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July 28, 2009



Since I don't have time to read all of the 41 comments on Mark's blog I'm posting here.

I still hold that non-representational art has value and has value in every setting (although I must admit that I don't think about "religious art" all that often in such a specific sense). God created ex nihilo. At the time of creation everything could have looked non-rep or abstract. For us to use our imaginations — in ways both abstract and representational — and create in a similar vein is simply to act as we are created in His image IMO.

Further, things that are beautiful simply to beautify have value (see decoration for the tabernacle/temple, or so much of creation for that matter), and to say these things can't be abstractions or even non-rep is, it seems to me pretentious in the same way that artists — some on purpose and many inadvertently — make viewers feel stupid.

That said, I'm not all that fond of the window Mark points out, and laughed at the comment likening the design to that of a program the person wrote on a Commodore 64. While abstraction and non-representation are valid, they can betray an artist's craft. There is good reason people, educated as a viewer or not, decry so much modernism as work their children could do without any training.

Tim J.

"I still hold that non-representational art has value "

So do I, but as you alluded to, not all non-rep art is equal. Context means a lot. I'm edging toward thinking that non-rep art functions decoratively (which is a great thing), but not well at all as stand alone artwork.

You are getting close to some other thoughts I've had when you say;

"God created ex nihilo. At the time of creation everything could have looked non-rep or abstract. For us to use our imaginations... and create in a similar vein is simply to act as we are created in His image IMO."

I think the desire to create as God creates - ex nihilo - may be behind a lot of the push toward non-rep art, but I also believe it is impossible and may even reveal (in some cases) an unhealthy desire to supplant God in his proper place as the Uncaused Cause.

We can only, ever be sub-creators.

I also think that when we try to create beauty in the same way God does, we inevitably fall flat. All things being equal, the mere echo of the beauty of God's creation (like in a landscape painting, say) will be more potent than our best attempts at "original" beauty.


Tim J.,

You do realize that God is a Perfect being and, thus, creates ex nihilo to the very point of giving form to something that once didn't possess such.

For man, in his utter finitude as well as imperfect nature, to simulate anything of the sort most especially in the unique endeavour of religious art is just plain hilarious.

I'd recommend you read Etienne Gilson.

Do you really believe that anything looking like a pile of dung could actually raise one's thoughts to God?

I'll leave that answer to you.

You, of all people, know better.

Tim J.


Did you just miss everything I said?

John Kasaian

Art, when seen after the passage of History, I think becomes the "signature" of a society.
Architecture crumbles.
Literature goes unread.
Music falls out of style.
Philosophies get vilified.
But Art gets preserved.
The "signature" our society will leave depends on what Art we will value and preserve (hey I wrote this on my first cup of coffee!)
The stained glass windows say to me: "Color" and nothing else. It is sort of like a really colorful photograph of nothing in particular compared to a b&w portrait of an elderly face. The blitz of color impresses, then fades for lack of substance while the b&w portrait might initially repulse (since youth is deified these days) but ultimately says more through each wrinkle, scar, and hair.


Also confused by e.'s post, as well as John's. And, Tim, I agree with you for the most part as we've already had this discussion; guess in my literally ill mood yesterday I felt the need to expound once again.

John, arch, lit and music are all arts as well, aren't they? And lit and arch have a very long history of being preserved when able, and music more and more so as time goes on. Further, I think whether a splash of color, devoid of any recognizable content as it were, does or doesn't hold a worshipper's attention is quite subjective. The small church I attended in high school had a very plain half-round above the pulpit, clear glass with just sky and some branches in view. Yet my eyes were regularly drawn to it, thinking of Creation, comparing the play of light pouring through the mullions, watching raindrops drizzle down to the trim.

And e.: Yes, perfect God created ex nihilo, yes man is definitely finite, but where did dung come into the equation? I assume it's a reference to the Sensation Exhibit in the 90s? And the image of Mary splattered with elephant dung? Thus from your comment we're to deduce that every painting or sculpture that depicts a Biblical character is "religious art?" I"m not saying I have a better way to define the phrase (see my first comment), but that pov seems a bit unconsidered to me.

Tim J.

It occurred to me as I lay in bed this morning that architecture is non-representational art.

The patterns of illuminated manuscripts are non-representational art.

The design on a Navajo blanket is non-representational art.

Non-representational art can be a wonderful thing, but we moderns do talk sometimes as if we invented it.


Indeed we do, and that's not remotely the case. Again, see my first comment and the reference to the tabernacle (which may technically be abstraction but still . . . ). I've heard Mako talk about how much of nihonga from centuries ago was also very abstract or non-rep. Asian woodcuts as well . . .

The Masked Chicken

The problem has nothing to do, per se, with non-representational art. It has to do with the questions of how does art represent something TO MAN. If it fails at that, it fails at art. The problem with most of the arts, today, is that they want to pretend that art is independent of man. The problem is not non-representational art, but inhuman art. I mean that, literally. The human brain has certain perceptual mechanisms and certain ranges of processing that allow it to recognize its own experiences in a work of art. We now know that motor neurons in the brain will fire, mimicking the actions of those we observe. Music, likewise, has the ability to cause the brain to respond as if it were a three-dimensional visual phenomenon. Since at least the Greek period, composers have talked about the rise and fall of melody lines and about tone colors.

Modern arts (plural) have become so full of pride in themselves that they have decided that they can even ignore their own personhood, as if the theory behind the art were all that needed to understood. Unfortunately, if the theory deliberately removes humanity from the equation, then the art will seem cold, inhuman, and very much pinned to the present.

Someday, I might get around to writing an article that tracks this trend though history, but it goes hand-in-hand with the progression of the Enlightenment that first abandoned the Divine and then reduced man to mere animal status. One does not make art for the pleasure of an animal and so, man was removed from the equation and a type of sterile, inhuman mathematics (in some cases, literally) was substituted.

Trivial art may not make the mind soar, but it usually does not blind the mind, only quickly bore it. Some modern art, literally, blinds the mind's perception and causes the art to be perceived as disconnected from anything within its experience. Such art becomes unable to be related to.

This, I contend is the problem in modern art, not its non-representational aspects, but its non-relatable aspects.

The Chicken


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