Art as remembering.

In chapter one, Madeleine L'Engle bring up the idea of artists being charged with helping the human race "remember." She says,

In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.

In one of his dialogues, Plato talks of all learning as remembering. The chief job of the teacher is to help us to remember all that we have forgotten... One of the great sorrows which came to human beings when Adam and Eve left the Garden was the loss of memory, memory of all that God's children are meant to be.
We? Are the teachers. Those of us who create are teachers. Our specific work of art isn't the glorious thing iteself. But the feeling it invokes - joy, peace, comfort, whatever the emotion - for the briefest moment reminds the world of that which we forgot and will someday find again when we go to be with Christ. That idea is both intimidating and humbling. To know that as artists (no matter what the medium) we are blessed with an ability to see or experience something on earth and translate that into a glimpse of God. It's scary, because we may not, at times, feel like whatever we're creating is "Christian." But if it's good art, meaning it found that cosmos in some chaos, then it's serving God regardless of whether it's got His name stamped across it.

Madeleine mentions Plato's belief in the necessity for divine madness in the poet and says:

It is a frightening thing to open oneself to this strange and dark side of the divine; it means letting go our sane self-control, that control which gives us the illusion of safety. But safety is only an illusion, and letting it go is part of listening to the silence, and to the Spirit.
And it is. Like I talked about in my first post about the book at the beginning of all of this? My art became more real to me in my art classes but also made me wonder about such strong feelings and how they could possibly be "good" in a spiritual sense. After reading this book, I've realize that kind of thinking is totally putting God in a box labeled:

Nice.
Safe.
Nothing to be surprised or upset about.
God is not safe. We forget that God is all powerful and could crush the entire human race to dust if He felt like it. God created the universe and we want to pretend that once we get to know Him then we'll understand Him. It's not going to happen. So if you keep all of that in mind? How could Christian art be nice and safe? If Christian art gives us that tiny peek at a memory of God and what we lost when we got the boot out of Eden? Then it's got to be emotional and terrifyingly beautiful to reflect our God, who puts planets in orbit and brings the seasons one after the other and allows us, as humans, to exist even though we really really stink at it.

One of my favorite examples of "not cute" Christian art? Is out of the book A Wind in the Door. Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin meet a cherubim. It is a mass of wings and eyes and was intially mistaken for a drive of dragons by Charles Wallace. When they are told the being is a cherubim, the characters are taken aback:

"What!?"

"A cheribum"

Flame spurted skywards in indignation at the doubt in the atmosphere. Great wings raised and spread and the children were looked at by a great many eyes. When the wild thing spoke, it was not in vocal words, but directly into their minds.

"I suppose you think I ought to be a golden-haired babyface with no body and two useless little wings?"

Charles Wallace stared at the great creature. "It might be simpler if you were"...


"It is a constant amazement to me," the cherubim thought at them, "that so many earthling artists paint cherubim to resemble baby pigs."

Calvin made a sound which, if he had been less astonished, would have been a laugh. "But cherubim is plural."

The fire-spouting beast returned. "I am practically plural. The little boy thought I was a drive of dragons, didn't he? I am certainly not a cherub. I am a singular cherubim."

(Chapter 3, A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle)

I adore that. The cherubim wasn't cute. It wasn't even particularly nice (it was quite cranky, actually.) Who would possibly imagine that this is what a particular type of angel could look like? I love that it's not pretty. But it's good art.

Comments

Heather said…
Take the F-words out of Dogma and you've got some scary spirituality going on as well... At least lots of things to think about...

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