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"all art is either spiritual or decorative"


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#1 techne

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 02:46 PM

i recently renewed my membership with CIVA (i generally do so every 2 years so that I can be in their bi-annual artists' directory - hopefully that will one day lead to more connections to other artists of faith). as part of that purchase, i ordered the last few issues of their magazine, CIVA SEEN. in the introductory essay of issue vol IX.2, there is the following statement:

"all art is either spiritual or decorative"


personally, i love these kinds of absolute, polarizing statements. i love it when people actually take a position. that creates opportunity for discussion. then again, i think that the more one argues (and by argue, i mean "to make clear"; implying a process of reasoning), the more truth emerges. those kinds of statements position and place us, and force us to examine [exactly] where we stand on an issue, or what we think or believe about certain ideas. and what we don't.

naturally, i am interested in many of the concepts and tensions raised by this statement: ideas around art, faith and spirituality; the sublime; notions of Truth and Beauty; the fear of kitsch and use of the colloquial and commonplace; audiences and community; art's use and function; the connecting between creativity and spirituality. i think this statement circles around many of these ideas, and hints at the tension between communicating something and the way in which we do that, without saying one is more important than the other (though we might disagree). the more i think through this statement, the more i think it is touching on something quite substantially important regarding the content and purpose of art. do you agree with the above statement? why or why not?

(feel free to discuss it here or at my 'blog)

#2 jfutral

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 04:13 PM

"all art is either spiritual or decorative"


Not sure why "spiritual" and "decorative" are "or" positions.

Joe

#3 techne

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 04:25 PM

so do you think art can be spiritual and decorative? how would you define those terms, then? i think there is an implied "weight" for the 2 terms, but that both are valid.

i just find it an intriguing statement, and one that is interesting to unpack. revealing our assumptions about those functions and such.

#4 jfutral

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Posted 10 July 2010 - 10:03 PM

I guess I am just not sure how this statement is different from the whole sacred/secular idea.

If I consider "spiritual" as pertaining to or affecting the spirit, then decorative has an affect on the spirit, IMO. I just don't know how it can't.

Then there is the thought I have of where does decoration come from? Decoration is not spiritually neutral. The idea of decoration or how one "decorates" (or creates), to me, needs to come from one's spirit. And since I think that all art emanates from a spiritual C/creator, all art is spiritual.

Not that I was all that clear. But, I think you get what I mean. What does the article mean? Is this some sort of variation of art either serves a purpose, preferably the one pursuing a spiritual/supernatural experience, or it doesn't?

I mean, positioning "decorative" against "spiritual" makes "decorative" sound kind of pejorative.

Joe

#5 Holy Moly!

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Posted 11 July 2010 - 04:04 AM

My feeling is that "decorative" IS generally pejorative among serious contemporary artists.

#6 jfutral

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Posted 11 July 2010 - 09:33 AM

My feeling is that "decorative" IS generally pejorative among serious contemporary artists.


Ahh. So this is a variation on "fine art" vs "decorative art".

Joe

#7 techne

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Posted 12 July 2010 - 10:34 PM

okay - to provide some context, this statement is found in "sacred dimensions", an essay by barry krammes. it discusses sculpture and new ways of approaching sculpture, which includes material and conceptual aspects:

There is currently, among artists, a fascination with unorthodox materials and mundane found objects that are assembled, hybridized and fused together in quirky, often makeshift and temporary ways, resulting in conceptually charged sculptures, installations and performances that invite philosophical and spiritual readings.


he further discusses art as a natural bridge connecting the natural and spiritual worlds, metaphor, sacramental approaches to materials citing artists and critics such as lynn aldrich, adam wolpa and tyrus clutter (other artists in this issue include gedi sibony, conrad bakker, craig goodworth, theodore prescott and roger feldman). the context of the statement above is as follows:

Several years ago I remember an artist matter-of-factly stating, "All art is either spiritual or decorative." I'd like to think that he was right. I happen to believe that all great art or at least all good art is spiritual or sacramental in nature. Everything else is not much more than decorative chaff. Sometimes it's difficult to tell immediately but as the years pass, it gets easier to discern.


in looking at it again, there is a hierarchy established here. but isn't that okay? i don't think it's simply a rephrasing of the secular/ sacred or art/craft argument. but i think it's an interesting statement to unpack. perhaps what we need to do is to define terms. or at least define how we understand those terms. still, in engaging with the tension stated above, i do think there is a difference between art that is more nuanced or layered or engaged with experience (a whole-beinged one) and art that is about surfaces or aesthetics or [purely] formal concerns (and yes, i realize that's opening up a can of worms. i'll just wait here for the rothko acolytes). they're still both art. i mean, do we see "decorative" and think "facile" or "slight"? or "superficial"? or do we think of "Beauty" (and yes, it's capitalized to refer the the idea of Beauty)? do we see "spiritual" and think "religious"? do we think "abstract" or "vague"? do we think "redolent with meaning and import"? that would make a difference in how we interpret and engage with that statement. and i do think that the decorative as "chaff" is overstating things - was matisse's statement that

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue


a statement about the spiritual aspects/ effects of his work or its decorative elements? i'm okay with privileging one term over another, as long as it's clear what one means...

in any case, thanks for helping me refine what it is i'm actually interested in exploring and discussing....

#8 techne

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 01:49 AM

i've never been to a CIVA conference.i would like to one day. i'll probably need to apply for a grant first. i'm not totally sold on CIVA (still). i know a couple of people who are part of CIVA but i knew them before that as artists first. i have yet to experience anything particularly "communal" from it. maybe because i'm in canada rather than the states. far fewer members here. then again, i know a fair number of christian artists (including musicians, writers, dancers) and none of them are part of CIVA. one is part of IAM, i think.

anyway, i too think we should just get on with making and being convinced of what we're doing, without having to justify it through a theological grid. then again, the magazine creates its own context, don't it? as does CIVA. i have always hoped they would develop forums where members could post work, get critiques, or get advice about practical issues from exhibiting to materials.

the latest issues have a lot more imagery (though not mine). ;)

After looking at this again, I have to say that I don't buy it:

Several years ago I remember an artist matter-of-factly stating, "All art is either spiritual or decorative." I'd like to think that he was right. I happen to believe that all great art or at least all good art is spiritual or sacramental in nature. Everything else is not much more than decorative chaff. Sometimes it's difficult to tell immediately but as the years pass, it gets easier to discern.



i really don't like "Everything else is not much more than decorative chaff."

i agree. wholeheartedly. but then i think it's supposed to be a bit heavy-handed. and i also don't agree that time will reveal/ help us discern what is spiritual and what is chaff, err, decorative. i thought we were going for essentials here... ;)

#9 jfutral

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 08:46 AM

As a means of validation or justification, it still strikes me as a variation of secular/sacred, art/craft. It is an attempt to frame some work more important than others, especially the work of the artist doing the talking. Trying to show why his work is more important because it is spiritual and not "decorative chaff". Or as I heard one person put it, "work of eternal value". He meant that in a religious sense, not in the sense that he wanted his work to affect others long after he passed.

Christian artists have long had to contend with the need for this. We were told for a long time that to be a Christian and to make art means we must make "Christian art". Literal is better. Etc., etc. We, here, have all seen it and been affected by it, I am sure. In that sense he is still trying to position his work in that kind of framework.

I watched the movie _Painters on painting_ the other day. Got to hear Jasper Johns, de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Stella, and a few others talk. First time through I thought, either these guys have thought too long about this stuff or they are blithering idiots making it up as they go. Second time through, I actually understood what they were saying. (Like I've said before, I'm slow).

One interesting thought was when Frank Stella essentially (Futral's paraphrase) said that the abstract expressionists gave him a newer point of reference. His work didn't have didn't have to go back to Matisse or the impressionists to stand up against. His work could stand up against Pollock and Rothko. Stella was one of the more lucid speakers, in that I understood what he was saying the first time through! :-)

Krammes is trying to create an ideal to stand up against instead of a movement of artists, his own universal truth. Not that the movement of artists weren't creating or expressing their own ideal. Only that I think he is doing the same thing just not referencing a movement.

Ultimately, it is still the work that must stand. I've not seen his work, so I don't know how well it stands, much less within his ideal.

I just don't agree that decorative is somehow exclusive of/inferior to spiritual. I also don't agree that time is the great divider. Why shouldn't a work of art have relevance primarily to its own time? Why does it have to transcend a point in time to show importance? Some things really are important now.

And if you have read my stuff before, I have been questioning my own thoughts on Art vs art.

Joe

#10 techne

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 09:13 AM

does it make a difference if those terms - spiritual and decorative - are presented as qualitative rather than oppositional?

#11 jfutral

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 10:08 AM

does it make a difference if those terms - spiritual and decorative - are presented as qualitative rather than oppositional?


If one used a word other than "spiritual" and outside the context of the article, possibly. When the writer says "decorative chaff" that's not simply descriptive. That's a statement of worth, that some works of art are worth existing and other are not, and this judgement is universally true.

As I said, I believe all creativity is spiritual in nature. So that needs to be reworded or defined. If we want to say in this discussion that we mean "decorative" is a work by someone not making any attempt in creation or use of art to do more than make something pleasant to put over the couch and "spiritual" is attempting to address some turmoil, universal, perception, or otherwise be more than it is. Ok.

That's the question artists have been asking and trying to answer for a long time. Why does Van Gogh's painting of sunflowers affect one differently or more so than other artists' painting of sunflowers?

Why does one note follow another?

An additional difficulty is that there is never just the creator of the art, and never just the work. There is also the viewer/listener. Art is never a solo endeavor.

Joe

#12 techne

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 11:11 AM


does it make a difference if those terms - spiritual and decorative - are presented as qualitative rather than oppositional?

If one used a word other than "spiritual" and outside the context of the article, possibly. When the writer says "decorative chaff" that's not simply descriptive. That's a statement of worth, that some works of art are worth existing and other are not, and this judgement is universally true.

yeah -- that's why i initially pulled that statement out of context. i wanted to think about that relationship/ tension without that second statement (i.e. the "chaff").

#13 jfutral

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 12:36 PM

yeah -- that's why i initially pulled that statement out of context. i wanted to think about that relationship/ tension without that second statement (i.e. the "chaff").


It might be better to ask what does it mean for a work to be spiritual or decorative? "Or" pretty much makes it oppositional right out of the box.

As I said, I think all art/creativity is spiritual. Some works explore more weighty ideas than others, but decorative is just as valid and necessary than more existential concerns.

Even then, is there really such a thing as only decorative? How one decorates is as reflective of the person as anything else. Even _if_ one decorates says something.

If you think of these ideas on a line graph, how far from decorative can you get before it is really no longer "only" decorative?

A perspective from a performance POV. "So you think you can dance" is really kind of only two dimensional. They judge on technique and the immediate emotional FX, usually trying to hit a more sentimental emotion than a contemplative emotional process. Similar with Best dance crew.

The dance arts community is pretty well divided, there doesn't seem to be middle ground on our reception of these shows. I happen not to mind them. They have created a relevance to the community the arts have forsaken. As I've said elsewhere, I think the problem of support for the arts today is as much artist created as not.

Plus I don't find those shows at all pretentious. They are not trying to be something they aren't. This is quite unlike many Artists. The dancers and choreographers on those shows know what they are there to do and that is what they focus on doing. Many Artists think they are doing something profound, when more often than not they are only confounding.

Krammes comment is more a reflection on what he thinks he should be doing. The question he needs to be asked is, is he actually doing it? And why does he feel everyone else should be doing it, too, such that if they aren't it is just chaff?

Joe

Edited by jfutral, 13 July 2010 - 12:37 PM.


#14 techne

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 01:11 PM

and this is why it would be great if CIVA had a 'blog or forums...

#15 M. Leary

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 03:17 PM

How are these typical western or Christian questions about spirituality and art affected by how little we experience near-east, Hindu, and Asian art? Whether it is the craft/fine art question or the spirituality and art question, I wonder whether we may be a little myopic or not.

When I first clicked on this thread and read the guiding question, the first image that leaped to mind was that of the typical Muslim holy place, which will be covered in highly stylized, decorative patterns of Qur'an texts. Very spiritual, also indisputably decorative. These same kinds of seamless arrangements between art and religious practice appear in a lot of Hindu religions, even in Shinto. In the latter we have things like god shelves becoming the central spiritual component of the home, but also the component of the home in which families invest their money in valuable works of art.

In many of these cultures, the line between monk and artist, craftsman and artist, devotee and artist are completely indistinguishable. It is really in our post-Enlightenment context, that thrives on distinctions between religion and everything else, that these questions can be asked. I wish organizations like CIVA would spend more time talking about how to shift Church culture away from these enlightenment delusions rather than trying to respond to them on their own terms.

Edited by M. Leary, 13 July 2010 - 03:38 PM.


#16 jfutral

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 04:14 PM

In many of these cultures, the line between monk and artist, craftsman and artist, devotee and artist are completely indistinguishable. It is really in our post-Enlightenment context, that thrives on distinctions between religion and everything else, that these questions can be asked. I wish organizations like CIVA would spend more time talking about how to shift Church culture away from these enlightenment delusions rather than trying to respond to them on their own terms.


I also thought of the influence of (and what influenced them) Modern architecture and the whole elimination of "ornamentation", form following function mentality. Gehry, Lautner, and their ilk from the So Cal peeps were big about that thinking.

The only obstacle might be how many people in the church, or even CIVA, think this is an area in need of examination?

Joe

#17 techne

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 07:15 PM

In many of these cultures, the line between monk and artist, craftsman and artist, devotee and artist are completely indistinguishable. It is really in our post-Enlightenment context, that thrives on distinctions between religion and everything else, that these questions can be asked. I wish organizations like CIVA would spend more time talking about how to shift Church culture away from these enlightenment delusions rather than trying to respond to them on their own terms.

have you read the art instinct: beauty, pleasure and human evolution by denis dutton? in it, he does a pretty good job of debunking that myth. to grossly simplify (since i read it recently, but have yet to acquire my own copy to scribble in), his point is that in every culture, there are objects that are considered to be "art objects" because they are created by superior skilled artists. there are always examples that are, in fact, considered to be art precisely because of the degree of accomplishment/ skill involved in their making. it's a very interesting book in how it interrogates the idea of art, though particularly in western culture...

I also thought of the influence of (and what influenced them) Modern architecture and the whole elimination of "ornamentation", form following function mentality. Gehry, Lautner, and their ilk from the So Cal peeps were big about that thinking.

but didn't postmodernism as an architectural idiom embrace "decoration" and surfaces?

#18 jfutral

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Posted 13 July 2010 - 09:21 PM


I also thought of the influence of (and what influenced them) Modern architecture and the whole elimination of "ornamentation", form following function mentality. Gehry, Lautner, and their ilk from the So Cal peeps were big about that thinking.

but didn't postmodernism as an architectural idiom embrace "decoration" and surfaces?

Well, yeah, exactly. The postmodern movement was (at least partially if not primarily) and attempt to counter that Modern thinking of function being more important than form, thus ornamentation/decoration is superfluous and an unworthy pursuit. The postmodern movement made Julius Shulman almost give up photographing architecture. At least that what he says.

Joe

#19 jfutral

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 08:20 AM


In many of these cultures, the line between monk and artist, craftsman and artist, devotee and artist are completely indistinguishable. It is really in our post-Enlightenment context, that thrives on distinctions between religion and everything else, that these questions can be asked. I wish organizations like CIVA would spend more time talking about how to shift Church culture away from these enlightenment delusions rather than trying to respond to them on their own terms.

have you read the art instinct: beauty, pleasure and human evolution by denis dutton? in it, he does a pretty good job of debunking that myth. to grossly simplify (since i read it recently, but have yet to acquire my own copy to scribble in), his point is that in every culture, there are objects that are considered to be "art objects" because they are created by superior skilled artists. there are always examples that are, in fact, considered to be art precisely because of the degree of accomplishment/ skill involved in their making. it's a very interesting book in how it interrogates the idea of art, though particularly in western culture...

Putting aside that Dutton's conclusions are still arguable, what myth is it that you think he debunked?

As for Dutton's work, I haven't read the book, though it does sound interesting and has made it to my list of "to read", I did find his comment on his blog about a review of his book to miss the point:

"In an example cited by Gould," McCarter writes, "the really pressing question isn't what makes composers compose, it's what made Handel a composing genius; not why people listen to orchestral music, but what complex bundle of reasons makes an individual listener (Gould himself) swoon over Handel's Old Testament oratorios."

Think about that one. What makes composers compose is not a pressing question. Why people listen to orchestral music isn't important. What matters most is why Gould himself loved Handel's oratorios! I knew the professoriate took themselves seriously at Harvard, but this is over the top.


I think McCarter and Gould are exactly right. That is the pressing question, at least for the aspiring artist and art critic. As I asked before why does Van Gogh's sunflowers seem to inspire more so than a painting of sunflowers found over a bed at a hotel? Why Mozart over Salieri? What is the intangible (or maybe non-intangible if one believes it is pure skill and technique) in the great works that have made them great, important, and timeless? Not "why art" in general, but more precisely "why THIS art"? I think this is the question Krammes is seeking to answer (and thinks he has) with his comment.

I suppose the argument could be made that if one answered Dutton's question it would lead to answer the other. But even Dutton seems to believe his answer falls short of completely addressing "why art?" Propagation as the answer only carried him so far in his quest. I am only aware of what he has written on his blog, not his book, so I could be wrong.

Joe

#20 M. Leary

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Posted 14 July 2010 - 08:34 AM

The only obstacle might be how many people in the church, or even CIVA, think this is an area in need of examination?


That is a good question. The evangelical and mainline US church has been actively interrogating modernist modes of thought in sociology, philosophy of religion, and ethics for a while now. I rarely see that same energy applied to the fine arts, and more specifically, the practice of the fine arts. We have seemed largely happy with Schaeffer's Escape From Reason take on what happened in abstract expressionism, but I have never found that very satisfying.

have you read the art instinct: beauty, pleasure and human evolution by denis dutton? in it, he does a pretty good job of debunking that myth. to grossly simplify (since i read it recently, but have yet to acquire my own copy to scribble in), his point is that in every culture, there are objects that are considered to be "art objects" because they are created by superior skilled artists. there are always examples that are, in fact, considered to be art precisely because of the degree of accomplishment/ skill involved in their making. it's a very interesting book in how it interrogates the idea of art, though particularly in western culture...


I am not sure which myth you are referring to, but I don't agree that he has debunked the idea that religious devotion generates art that is often marked by an excellence in craft in which we see this decoration/fine arts distinction dissolve. I am not the biggest fan of that book. It disregards the self-authentication process that marks the religious artist or craftsperson. Though I am more a fan of craft in art than I am concept in art, I don't like the way he has reduced art to a craft system which creates symbols that satiate a complex of psychological desires that are a side effect of evolutionary biology.