any ...ext which seeks openly to persuade an audience of the validity of particular beliefs or whatever)? are we not trying to convince someone of a message?

...

anyway, getting back to the original post, i'm still trying to figure out what What exactly does it look like when a work of art “empties itself of its transcendent value?” means...

it connects in some ways to another post by chashab on the sublime (transcendent?) in art. what does that mean? what may it contain/ involve? what will it address? what is its purpose?

Before you brush me or my post off too lightly, understand I think my question is very relevant. If one is only looking to create propaganda that communicates one thing, then that is not art that is transcendent. Kitsch is not transcendent. It is about one thing and one thing only. Art encumbered as a tool to communicate only one message or agenda, no matter how valuable that message, is not art. It may be artfully or skillfully done, but it ain't art.

As I think about it, this point is actually the counter to my concern. I think he is asking for art that does not simply provide a visual image to the scriptures. There is so much kitsch (or art that is expected and expecting to communicate only one message) in the Church, and culture at large, that subtexts and underlying ideas in art are not the standard. There is no requirement to think about what is being communicated because the picture tells it all. Sometimes the picture really is only worth one or two words.

Great art is always more than what it is. The Mona Lisa is more than a good portrait. Bach writes more than technically challenging music. The Sistene Chapel's art has more to it than simple visual aids to scripture. Kitsch, however, is exactly as it seems and no more. Even in acting, a kitschy performace hug is only a hug. A good actor and script conveys a subtext to the hug.

So as I think more about this point, I think the Pope is asking for more than propoganda. And I think he inviting the artist to help the church; not encumbering artists with requirements, but simply asking them to participate.

I do disagree that art's _purpose_ is to communicate. Can and does art communicate? Most often, yes. Is it required to? No. Great art certainly conveys something. But that was in another thread.

I have heard of this letter before and still want to read more of it. Any links to the full text?

Joe Futral

#11 jfutral

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 10:31 AM

QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 6 2006, 12:54 AM) View Post

QUOTE(techne @ Aug 5 2006, 03:59 PM) View Post

What exactly does it look like when a work of art “empties itself of its transcendent value?” means...


Yes, that is what caught my mind and why I posted this. It sounds so impressive but what does it mean?

Denny

I asked my wife about this, too. Very smart women, marriage to me not-withstanding. She thinks this is actually that elusive "it" that all artists to some degree struggle to achieve--capturing more than just a sunset, writing more than beautiful poetry, etc. She struggled a little bit with the wording, which does seem to connote a bit of self-awareness of the artwork. "Empties itself"?

Joe

#12 SDG

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 11:48 AM

Before going any further, link to the full text of JP2's Letter to Artists at the Vatican website.

I may be missing something, but it seems to me that a lot of discussion here has centered around a phrase that doesn't appear in the Letter, and seems to be based on a misunderstanding of his point. JP2 doesn't say anything about art "emptying itself of transcendent value," either as something it does not, cannot, or should not do.

Rather, he says that when art translates "the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God" (or rather "one or other facet of the message," since of course no work of art could capture the entire message) "into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen," this process does not "empt[y] the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery."

In other words, the Holy Father affirms the "unique capacity" of art to capture, reflect or communicate the transcendent value and aura of mystery of the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. His point is: When an artist translates some aspect of the world of the spirit into something concrete that you can see or hear or touch, this process doesn't automatically flatten it out into something banal or devoid of transcendence and msytery.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is not merely so much plaster and paint. Andrei Rublev's Trinity shows us more than three winged figures. Handel's Messiah is not merely a tour of certain Old and New Testament passages that happens to be sung instead of recited.

Art can open a doorway for the spirit, or at least a window, into the realm of mystery and the divine. Somehow, a particular arrangement of physical media or aural tones (or for that matter of projected imagery and/or synchronized sound) becomes more than so much sensory or noetic input, and invites us to precincts of awe and reverence, of holy fear and divine joy.

As for the Pope's comments about what art "must" do, note that these are preceded by the assertion that "The Church needs art" in order to "communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ." Thus, when he says "art must" do this and that, what he means is, this is what the Church needs art to do. He isn't saying this is the only thing that art can ever do, or that all art must do this.

He certainly doesn't reduce art to "propaganda," i.e., propose that art be used only for its persuasive value, or that all other considerations be subordinated to the need to propogate a particular meme or memeplex, as will easily be seen by reading the letter in full.

Edited by SDG, 10 August 2006 - 11:48 AM.


#13 jfutral

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 06:44 PM

QUOTE(SDG @ Aug 10 2006, 12:48 PM) View Post

Before going any further, link to the full text of JP2's Letter to Artists at the Vatican website.

Thanks SDG. That helps a lot. And thanks for the link. I have only just recently heard of the letter on another forum and had not had a chance to hunt it down. I look forward to reading more!

Joe

#14 Denny Wayman

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Posted 11 August 2006 - 12:37 AM

QUOTE(SDG @ Aug 10 2006, 09:48 AM) View Post


In other words, the Holy Father affirms the "unique capacity" of art to capture, reflect or communicate the transcendent value and aura of mystery of the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. His point is: When an artist translates some aspect of the world of the spirit into something concrete that you can see or hear or touch, this process doesn't automatically flatten it out into something banal or devoid of transcendence and msytery.


If you are right in interpretting his words this way - then I have far less interest in his statement. I am not an expert in Catholic thought as you are, but I have never read any assertion that art, by itself, automatically flattens the message of God and so the Pope has to counter that idea.

I think it is far better to interpret his words as a caution about using art to harm us rather than help us.

Denny

#15 SDG

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Posted 11 August 2006 - 07:16 AM

QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 11 2006, 01:37 AM) View Post
If you are right in interpretting his words this way - then I have far less interest in his statement. I am not an expert in Catholic thought as you are, but I have never read any assertion that art, by itself, automatically flattens the message of God and so the Pope has to counter that idea.
Really, Denny? You've never heard of anyone claiming that since no visual representation can capture the mystery of God it is better not to try to represent him at all? You've never heard of anyone arguing that we don't know what Jesus looked like anyway, and even if we did no painting or statue could represent his divinity as well as his humanity, so any such representation necessarily falsifies its subject? You've never heard of anyone viewing art solely or primarily in terms of what it tells us about the artist, or about the culture in which he lives and his relationship to it, rather than anything it could communicate to us about eternal mysteries or divine reality?

QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 11 2006, 01:37 AM) View Post
I think it is far better to interpret his words as a caution about using art to harm us rather than help us.
Well, that's certainly a valid subject, just not what he happens to be talking about here.

The Letter has a few words of caution -- the Pope notes that artists must "labour without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves," and warns, "What an impoverishment it would be for art to abandon the inexhaustible mine of the Gospel!"

But for the most part the Pope accentuates the positive in this letter. Whether or not that makes it less interesting to you, that's his approach, though I'd recommend reading the whole letter before concluding that it lacks interest.

Perhaps you would be more interested in a more systematic treatment like Inter Mirifica, aka Decree on the Media of Social Communications, which focuses on the media, including movies as well as the press, television and radio, and touches on questions of art, culture and morality.

Some excerpts:
The Church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men's entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God. The Church recognizes, too, that men can employ these media contrary to the plan of the Creator and to their own loss. Indeed, the Church experiences maternal grief at the harm all too often done to society by their evil use.
Regarding "the relationship between the rights, as they are called, of art and the norms of morality":
Since the mounting controversies in this area frequently take their rise from false teachings about ethics and esthetics, the Council proclaims that all must hold to the absolute primacy of the objective moral order, that is, this order by itself surpasses and fittingly coordinates all other spheres of human affairs -- the arts not excepted -- even though they be endowed with notable dignity.
...
Those who make use of the media of communications, especially the young, should take steps to accustom themselves to moderation and self-control in their regard. They should, moreover, endeavor to deepen their understanding of what they see, hear or read. They should discuss these matters with their teachers and experts, and learn to pass sound judgements on them. Parents should remember that they have a most serious duty to guard carefully lest shows, publications and other things of this sort, which may be morally harmful, enter their homes or affect their children under other circumstances.

The principal moral responsibility for the proper use of the media of social communication falls on newsmen, writers, actors, designers, producers, displayers, distributors, operators and sellers, as well as critic and all others who play any part in the production and transmission of mass presentations. It is quite evident what gravely important responsibilities they have in the present day when they are in a position to lead the human race to good or to evil by informing or arousing mankind.
...
The production and showing of films that have value as decent entertainment, humane culture or art, especially when they are designed for young people, ought to be encouraged and assured by every effective means. This can be done particularly by supporting and joining in projects and enterprises for the production and distribution of decent films, by encouraging worthwhile films through critical approval and awards, by patronizing or jointly sponsoring theaters operated by Catholic and responsible managers.
...
Finally, care must be taken to prepare literary, film, radio, television and other critics, who will be equipped with the best skills in their own crafts and trained and encouraged to render judgments which always put moral issues in their proper light.
FWIW, I've discussed some of these issues at length in this essay; and you will remember, Denny, that we tried to pursue some of these lines of thought in this ill-fated thread, in which, amid much chaff of my own and others' making, I still think is a good deal of wheat to be found (and FWIW, Denny, I really appreciated your participation on that thread).

Edited by SDG, 11 August 2006 - 07:19 AM.


#16 Denny Wayman

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Posted 12 August 2006 - 12:53 AM

QUOTE(SDG @ Aug 11 2006, 05:16 AM) View Post

Really, Denny? You've never heard of anyone claiming that since no visual representation can capture the mystery of God it is better not to try to represent him at all? You've never heard of anyone arguing that we don't know what Jesus looked like anyway, and even if we did no painting or statue could represent his divinity as well as his humanity, so any such representation necessarily falsifies its subject? You've never heard of anyone viewing art solely or primarily in terms of what it tells us about the artist, or about the culture in which he lives and his relationship to it, rather than anything it could communicate to us about eternal mysteries or divine reality?


I have to say that I have heard of that kind of thinking but have not taken it seriously, therefore give it little thought and missed the fact that this was the topic the Pope was interested in.


QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 11 2006, 01:37 AM) View Post
I think it is far better to interpret his words as a caution about using art to harm us rather than help us.

QUOTE
Well, that's certainly a valid subject, just not what he happens to be talking about here.


I appreciate your perspective and find the rest of your post far more interesting as you quote the council. I especially liked the last paragraph - and helps me understand where you got your website name.

Having said that, I still like the direction the conversation was going. So let's leave the Pope's purpose out of it.

When a work of art, and lets focus just on film, when a film nourishes the intuition and helps us transcend to a higher level of life - then it is in service to God and the church. When a film mocks or confuses the intution and helps us to descend to a lower level of life then it is in service not to God or the church but to d-evils of various forms. I think that is why and where the Christian film critic speaks.

Denny

Edited by Denny Wayman, 12 August 2006 - 12:55 AM.


#17 SDG

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Posted 12 August 2006 - 11:24 AM

QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 12 2006, 01:53 AM) View Post
I have to say that I have heard of that kind of thinking but have not taken it seriously, therefore give it little thought and missed the fact that this was the topic the Pope was interested in.
Well, FWIW, it's not like JP2 went on a major tangent against any particular line of thought. All he said was that art, and sacred art in particular, has the capacity for transcendence, or as I put it that physical media can become more than so much sensory input and can open a doorway for the spirit into the realm of mystery and the divine. That seems a point well worth attending to, even if there's no pressing need to rebut any particular denial of this point.

QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 12 2006, 01:53 AM) View Post
When a work of art, and lets focus just on film, when a film nourishes the intuition and helps us transcend to a higher level of life - then it is in service to God and the church. When a film mocks or confuses the intution and helps us to descend to a lower level of life then it is in service not to God or the church but to d-evils of various forms. I think that is why and where the Christian film critic speaks.
I agree wholeheartedly, with a caveat about what constitutes "higher" or "lower." These are terms that are used in various ways, and I think it's worth noting (not that you were suggesting otherwise, Denny) that not everything that is "higher" in any way whatsoever is automatically preferable to anything that is "lower" in any way whatsoever.

To quote from my first post in the earlier thread mentioned above:
It's easy to slap down a film like Constantine which bastardizes religious ideas in a loud, clumsy, stupid way -- but can we be similarly critical of a film that similarly perverts religious or moral ideas in a more aesthetically pleasing shape?

If a filmmaker eschews explosions, firearms, car chases, attractive women in tight clothing, and an over-the-top action-packed finale, focusing instead of nuanced character development and relationships, well-written dialogue, meticulously composed misc-en-scene, delicate homages to our favorite filmmakers, and so on, does that mean that that film does not offer a perspective of human nature or morality that is antithetical to true humanism, not to say the Gospel -- or even that it's somehow immune to criticism and disparagement along these lines?
In other words, a film can be artistically and philosophically "high" or "elevated" in some sense without necessarily lifting the soul toward God or truth -- in fact, it can do quite the opposite. Art of a creatively "high" order can nevertheless be decadent and hedonistic, or nihilistic and despairing, giving an aesthetically pleasing shape to an anti-humanistic perspective.

While I thoroughly reject the moralist approach to art, that approach which views art primarily through the lens of moral categories, I do believe that moral considerations can never be dispensed with, either in art or in any other area of human endeavor, and I believe that bringing moral and spiritual considerations to bear in watching and evaluating films is an important function of film criticism, one that critics who are Christians should undertake in the light of their Christian faith.

#18 Overstreet

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Posted 12 August 2006 - 11:52 AM

QUOTE
In other words, a film can be artistically and philosophically "high" or "elevated" in some sense without necessarily lifting the soul toward God or truth -- in fact, it can do quite the opposite. Art of a creatively "high" order can nevertheless be decadent and hedonistic, or nihilistic and despairing, giving an aesthetically pleasing shape to an anti-humanistic perspective.


And yet, by including the "aesthetically pleasing shape," the nihilistic or anarchic artist (an oxymoron, in my opinion) loads his work with contradictory arguments, and stacks the deck against himself, increasing the possiblity that beauty will do its own work. There are many films that have moved me toward a greater apprehension of grace and design, in spite of their juvenile or misleading "messages," merely by exhibition of glory that lifts my attentions to higher things.

For all of the attention given to chance and "the power of nature" and "Mother Nature" in Richard Attenborough's The Life of Birds series, the astonishing wonders and glory on display there inspire all kinds of questions about "intelligent design," and the beauty and majesty of the birds captured by Attenborough's cameras bolster my faith.

As C.S. Lewis wrote:

QUOTE
‘Creation’ as applied to human authorship seems to me to be an entirely misleading term. We re-arrange elements He has provided. And that is surely why our works never mean to others quite what we intended; because we are recombining elements made by Him and already containing His meanings. Because of those divine meanings in our materials it is impossible that we should ever know the whole meaning of our works and the meaning we never intended may be the best and truest one.


This gives works of aesthetic beauty and excellence an advantage over the "low" works, no matter what its agenda. It gives God room to argue contrarily to (or, ideally, in collaboration with) the artist.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet, 12 August 2006 - 11:55 AM.


#19 Denny Wayman

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Posted 12 August 2006 - 01:36 PM

I agree with both of your posts.

Steven, I especially liked:
QUOTE
If a filmmaker eschews explosions, firearms, car chases, attractive women in tight clothing, and an over-the-top action-packed finale, focusing instead of nuanced character development and relationships, well-written dialogue, meticulously composed misc-en-scene, delicate homages to our favorite filmmakers, and so on, does that mean that that film does not offer a perspective of human nature or morality that is antithetical to true humanism, not to say the Gospel -- or even that it's somehow immune to criticism and disparagement along these lines?


Let's bring it into a recent struggle we had with LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

It is a well-done film and has some excellent character development and humorous moments. We ended up giving it 3 stars - Thought Provoking. However, we struggled with whether to give it only 1 star - Empty. It was offensive, harmful and debasing of an innocent child. And yet it lifted the value of family and the emptiness of the various paths the family members were treading. But overall I think it was the quality of the filmmaking that caused us difficulty.

We struggled in the same way with AMERICAN BEAUTY. Well done film yet debasing as it centered on a middle-aged man's obsession on his daughter's cheerleading friend. (Something one well-known reviewer says every middle-aged man does - an admission that says far more about him than others).

The part that makes "Christian Criticism" so much more difficult is that we do infact bring concern for the human beings either fictionally portrayed or viewing these works of art. That is where I like the language of the Pope as he gives us a way to describe our task.

Denny

#20 jfutral

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Posted 12 August 2006 - 05:20 PM

QUOTE(SDG @ Aug 12 2006, 12:24 PM) View Post

QUOTE(Denny Wayman @ Aug 12 2006, 01:53 AM) View Post
When a work of art, and lets focus just on film, when a film nourishes the intuition and helps us transcend to a higher level of life - then it is in service to God and the church. When a film mocks or confuses the intution and helps us to descend to a lower level of life then it is in service not to God or the church but to d-evils of various forms. I think that is why and where the Christian film critic speaks.
I agree wholeheartedly, with a caveat about what constitutes "higher" or "lower." These are terms that are used in various ways, and I think it's worth noting (not that you were suggesting otherwise, Denny) that not everything that is "higher" in any way whatsoever is automatically preferable to anything that is "lower" in any way whatsoever.

I just want to know what one means here when speaking of "higher" or "lower" levels of life and how subjective can that become? Why would I want to "nourish the intuition"? (And why only focus on film?)

Joe Futral