Monday, July 9, 2012

Two more thoughts about beauty and cultural resistance...(recently amplified later in the day)

As a part of my ever-evolving exploration of the importance of beauty as a form of cultural resistance, I was taken by how stunned Van Gogh was with the use of color.  Coming from his dark Flemish roots - and I mean dark artistically and theologically - the transition is remarkable.  To be sure, his own mania for creativity was out of control by the end, but so was his willingness to embrace the fullness of God's beauty in the colors of his palate.  Sun-drenched yellows, burnt oranges and wild hues of blue and violet saturate his later work in a way that invites us to be equally bold in our creativity.

Mako Fujimura calls this being generative - embracing the Genesis 1 story as our own and living into the creation of beauty - not as a hobby or add-on to existence, but as its core. In my world, this speaks to the visual art of worship including the poetry, movement, music, visual art as well as the taste of our Eucharistic bread and wine.  I remember back in seminary never once having a class on what is called "liturgics" - the art and movement of worship - and I wondered why.  Now, of course, I know:  those in the Reformed tradition are addicted to the mind and terrified of incarnation.  Small wonder so many of our folk find that they love the smells and bells and sounds of Taize worship...

In this case, beauty serves as an invitation into the liberating and creative grace of God.  It serves no obvious function.  Like Sabbath itself, it is not "useful" for it wastes our time.  And in this the beauty becomes a gentle form of cultural resistance against the bottom-line obsession of our market driven culture.

Another way beauty becomes a form of cultural resistance is when the people of the church - the laity or whole people of God - start creating the music, liturgy, poetry and visual art of worship.  When God's people are encouraged - and trained - to "do" worship - both the formal but also the creative aspects, too - then beauty has once again helped people find a voice and sense of power in a realm that all too often renders us anonymous.  I think, for example, of my worship ministry team creating "Fifth Sunday" liturgies or an ad hoc collection of artists transforming a hall into a Good Friday garden of shadows or even some of our youth learning to play instruments and sharing their gifts during Christmas Eve worship.

These are small acts.  In many ways, they will not be noticed by many.  And yet, whenever beauty empowers us to live in a generative way I believe something of God's kingdom is not only revealed but experienced.  We came across this exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa called:  The Forty Part Motet.
The artist, Janet Cardiff, describes her transcendent and embodied creation like this:  set in a "chapel" the 40 voices used in Thomas Tallis' "Spem in Alium (1573) were recorded separately and then played back through forty speakers strategically placed throughout the space. Comments by the artist: "While listening to a concert you are normally seated in front of the choir, in traditional audience position. With this piece I want the audience to be able to experience a piece of music from the viewpoint of the singers. Every performer hears a unique mix of the piece of music. Enabling the audience to move throughout the space allows them to be intimately connected with the voices. It also reveals the piece of music as a changing construct. As well I am interested in how sound may physically construct a space in a sculptural way and how a viewer may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space. I placed the speakers around the room in an oval so that the listener would be able to really feel the sculptural construction of the piece by Tallis. You can hear the sound move from one choir to another, jumping back and forth, echoing each other and then experience the overwhelming feeling as the sound waves hit you when all of the singers are singing. Pure grace, pure joy, pure beauty as a gentle but transforming encounter with authentic cultural resistance.

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