Caravaggio, “The Calling of St. Matthew”, 1599-1600, Oil on canvas
How do you discern the movements of God’s presence?
In a recent essay, Ben Quash draws on Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St. Matthew” (1599-1600) to probe the various ways in which theology makes reference to God’s presence. In “The Calling” (below), Jesus stands at the head of the tax collector’s table pointing to Levi and the rest. The only hint of the divine here is the shaft of light intersecting with Jesus’ outstretched finger and this, Quash contends, is precisely the point. In making God’s activity ‘less obvious’ Caravaggio provokes us to think about how grace appears in human situations and how it’s presence is discerned.
[H]ere, as elsewhere, Caravaggio proves himself notably reluctant to depict grace or divine agency in obvious ways, unlike many of his artistic predecessors and a good number of his contemporaries. Divine agency in his paintings does not normally arrive in a well sign-posted manner by being somehow ‘extra’ to what the world already contains; we do not usually encounter it in the form of a ‘supernatural’ agent like an angel, or a celestial window onto heaven, or the visible transfiguration or ascent of saints.
The discernment of the divine is thus not made an easy business in Caravaggio’s hands. There is no paean of the unmistakability of divine action in human life. God’s self-disclosure – his saving power and action – does not take a form that can clearly be differentiated from other objects and actions and pointed to in straightforward distinction from them. It has to be discerned in the irreducible interactions of people with each other and with their material environment.
…What he honors in his approach is something of which Christian theologians down the ages have been acutely aware…God is not just one more thing in the universe. He cannot be described in relation to and distinction from other creaturely realities as if he were one such reality himself ... Continue reading
Edward Knippers, The Trinity, Woodcut (2004)
A guest post by Sarah Lodwick
In my last post I raised an issue with the definition of beauty, challenging Protestants to expand the definition of beautiful art to include difficult artwork; artwork that convicts our hearts of the ways that we have failed to live the gospel as the body of Christ.
Still, there is a problem: art that points directly at social injustice in the world – that caused by our own sin – may come in the form of edgy, uncomfortable, and perhaps disgusting subject matter. Such is the nature of sin; look simply at the horrors of some traditional paintings on this theme by Michelangelo, Bosch (right), David, and Goya. While this art certainly may be convicting, before it convicts, it shocks.
Shock Art & Shocking Art
Shock art is nothing new. Marcel Duchamp is usually recognized as the first artist who pushed nineteenth century audiences to doubt their preconceived definitions of art by entering ready-made art objects in exhibitions; Fountain (below), perhaps being one of his most infamous entries. Continue reading
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), “Return of the Prodigal Son” 1666, Oil on Canvas
A guest post by Sarah Lodwick
In Ian Morgan Cron’s novel, Chasing Francis, a chapter titled “Art is the Grandchild of God” uses a dialogue to point to burgeoning Protestant involvement in the arts. The conversation summits with this:
I lifted my glass. “To beauty!” I said.
Liam and Carla replied, “To beauty!”
Cron leaves off exactly where Protestants have left off: at beauty. How will we define that word theologically? The raw lump of mud is on the ceramicist’s wheel; the Protestant Church has affirmed that beauty in artistic expression has much to say about our Creator. Our Protestant minds are like spinning clay; we anticipate the new shape of the artistic Protestant Church yet we don’t know how to define beauty – or art – because we lack a tradition of Protestant art theory. Like willing hands physically able but paralyzed by lack of experience, the Protestant Church has not yet molded its art appreciation into biblical theory with well-formed definitions and concepts.
This predicament makes the Church vulnerable in its current relationship with art. Continue reading
We start a new series on visual art today called “Reactions.”
Caravaggio (1571 -1610), “Doubting Thomas” 1602-1603, Oil on Canvas