Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Artist, and the Ego...

Joe Carter, over at Evangelical Outpost, has a regular series titled The Gallery, in which he features
a different work by a Christian artist. The work will "hang" on my blog so that viewers may have an opportunity to reflect, comment, and discuss the work.
For July 9th he featured the work of photographer Krystyna Sanderson along with the following image: Now, I think that the image, in and of itself, is quite interesting. However, the title of the image is given as Who Do You Say I Am? For those unaware, this is a direct quote from Matthew 16:15 in which Jesus first asks his disciples, Who do people say that the Son of Man is? After telling Jesus that people are referring to him as either John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets, Jesus then asks them directly - But who do you say that I am? The response they give is a pivotal indication of the claim that Jesus has to his identity as the Messiah - the Christ - the Son of the Living God. And Jesus makes it clear to his disciples their knowledge of his identity did not come about through their own intuition, but was revealed to them by God. But, back to our image above. I was, quite frankly, a bit offended at the title of the image. The use of Jesus' words regarding his identity, in the context of a photographic portrait of another human being, seems to me to be inappropriate. Rather than leave a comment at Joe's blog, criticizing the work, I chose to leave a flippant remark, taking the question at a secular level only. I wrote, to answer the question, Who Do You Say I Am?
Santa Claus, in July, after being informed that his elves are two months behind schedule.
Afterwards, another person left a comment in which he indicated he was a bit taken aback by the title used. He said,
Why are the words of Christ which evoked Peter's confession "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God" used as the title of this photo of a querulous old man? It seems incongruous. Better to say nothing than think mistakenly that you've said something.
Venturing over to the artist's website, another commenter attempted an explanation at why the title was used. He said,
Look at the quote I took from Krystyna's gallery of photos on her website: I see each face I photograph as revealing the image of God in which we are all made. It's the old Christian idea that you never know where you'll find Jesus. Whenever you reach out to the least of your brothers in this world (or the greatest), you are reaching out to Jesus himself.
While I'll be the first to agree that God bestowed on the human race His Image - the Imago Dei - one should be very careful in ascribing finding Jesus in the physical features we interpret as a human face. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is not the least of my brothers that I help. The Image of God transcends a mere facial portrait. The essence of the soul, the spirit, and the body, intertwined with one another, created anew as God breathed the life into Adam - this essence - gives us value precisely because it is imparted by God. Grabbing a quote from Jesus regarding his identity to use as a portrait title is simply very bad theology. Yet there may something more going on here than just bad theology. Indeed, the whole idea of the artist having the duty, the obligation, or the need, to enlighten us non-artists seems to be extremely big-headed. I enjoy photography and I enjoy visiting other photo-blogs, but one of the things that truly irritates me is how obtuse work often gets passed off as high-minded art. Investigate some of the photo-blogs for yourself and you'll easily find an eclectic mix of depressing and self-indulgent art. And it certainly isn't limited to photography. Remember Christo's umbrellas? Or how about music? For a few years, back in the '80s, I listened to Bruce Cockburn mainly because every art-minded Christian I knew was recommending him. With but a few exceptions, I found his lyrics to be painfully incoherent (that is, when you could get around his liberal preaching). One thing that did seem clear, though, was his high view of the artist (or, his perception of the artist). Consider his song, Maybe the Poet, from the mid '80s,
Maybe the poet is gay But he'll be heard anyway Maybe the poet is drugged But he won't stay under the rug Maybe the voice of the spirit In which case you'd better hear it Maybe he's a woman Who can touch you where you're human Male female slave or free Peaceful or disorderly Maybe you and he will not agree But you need him to show you new ways to see
Visiting his website today, he doesn't seem to have changed much. How about Bono? Whoa, no way! Let's not even go there. Dylan? Nuh-uh. Well... there's T-Bone Burnett - another critically acclaimed, but virtually unknown, singer-songwriter who supposedly pushed the envelope to who knows where. Or how about his wife Sam Phillips who once said, in a local TV interview, that the inspiration for recent song of hers came after she had gotten lost in a local mall and couldn't find her way out. Oh yeah, no ego issues there. So... what's the whole point of this rant of mine? Why am I venting? To tell you the truth, I don't know. You see... I'm an artist, and you're only obligation is to listen to me.


Bonnie said...

LOL, OK, I'm listening ;-)

It's odd; Ms. Sanderson certainly isn't making her supposed point very clearly. She's capturing an expression, not merely depicting a face.

That whole artistic hubris thing is an interesting phenomenon, & one I've wondered about. There's a lot of glorification of being, um, out there (alternative dress & lifestyle, oftentimes liberal political views). Hmmm, there's some post material for somebody...any takers? :-)

RazorsKiss said...

I don't know about that T-Bone...

But I do know about a more popular T-Bone...

I can tell you why T-Bone is getting raves.

He's one of the fastest rappers there are - period.

His songs are a direct plea to inner-city kids to get out of gang life and into church.

They directly confront the topics of demons, spiritual life, and violence, and give a Christian response to them - with a kickin' beat, stacatto lyrical styling, as well as a really good ear for musical tastes in the 'hood.

He's a rapper's rapper - and he's an unabashed, in-your-face Christian. It's funny to listen to him, though - because he will tell you, in his songs, that he's as fast as fast can be - but, he will tell you, right after, that it isn't him - it's God, that let him rap so fast.

Sounded almost Chariots-of-Fire-ish. He's a real character, but he has a good heart.

Anyway - the "artistic" thing at Joe's isn't really my speed. I told him that, when he did his little questionaire, a while back. The art he's picking is atrocious, if you ask me. I really wondered about that post myself.

Lisa said...

T-Bone Burnett is responsible for the soundtracks of both "O Brother, Where art Thou" and "Cold Mountain" and the subsequent cds and tours.

Perhaps the gentleman's face is his expression after being asked "who do you say I am"? just a thought. I don't like fluff art, either :)