Thursday, 27 January 2011

Christian 'art' and the Bible

A little while ago, Richard Beck of Experimental Theology blogged about Christian art. He'd been in a Christian bookshop and noticed that all of the artwork had words on it, which basically explained what the art 'represented'; even, weirdly, a drawing of praying hands. What we end up with, he suggested, is art that is dominated by pedagogy, catechesis and evangelism: there's no room for ambiguity, for art that unsettles us, draws us in, invites us to deep engagement.

This all came to mind recently as I was thinking (as you do) about the art of the banner in Christian churches. You see banners all over the place in British Christianity at least, though probably more so the more evangelical the church, and I can testify to having seen some pretty spectacular ones in German evangelical churches (don't ask), whose aesthetic preferences seem to be for banners constructed entirely out of metallic fabrics. Gaudy. But, like the Christian art you can buy in Christian bookshops, they always involve words. The classic Christian banner tends to take a Bible verse, 'I am the light of the world' or 'I am the way, the truth and the life', and illustrate it with pictures that go with the words - lights, paths, basic allegorical images.

That's obviously pretty different to most contemporary art (although, as a side point, contemporary art involves text in a way that classical art didn't tend to: I wonder why?) But it's also crucially different to the sort of religious art that you found in churches as paintings or stained glass windows, because banners-with-text are all about assertions or statements, where religious art tends to illustrate stories. That in turn reflects a general shift in the way that a lot of evangelicals read the Bible: they're not looking for narratives so much as for truth claims, encouraging words, or rules. The Bible, and probably Christianity more generally, becomes a source of doctrinal statements, instructions, and fridge-magnet wisdom.
Photo credit: Kentishman

Monday, 10 January 2011

Philosophy is never objective

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche argues that the idea of philosophical objectivity is a myth. We don't start with logic and argue to conclusions, he says: we start with value judgements, deeply held instincts about the sort of life that is worth living, instincts that are bound up with our physiology, literally gut feelings. When we do philosophy, we're not really trying to find the truth, we're just trying to justify our heart's desire. All the great works of philosophy are just a sort of personal memoir.

Isn't there anyone who is capable of the disinterested pursuit of truth? Sure, says says Nietzsche:maybe that's the case with jobsworthy academics who don't care if they're studying the history of stamps or the workings of the brain, because they're only really interested academic study for the money and the prestige that it brings. If you want to find a genuinely objective seeker after truth, go to someone who just wants to be distinguished but doesn't really care whether they get there by studying mushrooms or teapots. But philosophy is always personal.