Edward Knippers » Art & Incarnation (5): On art and not “playing in the shallows”

Edward Knippers concludes our exhibition, “Art and Incarnation: Engaging the Art & Theology of Edward Knippers”, with a few responses, words of gratitude, and reflections on not “playing in the shallows” (may our stammering attempts at speaking about God risk the same).

The high level of theological discussion this week on Theology Forum about my work is more of a tribute pm_32than any artist could expect in a lifetime. That is because Professors Sanders, Myers, and Buschart each understand in a profound way what I have been trying to do in my artistic calling.

Their articulations of my core concerns of incarnation and resurrection have embodied my, often, intuitive understandings in a clear verbal form. When I read Professor Sanders’ succinct summation of my artist enterprise as an exploration of “…a visual vocabulary capable of expressing the remarkable things Christians believe….” I could only say, “Yes, that’s it.”

Professor Myers’ discussion of my cubist vocabulary in terms of Gerard Manley Hopkins stating that God’s grandeur “will flame out, like shining from shook foil,” only makes me realize how much further I have to go in order to even “stammer,” (Prof. Myers’ word) about such things.

Professor Buschart’s discusses the nudity in my work in terms of universality and particularity (also mentioned by Professor Sanders) stating that “…the absence of dress in his human figures removes an excuse for someone to hold the images at a distance, and yet these are particular people.” In reading his essay, I realized that he had seen past merely naked people to the common denominator of our humanity, the body and its place in the cosmos.

More importantly, each of these scholars has penetrated to the core of my work by talking more about our pm_421Lord’s Incarnation and Resurrection than about me. This is as it should be if I have done my job well. 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. These essays are a conformation that with God’s help, I have accomplished in some small way what I have preached.

I offer my deepest thanks and appreciation for the essays of Professors Fred Sanders, Ben Myers, and David Buschart. I also offer my heartfelt gratitude to Kent Eilers and his colleagues at Theology Forum for making this conversation possible. I hope that many will find the rewards of reading and participating in Theology Forum in the years to come.

David Buschart » Art & Incarnation (4): Engaging the Art & Theology of Edward Knippers

The spirit and work of the artist can be a rich means of grace, especially to those of us who lack either the  temperament or the ability to “create” as they do. My sister was given all the artistic ability allotted to my family of origin, and so God blessed me with a wife gifted with both the spirit and the abilities of an artist. And, my Christian faith has been refined and enriched through her.

Some artists suggest that they can meaningfully communicate only through their art. Others, like Edward Knippers, can do so through both their art and their written words. (And, there are, of course, also art forms for which the primary medium is words.) I am glad for the opportunity to consider the work of Knippers, and, in light of my above-mentioned limitations, will take my prompts from the latter.

Commendations: Physicality and Hope

Allow me to begin by highlighting and commending three of Knippers’ observations. (And, these commendations are not a polite set-up for negative critique. I happen to fundamentally agree with Knippers’ comments.)

First, “disembodiment is not an option for the Christian.” ed-knippersjohn-comforted-in-prisonDisembodiment is not an option because our Creator-God has not made it an option. Disembodiment may occur for the Christian during the interlude between earthly death and eternal redemption, but as theologians point out, this is a temporary aberration. It is unnatural and not the way God planned it. God made and makes and redeems human beings only as enfleshed creatures.

Second, physicality is “messy” and uncomfortable. To be sure, it can be pleasurable and a means of grace. But, because the world and all that is in it is, with a nod to Cornelius Plantinga, not the way it’s supposed to be, physicality is messy and uncomfortable. This is undoubtedly a significant factor in some Christians’ inclination toward a Gnosticized faith (to which Knippers, too, refers). As with many aspects of Christian faith and life, a healthy embrace of physicality is not always easy or pleasant but it is the right thing to do (consider “John comforted in Prison”, above).

Third, physicality is an essential element of the Christian message of hope. As Knippers’ nicely puts it, “we are able to make our bodies a living sacrifice to God because of Christ’s real and complete sacrifice for us.” As we often need to be reminded, the only way to Easter is through Good Friday. Continue reading

Ben Myers » Art & Incarnation (3): Engaging the Art & Theology of Edward Knippers

Edward Knippers and the resurrection of the body

Edward Knippers has always foregrounded the human body, and his work has long been preoccupied with the relation between God and bodies. Knippers has thus rightly been described as a painter of “incarnation.”

But in this new series of paintings – with its remarkable integration of baroque bodies and cubist forms – it becomes clear that the theological centre of Knippers’ work is not the incarnation of flesh as such, but the resurrection of the flesh. These paintings reflect an artist’s search for a language with which to articulate the theological truth that God’s identity – and likewise the identity of human selves – is inextricably connected to the reality of resurrection. God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead: this is not an incidental aspect of God’s character, but it is a description of God’s very “essence.” The resurrection of Jesus is what makes God God.

And similarly: the relation between God and humanity depends on the event of Jesus’ resurrection. Our own identities are mysteriously caught up in this event. If we want to discover who we really are, what it really means to be human, we have to look to the place where God and humanity overlap, the place where God intersects humanity. And the resurrection of Jesus is this place.

The overlap in Knippers’ paintings between human bodies and a profusion of refracted forms of light and colour is an attempt to locate this place, this startling moment in which the world of God intersects and interpenetrates our own material world.

Consider The Raising of Lazarus (right) . Here, a cubist concept – that an abstractly reassembled object can be viewed simultaneously from multiple perspectives – is employed as a language for articulating the intersection of the world of God and the world of human flesh. The forms and colours intersect and interpenetrate one another: bones, bandages and bodies are shot through with ribbons of light. As Gerard Manley Hopkins has put it, God’s grandeur “will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” Amidst the death of the tomb we witness a sudden explosion of life, an astonishing surge of colour and form. Above Lazarus stands the figure of Christ, with hands spread out in a gesture of creation, of forming. It is Christ who dissolves the formlessness of death, and brings forth the new form of sheer uncontainable life. The creative presence of Christ fractures and disrupts the world’s material order, bursting it open and reassembling it, wholly interpenetrating it with the flash and flame of God’s own life. Continue reading

Art & Incarnation (1) » Artist Statement by Edward Knippers

Our exhibition opens today with an essay from Edward Knippers himself. Subsequent posts engaging Knippers’ art and theology will follow every day this week.Tomorrow will feature Fred Sanders (Biola University), probably the world’s greatest systematic theologian cartoonist.

The human body is at the centre of my artistic imagination because the body is an essential element of the Christian doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection.

ed-knipperswith-his-stripesone-color-intaglio.jpgDisembodiment is not an option for the Christian. Christ places His Body and His Blood at the heart of our faith in Him. Our faith comes to naught if the Incarnation was not accomplished in actual time and space – if God did not send His Son to us in a real body with real blood.

Heresy results when we try to minimize the presence or pre-eminence of the body and the blood. Yet even believers have become comfortable with our age as it tries to disembody reality. Physicality is messy; it is demanding and always a challenge to control.

The naked human body is one way of starkly stating that we have nowhere to hide. Further, it allows me to have something of the spiritual timelessness of the Eastern Icon tradition by avoiding the cultural trappings of modern or ancient dress and, at the same time, enabling me to ground my subjects in the specifics of time and space (the glory of the Western tradition). This bridging of the two traditions is important to me because the spirituality of the Biblical events is as solid and real as the events themselves.

In finding the spiritual in the interactions and choices of real people, incarnation can be shown as the symbiotic reality that it is. In other words, the choices and actions that we make always have profound spiritual ramifications because we are human beings. Continue reading