Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How does art help us perceive reality in the light of God?

From the book:
If you look at the Knippers’ Isaiah in the Temple (see right, cropped version), you see the nudity of body and the nudity of spirit expressed through the body.  Isaiah, encountering the spiritual world breaking through within the Temple, is unclothed, arms thrown in a position of charged energy and vulnerability, open to this inbreaking reality.  He is allowing himself to be impaled by a visibly invisible spirit’s coal of fire, pressed to his lips to purify him to speak God’s word.  Meanwhile, incense smoke—a symbol of prayer rising to God as well as sign of God’s presence among us[1]--floats gently in the foreground.  Knippers presents a wholly fleshy Isaiah, body expressing a posture of prayer and amazement before God.  The cubist-inspired ribbons of color and light are his language for the transformative spiritual realm “beyond the veil,” where our eyes (in this case literally) cannot rest and see the Divine: we sees fragments, pieces of a whole, and cannot quite put it together.[2]

John Paul II on Michelangelo and Edward Knippers note two things: that what we see is important, and the posture we take to what we see is critical.  The human artist can see, and help others see, reality in the light of God: as Knippers says:  “I have maintained over the years that art is not merely self-expression but an exploration of a reality greater than the Self. I have also maintained that the artist should be concerned about the most profound parts of that reality, not just play in the shallows.”[3]  John Paul is, if anything, more direct: “Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things, and their torment is to succeed in expressing the world of the ineffable. How then can we fail to see what a great source of inspiration is offered by that kind of homeland of the soul that is religion?”[4]  Artists, through sign and symbol, are able to help us interpret the deeper reality imbued in what we see.


Perception is the first move of participation in reality.  To that end, I want to address a very different form of perception by which we encounter the Holy Spirit: Ignatian prayer....

[p.s. great essays on Knippers' art and theology at Theology Forum, populated by Protestant friends in faith: http://theologyforum.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/art-incarnation-%C2%BB-artist-statement-by-edward-knippers/ ]

[1] For example, smoke as reaching to God, see Psalm 141: 2 “Let my prayer be incense before you”; smoke as presence: the smoke enveloping Mount Tabor signaling the presence of God in Exodus 19:18.
[2] A more philosophical take on this phenomenon—art that trends toward Cubism, an attempt to catch reality the moment it is seen, fractured and without form--see Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s seminal essay “Cezanne’s Doubt” in Sense and Non-Sense, trans. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Patricia Allen Dreyfus (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964).
[3] Edward Knippers, “On Art and Incarnation: on art and ‘not playing in the shallows’,” Theology Forum (blog), Nov. 7, 2008, http://theologyforum.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/edward-knippers-%C2%BB-art-incarnation-5-on-art-and-not-playing-in-the-shallows/ .

1 comment:

  1. You introduced me years ago to one of my favorite paintings... and this is amazing too. What a wonderful expression of the body and the truth we find in beauty, in art.