Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Feast For The Eyes

Despite centuries of philosophical quarrels, human beings continue to depict religious events. Some may argue that the current state of religious art is less impressive than past centuries, but the human tendency to express religious sentiments through the medium of art is by no means dead.

We read an interesting book about the history of iconoclasm during graduate school called "The Forbidden Image," by Alain Besancon. I have to say that despite the hours of informative lectures and fascinating anectodal stories, I was always a bit frustrated with all the debates and arguments both for and against the religious image. To me, it seems quite simple: human beings depict divinity because they are moved to express the things they love and fear...the things that make them tremble, whether in joy or terror. This is as evident in the history of art as it is in the three-year-old drawing castles and rattlesnakes.

Human beings create artworks when they are inspired by what draws them out of themselves. This may be something as simple as the way the light strikes a building, or the symmetry of a geometrical figure. It may be as majestic and terrible as the Crucifixion or a storm at sea. The object of art must somehow cut into the soul of the artist, must interfere and interrupt his thought in order to set the work in motion. In many cases, the object of art is in fact not an object at all, but an event in human history that strikes us as somehow important or monumental, penetrating through the currents of history and saturating the present.

Of course, I know the matter isn't as simple as all this, but just for a moment let's pretend that it is. Today we complete the month of May by remembering two monumental events in the life of the Blessed Mother: the Visitation (on the new calendar) and the Queenship of Mary (old calendar). Both these feasts beg for visualization and artistic expression, as is demonstrated by the endless art gallery that is history:

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