Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

NY Times on contemporary Christian music

November 6, 2007

There’s a decent article on the NY Times site talking about the growth of High Desert Church in Victorville, CA. It focuses particularly on the music ministry there, which to my mind seems simultaneously gigantic and sophisticated. I thought the writer was fair, and that the subjects came off very well; though you know the “typical” Times reader (if such a creature exists) will be expected to shudder after reading that the church was able to collect $20 million in member donations for a new building project. (I.e., with that kind of money, what CAN’T they do?)

I’d just like to comment on two parts of the article. The senior pastor says:


The Tailgate Exegete

July 4, 2007

Tailgate Exegesis is an emerging academic discipline, though its study is somewhat geographically constrained. Scholars from the east coast are not likely to find as many specimens for study in their own area, as are the residents of any of the states that border Mexico. In fact, the closer you get to Mexico, in geography or in terms of the connections with Mexico possessed by the residents of a given city, the more likely you are to find opportunities for Tailgate Exegesis. The following tailgate, with its identifying label of “Guanajuato, Mex.”, reveals just such a Mexican Connection:

Custom conundrum

Now let’s get exegetical.


Museological assumption: The Cloisters

June 12, 2007

One of the places I’m considering seeing in New York is the Cloisters Museum, which houses medieval European art in buildings taken from five different French monasteries, cobbled together and joined by cloisters. Their web site comments on these covered, colonnaded walkways:

Just as cloisters provided sheltered access from one building to another within a monastery, here they act as passageways from gallery to gallery. They provide as inviting a place for rest, contemplation, and conversation as they did for their original monastic population.

Inviting for conversation amongst the “original monastic population”, that is, if their monastic order didn’t observe a vow of silence . . . but since they know which monasteries these buildings came from, I’m guessing that they know whether this was the case or not.

The Rosslyn Motet

May 1, 2007

CNN reports that a musical score has been decoded from carvings in the arches of Rosslyn Chapel. The chapel apparently shows up in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, though I wouldn’t know anything about that, having only been able to read to page 145 before I just couldn’t take any more. Don’t get me started.

But Rosslyn Chapel is awesome. And it doesn’t surprise me that it holds encoded mysteries: the Renaissance was a great age of numerology, arithmology, allegory, and all types of esoteric symbolism.

One quotation seems to criticize the music, and deserves some elucidation:

Simon Beattie of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust said he was delighted to have the mystery finally solved, and was intrigued by the music itself.

“It’s not something you would want to put on in the car and listen to, but it’s certainly an interesting piece of music,” he said. “It’s got a good mediaeval sound to it.”

What they don’t mention here is that in the Middle Ages, in order for music to be considered “beautiful,” it did not need to actually sound good to the ear. Now, they probably don’t mention this because it takes many books to fully describe the aesthetics of the Middle Ages, but in a nutshell, mathematics was considered one basis for beauty. The Rosslyn music is based on Pythagorean intervals and proportions—ideas which were transmitted from the ancient Greeks through Galen, Vitruvius, Augustine, and Boethius. Boethius saw music as essentially mathematical, and this was a very typical medieval approach (so says Umberto Eco in Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, page 30).

In the case of the Rosslyn “composer,” all that mattered seems to have been that the numbers were “true”—they had to jive with “numerical beauty.” Strange notion to us today, but that’s how it was.

Over at the website of the tune’s discoverer, we get a good dose of Dan Brown-ness:

Why would anyone want to hide music? Could it be threatening or dangerous to someone or something? Unless it was very special piece that contained magical, harmonic and resonant properties that resonated in sympathy with spiritual beliefs. Was this music ‘outlawed’ by the Catholic church for some reason?

Yeah, it was probably the music-hating Catholic church that forced this piece to be carved in stone rather than written down on paper.

Come on. Just stop, please.

But do visit the site and watch the video—fascinating!

Movie Plug: Happy Feet

April 30, 2007

Saw “Happy Feet” over at Brad’s house on Saturday. You have to see this movie. I was reeeaaaally skeptical going in, thinking that it was going to be a really cheesy “Fantasia”-like failure (NB: I like “Fantasia”). Who wants dancing penguins anyway, let alone 90 minutes of them?

Little did I know that there was a plot to the whole movie. And it was also refreshing that the movie was not about global warming. Rather, it’s about the effects of unregulated commercial fishing.

But kids and adults will really enjoy this movie. Music’s fun, the animation is dazzling, and the movie has depth.

The 6-foot nude chocolate Jesus

March 29, 2007

Are Christians supposed to derive spiritual benefit from seeing this sculpture, or are they supposed to be riled up by it? Or is the artist just trying to get publicity? (Note to irony-seekers: I know what I do in posting this.) The caption under the photo (“Jesus, The 485,460-Calorie Messiah”) seems to suggest an irreverent approach, at least by the Post Chronicle. It’s as if to say both that the Messiah is measurable by instruments, and that he is bad for you.

In favor of the sculpture:

  • Molding Christ in chocolate conveys the theme of eating Christ’s body. This is orthodox doctrine, though most Protestants deny that the Body of Christ is physically present in the Eucharist.
  • Rendering Christ naked on the Cross may be historically accurate. After all, the soldiers cast lots for his clothing.

Against the sculpture:

  • Molding Christ in chocolate conveys the theme of Christ as junk food, forbidden pleasure, thus thwarting whatever devotional impulse one might otherwise feel before a crucifix.
  • Molding Christ in chocolate implies that Christ is a seasonal delicacy, like the chocolate Easter bunny, to be consumed (or, paid attention to, or whatever) once a year.
  • This also positions Christ as a commodity.
  • Rendering Christ naked on the Cross may be historically accurate, but it may also cause impure thoughts in viewers. A minimally-clad Christ might also do this, but not so readily as one with exposed genitalia.

Molding things in chocolate imbues sculpted objects with a wholly other meaning than if they were formed from wood or some other non-food substance. There was an exhibit at a local gallery not so long ago that displayed chocolate tools. I’m not quite sure whether that meant to signify the trivialization of work and contempt for the proletariat or whether it was just dumb . . .

So Curly gives the chocolate Jesus a thumbs-down, even if the artist’s intent was pious. Which Curly, given his curmudgeonliness, doubts.

A Vegas sense of history

March 13, 2007

The Stardust Hotel-Casino was demolished this morning at 2:30 a.m. local time. It was the last of the resorts built in the 1950s, having been erected in 1958. And who does the NY Times turn to for an obligatory note of nostalgia? Joel Rosales, age 23, who runs a site called (I haven’t been to the site, nor have plans to.)

The loss of the Stardust, he said, is particularly disappointing. “Having been born and raised here in Vegas, it’s always been a rock,” he said of the resort. “In this ever-changing city, the Stardust was always there. I wouldn’t say I’m as upset as I am disappointed, that we as a city have no sense of preserving our past and heritage, no matter how tacky or out-of-date it may be.”

A couple of observations. First, Rosales was born around 1984. He may have a real sense of history, but a quote like this tells me that he considers anything older than himself to be “historic” and worth preserving. Second, nobody who visits Vegas ever has or ever will care about the preservation of its past and heritage. That is not why people go there, and thankfully for the tourists, impractical romantics like Rosales, who want to keep shitty casinos around “no matter how tacky or out-of-date they may be,” are not in charge of planning and development.

Philip Glass

January 29, 2007

Going to see the new opera “Waiting for the Barbarians” tonight. I haven’t enjoyed Glass’s previous work, but I’m told that this is a new sound for him. The ticket was free, so I figure I don’t have much to lose.

It’s always funny when the promo materials contain a typo. The Austin Lyric Opera site linked to above claims that Coetzee, the author of the novel “Barbarians” is based on, is a “University fo Texas Graduate.” Better fo than against, n’est-ce pas?

Is this sound historical method?

June 16, 2006

I’m taking a break from reading a certain book on “visual hermeneutics”—the interpretation of images—and I’m about ready to find and kill the author. As an example of how a picture can be interpreted in different ways, the author quotes a description of an 8th-century icon:

Enter the Wortschatz: naughtypack

June 15, 2006

Naughtypack is one of those words that needs to be brought back. This from Arthur Golding’s translation of John Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms:

“. . . namely, to despyse froward persons & naughtypackes, . . .” (on Psalm 15)
“. . . while the wicked and the naughtie packs are in their ruffe, and welter themselues in their delights . . .” (on Psalm 37)