Sunday, February 20, 2011

Art and Aesthetics

I could write an explanation of why I haven't posted since October, and give witty accounts of my life during the large span, but I won't.

I was in Mass this morning, being Sunday not such a surprise.  I was in Indianapolis--surprise!

The Church of St. John the Evangelist was incredibly beautiful.  Right downtown, a block from Lucas Oil Stadium where someone named "Peyton" apparently lives.  The Church has the distinction in my experience of being a rarity indeed: it's very old, although I'm not sure how old.  That's not what makes it rare to me though, but rather the fact that it appears much the same as it probably did 60 years ago.  What's this?  Side altars?  High altars still in place? An altar rail?  Original stained glass?  Yes to all!

This post is about art, and aesthetics, and beauty, and this morning.  These all collided at approximately 10:30am Eastern Standard Time in that old Indianapolis Church.

As I was kneeling in prayer, thanking and praising Our God for His gifts to me, for the Interview Weekend I was blessed to attend, and for the beautiful surroundings etc. I was struck to hear the Organ begin playing.  It was choir practice!  This is the type of Church where the choir is suspended above the back of the Church in a balcony--and it's awesome to hear!  I know there are microphones and such, but these places were designed not to need microphones--there's just something about hearing the human voice in a setting like that from behind me that gets me every time.

As I was praying and listening to the choir sing something that sounded like a mix of Gregorian Chant, Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, I was struck by truth.  There was some truth in what those notes and words were conveying, even though I couldn't understand what they were singing.  I'm sure it was English, I just wasn't paying attention because it was hard to make out.  I think the fact that I was struck by the words and the music even though I was just letting it wash over me is significant.

Right about that time, I looked up towards the sanctuary, and noticed one of the lectors going over his assigned reading at the lectern.

He was a man probably in his 60s, in a tidy suit, but not flashy.  He had deep set eyes, wrinkles, and short white hair around the crown of his head--not in the middle.  He was standing behind the lectern, staring down at the pages of the Scripture--a simple lamp illuminating the pages and him.  The look on his face was absolutely serene.  I don't how else to describe it.  At that moment, I wished I could capture it, paint it, take a picture, something!!  Even writing this seems hollow to me.  And it taught me something about art.

I've never really though about art--REALLY thought about it.  I still don't know anything about it, but I think I got closer to what the artist feels.  To capture the truth of that moment, and communicate it to someone else.  To invite the viewer to contemplate the truth expressed in the medium.  Isn't that was art does?  If so, I really like it.  If so, a lot of things I thought were art don't make the cut.

Art invites us to contemplate the truth being expressed through the painting, music, written word, whatever.  I think this is what people feel about sunsets, and sunrises; about newborn babies and such.  I think God's an artist.  I think the lot of us are pretty terrible artists, but a few of us--chosen few--have a gift, and I envy them as much as I can without getting into trouble.

I think about that man, and what that scene made me think about.  I don't know what I'd ever say to him if I met him.  I don't think I need to say anything?  That scene will never be repeated again, and even if it were, it would not do the same thing to me twice.  And that's interesting, I think.  It's like the first time you heard your favorite song--you can never again repeat that experience.  As soon as you listened to it again, the original feeling was already beginning to fade.

C.S. Lewis and many others said that this is not an accident, but is a clue that is intended to make us ask the question: why can't I hold onto that experience long-term?  His answer: because we are not made for this world and it's pleasures--but for a greater world and far greater joy than we can even imagine to imagine.  They are given to make us thirst, and thirsting realize that we will never be quenched--lest we think heaven is here.  We are given these experiences to thirst for the living God.

This post was for Kyle Sanders--thanks for encouraging me!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

explanatory notes

figure A.

Why start a blog?

I figure that's a good question to begin this endeavor with, and so I've titled this post "explanatory notes."

Why blog?  Why this one in particular?  Well, I have just a few reasons, and all of them are selfish.  Firstly, I wanted an excuse to write.  Secondly, I wanted an excuse to be eccentric and "creative."  Thirdly, I wondered what people might think about all of this.

Really, the decision to blog came out of the title...rather, the title came first, then the blog.  I figured with a title as good as "Shadows on the wall" I'd need to have a blog to go with it--it just seemed too promising.

Admittedly, from the start, I expect to update this thing sporadically at best--I also expect most of what I say to be rubbish, and therefore I have chosen "shadows on the wall" as the blog title as an allusion to Plato's allegory of the cave from book 7 of The Republic.   In the allegory, Plato attempts to explain his view of the world and reality.  People in this world, he writes, are like people sitting inside a dimly light cave--they are chained to a wall, and have never seen the outside world for themselves (See figure A. above, in which the family staring at the Television eerily fit the description of the ignorant people inside the cave...however, so called "reality TV" is a topic for another time.)  There is, behind them of course, a fire which casts a light on the wall in front of them.  In front of this fire, and yet still behind the simple folks happily chained, are people with various items atop poles.  These people carry the objects across the front of the fire, and so the shadows of the objects appear on the wall in front of the clueless men and women in chains.  These shadows, they take fore reality--only because they've never seen the outside world.  They've been deceived, all of them--but they don't know it.

My reason for the title of the blog is more of a judgement on my part, that what I write will probably be more like shadows on the wall of the cave, rather than true reality.  It's more of a disclaimer--I don't pretend to know everything--or much of anything.  But, having said that, I do not ascribe to a philosophy that claims nothing is knowable.  I do trust in the reliability of Him who cannot lie, and His revelation--He, who is Reality Himself.

I personally look forward to posting often here, and I am encouraged or at least flattered that you would take the time to read what it is I write.  I find that it helps me to read my writing in a Tony Blair style British accent.

For the kingdom,