Posts Tagged ‘Art’

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Creative minds ‘mimic schizophrenia’

May 29, 2010

The BBC stole my essay. Kinda.
Thanks Dave 🙂

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The Church and the Arts: Suffering, Pain and Creativity

May 24, 2010

[This is the essay I have been battling with for the last few weeks. I’ve loved it, this module, Arts and Worship, has stretched my brain on so much, and I’ve learnt so much about myself while doing this essay. Unfortunately it got a bit tight towards the end, time-wise, so it’s probably not that amazing, but I wanted to share it with you anyway 🙂 ]

Have we forgotten the Arts?

Recently, on the banks of the River Avon, in a damp Wiltshire parish church, hidden behind local sewing club tapestries, in a pathetic frame, a little portrait of Christ was discovered. Immediately amazed by its quality, art historian’s identified this little portrait as a Quentin Metsys. On further inspection, it is believed to have originated from around 1505, and is the missing half of the original painting, the other half depicting the Virgin Mary. The newly discovered painting of Christ was in surprisingly good condition considering it’s environment and in comparison with the other half.[1]

How many other gems are hidden within English churches? We have forgotten our rich heritage of symbolism in churches: the architecture, the carvings, the imagery, all created in praise of God. This imagery told the Biblical stories so the illiterate could understand; but today do we really appreciate or understand these works of art?

In this article, we will limit our discussion to artistic creativity in response to pain and suffering, and the insights into pain and suffering afforded by the arts. Initially discussing the origin and purpose of suffering in Part I, Part II will discern the relationship between suffering and creativity, and in Part III, we will relate this to contemporary church life.

Part I

In the beginning…

‘… God created the heavens and the earth… God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:1, 27)

Following the creation mandate, we understand that as humans, we are created in God’s likeness. Our characteristics reflect those of our creator, to be creative, the difference being that God brought something out of nothing ex nihilo, whereas we, as creators in His image, use ‘something that already exists, giving it form and meaning.’[2]

Aristotle claimed that ‘Imitation is natural to man from childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world, and learns by imitation.’[3] We imitate God in our creativity.

The creation… of Suffering?

In order to develop our understanding of creativity in relation to suffering, we must consider the question: ‘where does suffering come from?’ and ‘if God created everything, did He make the Devil?’[4] These questions are frequent stumbling blocks for those who struggle with the concept of God, especially in conjunction with our understanding of a good God.[5]

St. Augustine believed that ‘Evil has no positive existence, but is only a deprivation of Good.’[6] With this in mind, Sayers explains that an event, or substance ‘Not-Being’… depends upon the reality of ‘Being.’ So God, in creating ‘Good’ also created Evil, whose existence is realised by the presence of ‘Good.’ Sayers, acknowledges that God is ‘beyond Good and Evil,’ but Evil has no reality except in relation to His ‘Good.’[7]

Only God knows Evil in its ‘Not-Being’ state. Humanity can only know it by experience, calling it into active Being. ‘The [human] creative will, free and active like God, is able to will Not-Being into Being, and thus produce an Evil which is no longer negative but positive.’[8] During the century, the Nazi’s called anti-Semitism into positive being with the Holocaust.

The first mention of pain and suffering in the Biblical narrative is in the curses the Lord gave to His creation following the Fall of Mankind. The Lord said to the woman; ‘… with pain you will give birth to children…’ (Genesis 3:16) and to Adam that the ground would be cursed (Genesis 3:17b-19). Many poets and artists have been inspired by the depiction of the fall of Satan from Heaven, for instance, Milton’s Paradise Lost.

We must acknowledge that humans alone are not responsible for all suffering in our world. C.S. Lewis suggests that human kind is responsible for eighty percent of human sufferings, but there is still suffering which we cannot trace the cause to ourselves.[9] This presents the church with yet another chasm to reach out to those struggling with the concept of God. We are able to use art to form a bridge to give insight into these sufferings, even if we find ourselves unable to explain them.

Does suffering have purpose?

What is the role of pain and suffering? Aquinas said of suffering ‘that it was a thing not good in itself; but a thing which might have certain goodness in particular circumstances.’[10] Suffering helps put life into perspective; Lewis explains that pain or bad news can cause our world to fall apart. But, after a moment of despair, as Christians, we remind ourselves that these concerns are not meant to possess our hearts, and take the place of Christ. We are able to lean dependently on God, from whom we should continually be seeking our strength.[11]

Sayers likens Creation to a published work; becoming subject to the wills of others, who can misquote, misinterpret, or deliberately alter the work. But there is hope; we can redeem the work, turning ‘positive Evil into positive Good.’[12]

The apostle Paul continually encourages us by referring to his own joy in suffering, because through these trials, we are able to testify to the hand of God in our lives. Lewis also asserts he has ‘seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers.’[13] It is in times of pain and suffering that humanity turns towards religion in search of something more. The church often provides a safe haven in which to ask the bigger questions of life. To ‘try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve,’[14] excludes life itself. It is our duty as Christian artists to aid the process of coming to terms with suffering, and our human understanding of the concept involved.

Part II How does suffering relate to creativity?

It is imperative to understand that creativity is not limited to only those who suffer. We struggle to be creative without experiencing of human life in all its fullness, of which one significant experience is suffering, just as another is joy and so forth (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). For the purposes of this discussion we will focus specifically on artistic output within the relationship.

In his recent production, Drops Like Stars, Rob Bell proposes that creativity and art cannot happen without first the catalyst of pain and suffering: ‘you can’t create without pain.’[15] If this is the case, it leads us to question if Adam and Eve were truly creative, as we understand the term in the twenty-first century? However, CS Lewis describes two types of pain,[16] and suggests that prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve would have known ‘good pain’ i.e. the ache following exertion, ‘which is, in fact, pleasurable.’[17] We have already discussed that Adam and Eve had creative potential from the beginning of their own being.

Lewis states that, ‘pain produces an opportunity for heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency.’[18] Sandblom studied the individual works of composers, artists and writers, putting forward a convincing link between suffering and creativity, when the individual tries to explain the connection themselves.[19] Our understanding of an artist’s suffering aids our interpretation of their artistic creations.

‘Aristotle held that all prominent artists have been subject to melancholia, a spiritual disposition which may, under favourable circumstance, give rise to extraordinary achievements… those with manic-depressive traits have periods of creativity during manic phases but kept silent when depressed.’[20]

We shall now take this opportunity to briefly examine a few illustrations from our heritage of the arts.

Mental dysfunctions

‘The depressed have a great need for close personal contacts, to be liked and appreciated, but are held back by feelings of unworthiness… fear of being rejected they make a bid for recognition through creative work.’[21]

It is thought that there is a strong relationship between bipolar disorder and creativity. Jackson Pollock, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain and Stephen Fry have all battled with the condition. ‘It’s a curious illness, both a harrowing scourge and a byword for talent.’[22]

Famously renowned for cutting off the lobe of his ear (1889), Van Gogh suffered from a mental disorder, which was aggravated by intoxication from remedies to relieve epilepsy.[23] Edvard Munch’s piece ‘The Scream’ (c.1893) possibly resembles most clearly the inner state of an artist suffering from a depersonalization disorder. Munch himself confessed that without anxiety and illness he would have lacked direction.[24]

Sight and Hearing Impairments

In his twenties, Beethoven’s hearing began to deteriorate, until he became completely deaf. Beethoven mourned the loss of the most important sense to his art in the Heiligenstadt Testament, declaring he must become an outcast in society. Phenomenally, Beethoven persevered with composition and the finale of his Ninth Symphony, based on the Hymn to Joy by Schiller contains supreme exultation. But we are unable to forget the tragic events earlier in the symphony.[25]

Biblical concepts of suffering

Having examined a spectrum of examples, we must continue to explore the relationship between suffering and creativity with a biblical perspective.

OT Scriptures

Solomon observed that there is a time and season for everything in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, including death, mourning, resigning, as well as the more positive life experiences. ‘To find comfort in exile is not thinkable, but in this remarkable beginning the poet refuses all that… Hope is created by speech and before that speech Israel is always hopeless’[26] (Isaiah 40:9-10). ‘A figure like Job… with his searing and ever relevant question of suffering, still arouses an interest which is not just philosophical but literary and artistic as well.’[27] The book of Job talks most profoundly of human misery. Subjected to afflictions to his family, wealth and body, ‘he is supposed to understand that suffering is not a punishment but a humbling and a purification of the mind.’[28]

Brueggemann proposed that ‘consciousness leads people to numbness… it is the task of… ministry [and the] imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering…’[29]

Jesus

It is the suffering of Jesus, his pain, his sacrifice, his death, which makes our faith real. Moltmann implied that ‘while the many dwellings of God in [Jewish] history can be called an “entering” into human suffering, it is only at the cross that God actually “adopts” human experience into his own being, so that he now suffers “infinite pain.”’[30]

Christ’s life, death and resurrection inspired creative arts for two thousand years, and will continue to do so. ‘The works of art inspired by Scripture remain a reflection of the unfathomable mystery which engulfs and inhabits the world.’[31] Brown talks of God violating the second commandment by offering a self-portrait in Christ, legitimising all subsequent representations. Icon painters and artists have portrayed the extreme sufferings of Christ upon the cross.[32]

Fiddes explains that our Creator ‘God who suffers eminently and yet is still God, and a God who suffers universally and yet is still present uniquely and decisively in the sufferings of Christ.’[33]

‘The Son of God suffered unto the death,
not that men might suffer, but that their
sufferings might be like His.’[34]

Part III How can we apply this to the contemporary church?

From our discussion so far, we have discerned a three-fold relationship between pain and suffering. Firstly, creativity can aid the redeeming, healing process during and following a period of suffering, both for the individual artist, and their audience. Secondly, Creativity provides us with insights into the sufferings of our world, both in present day and times gone by. If we concur with Schmidt that worship is an art form in itself,[35] we can continue this relationship with our Creator, using our human pain and sufferings as a catalyst for worship.

Healing through art

The arts can enable a person to come to terms with their own individual pain and suffering. But ‘to be swayed by emotion alone is sentimentality, not art. An artist who is absorbed not in the contemplation and creation of forms, but rather in his own pleasure or in his enjoyment of “the joy of grief” becomes a sentimentalist.’[36]

Music therapy, the transcendent leap questioning identity and hope, is facilitated through the creative act, ‘through creative play, we can distinguish the inner world of ourselves.’[37] Similarly, narrative therapy in the constraints of ‘talking therapies’ can redeem the suffering of the individual.

Begbie asserts that human creativity is about sharing though the Spirit, the creative purposes of God the Father.[38] It is interesting to note that the Old Testament Scriptures rarely refer to the concept of the individual.[39] Human creativity is intrinsically corporate in nature, but so often artists seek their community outside of the church.[40] Arguably the loneliness and isolation artists face is suffering in its own right. The creative process itself produces frustration and agony, until an idea comes to realised fruition.

Throughout Christianity, there have been depictions of Christ’s suffering upon the cross. These interpretations remind us of the differing perspectives of the passion. We also have the ‘realisation there presses the question of whether divine identification with human suffering was actually part of the biblical message, or only really a later insight.’[41]

Secular work, such as Munch’s The Scream, may enable some to relate to the stark cry of human pain and alienation, more than yet another image of the crucifixion. A less familiar context makes the message all the more stronger.

‘Music’s alliance with the sacred is so strong and widespread… it is often regarded with reverence for having the power to deepen experience, the power to console, heal, and restore wholeness, or wellness.’[42] As the Pope agreed: ‘Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things…’[43]

Insights from art

Sayers asserts that creative pursuits alongside theological interpretation reflect reality.[44] Creativity offers people sources to discover significant meanings in their lives. Through the arts, we find ways of expressing thoughts and feelings which otherwise are ineffable. Like the Spirit, art forms enable us to intercede where words do not suffice (Romans 8:26).

The creative arts can help us understand suffering. The church needs art and artists as much as artists need the church. ‘Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things…’[45] Christ himself used imagery in his teaching. ‘Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.’[46]

Worship from a place of suffering

‘Honest art evokes the fullness of human experience,’[47] not only our joys, hopes and gratitude towards God, but also our pain, uncertainties, doubts, fears, sorrows, presenting them to God in lament through the arts. We need to have honesty and integrity in our worship, ‘songs and hymns that express only what is ideal will fail to serve as proper prayer, praise, or lament.’[48]

True honest worship needs to come from the people. An ‘important quality of folk art is that, like ritual, it is incarnational.’[49] We cannot expect the expressions of worship from a heart of suffering to be perfect. Give room for imperfections, for failure, for quirkiness, for originality, for true, honest expression, because, after all, it is human.

Bruggemann suggests utilising Biblical symbols and imagery that have been used throughout history.[50] Expressing public fears through the use of metaphors and to present passionately, in order to lead and facilitate creativity within corporate worship.

Creativity can enable those who struggle with words to express their anguish, their lament, their worship. Experiential creativity handles sensitive issues in a more protective environment than words alone can deal with.

The Psalms provide us with a fantastic variety of expressions to God. ‘What we feel in art is not a simple or single emotional quality. It is the dynamic process of life itself – the continuous oscillation between opposite poles, between joy and grief, hope and fear, exultation and despair… In the work of the artist the power of passion itself has been made a formative power.’[51]

Conclusion

God created the world out of love, he did not need pain to create. But the Cross and new creation come into being through pain. Through the chaos of the fallen world, something beautiful still emerges. It is imperative that we do not forget in our sufferings, that Christ suffered first, for our salvation. ‘…Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us’ (Romans 8:18).

Despite the arts often being thought of as second class subjects, relying less on ‘pure thought’ and more on emotions and feelings, they bring an irreplaceable tool to contemporary life no less at home or school as the church. The Pope in his appeal to artists said; ‘…beyond functional considerations, the close alliance than has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.’[52]

We must remember that when using forms of art in corporate worship, to question ‘what does it serve?’ Our creativity, especially when leading others in worship, must serve the gospel.[53] Although good can be conceived from suffering, ‘we must not…try to behave as though the Fall was a Good Thing in itself. But we may redeem the Fall by a creative act.’[54]

[1] de Bruxelles, Damp church.
[2] Pope, Letter, 1.
[3] Aristotle, In: Cassirer, Man, 138.
[4] Sayers, Maker, 76.
[5] Sayers, Maker, 78.
[6] Sayers, Maker, 77.
[7] Sayers, Maker, 81.
[8] Sayers, Maker, 82.
[9] Lewis, Pain, 86.
[10] Lewis, Pain, 123.
[11] Lewis, Pain, 106-7.
[12] Sayers, Maker, 84-5.
[13] Lewis, Pain, 108.
[14] Lewis, Pain, 25.
[15] Bell, Stars, 128.
[16] Lewis, Pain, 87.
[17] Lewis, Pain, 23.
[18] Lewis, Pain, 162.
[19] Sandblom, Creativity, 15-17.
[20] Sandblom, Creativity, 35.
[21] Sandblom, Creativity, 37.
[22] O’Donoghue, Bipolar.
[23] Sandblom, Creativity, 87.
[24] Sandblom, Creativity, 25, 80.
[25] Cassirer, Essay, 150.
[26] Brueggemann, Imagination, 71.
[27] Pope, Letter, 7.
[28] Sandblom, Creativity, 21.
[29] Brueggemann, Imagination, 46.
[30] Fiddes, Creative, 9.
[31] Pope, Letter, 7.
[32] Brown, Image, 1.
[33] Fiddes, Creative, 3.
[34] MacDonald, George, Unspoken Sermons; First Series, cited In: Lewis, Pain, vii.
[35] Schmidt, Sent, 91.
[36] Cassirer, Man, 142.
[37] Aldridge, Palliative, 103.
[38] Begbie, Voicing, 179.
[39] Lewis, Pain, 84.
[40] Begbie, Voicing, 180, 186.
[41] Brown, Image, 12.
[42] Reimer, Value, 11.
[43] Pope, Letter, 16.
[44] Sayers, Mind, ?.
[45] Pope, Letter, 16.
[46] Pope, Letter, 8.
[47] Schmidt, Sent, 95.
[48] Schmidt, Sent, 95.
[49] Schmidt, Sent, 99.
[50] Brueggemann, Imagination, 50.
[51] Cassirer, Man, 148-9.
[52] Pope, Letter, 16-17.
[53] Schmidt, Sent, 94.
[54] Sayers, Maker, 86.

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Personal Statement for RHUL MMus application…

May 7, 2010
‘Without music, life would be a mistake’
Bill Bailey

Obviously this statement is right in what it affirms and wrong in what it denies, but I concur wholeheartedly with its sentiment. I cannot comprehend my life without the tremendous influence of music and the passion it invokes.

Following an audition, I was granted a place at The Minster School, Southwell, where I was involved with many groups and ensembles at school, including Main orchestra, Choir and ’Cello Group. I was also involved in county-wide programmes including Nottingham Youth Orchestra and Nottinghamshire Education Symphony Orchestra. In 2001 I joined the National Scout and Guide Symphony Orchestra, becoming principle ’cellist in 2003. Prior to my studies at London School of Theology (LST), I was a member of Nottingham Symphony Orchestra and was also asked to play with the Ensemble of Southwell. I have been involved with the All Souls Orchestra since embarking studies at LST in October 2006, with whom I have had the opportunity to play in venues including Birmingham Symphony Hall, The Sage Gateshead and The Royal Albert Hall.
My experience as the principle ’cellist of various orchestras has taught me the need of comprehending the music, as well as being a good player, in order to communicate this understanding to others. Music is not only about expression, but the mechanics of the art. The notes; the chords; the instruments; the history; the context; the genre: music is not about selfish creation, it is about selfless appreciation.

When I was in sixth form, whilst working through some difficult personal situations, I felt able to play more than just the notes on the page. I had my first experience as a soloist with a local orchestra, performing Elergy by Faure. I discovered a passion for the music I was interpreting in my performances. I had become a ’cellist.
As a member of the Queen’s Scout Working Party, for the Centenary year of Scouting, I was chosen to be a member of the Chapel team for the annual Scout Service for the St. George’s day parade at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. I was asked to perform Prayer from Bloch’s ‘from Jewish Life’ as a reflection during the service. Not only did I perform to a congregation of Queen’s Scouts, but also to Her Majesty, The Queen.
I achieved ABRSM Grade VIII with distinction prior to commencing reading Theology, Music and Worship at LST. During the course I have grappled with Theology of Worship and the debate of Performance in Worship within the church. In the Arts and Worship module, I have been delving into a philosophy of the arts, specifically the relationship between creativity and suffering, which is continuing to aid my understanding of the artist. I have grown as a person, as a musician and as a performer. At level two, I elected to take Individual Performance as well as my end of year recital, which enabled me to spend the time practicing and understanding Haydn ’Cello Concerto in C, my first concerto. In final year, my dissertation, entitled; ‘Beethoven’s Faith; Discerning a Trajectory’ incorporated a recital containing movements from his Piano and ’Cello Sonatas spanning the length of Beethoven’s compositional life, as well as a written discussion paper as to how the development of Beethoven’s faith may be evident within his music.

Areas of study I wish to pursue include the philosophy of performance, maybe with the possibility of taking an elective in a related area.

I feel the next step for me is to pursue my gift of playing the ’cello at a more advanced level, in order to further develop and refine my technique and ability. This will enable me to understand and perform at my best, in the hope that I might be able to pass on my enthusiasm for the ’cello to generations to come.

It was during a recent recital that I realised how much performance means to me;

It was the most natural feeling in the world.
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Technology vs. the Arts

April 15, 2010

This morning, during our Arts and Worship lecture, we read and discussed an article by Dick Pountain (editor of PC Pro’s Real World Computing Section) putting forward the motion that computer technology is killing artistic creativity; in the way calculators killed mental arithmetic.

Initially I had my ‘old school’ head on and agreed with his position to an extent.

We discussed how for some composers, programs like Sibelius, are more of a hindrance than a help; Chris Grey (our lecturer) explained how he can’t stand composing on the computer, the visual limitations of the screen and not being able to see the whole thing at one glance. We discussed the inability of the computer to create audible music in a way a live instrument can; the expression, thought and feeling just could not be produced.

We should also concerned about the disappearance of handicraft; we don’t want to lose those skills, either.

In terms of visual art, especially the realm of photography has taken off in the last decade with the digital camera, the ease of editorial programs and ability to publish work on the internet. Has this development erased elite artistry and promoted amateur arts? One member of the class was particularly against digital art, if art draws a link between humanity and the transcendent, how can computer generated, or manipulated work inspire us to look to the divine?

And yet, the more the discussion continued, the more I disagree with the argument. Obviously we need to be wise with how we use it.

I got very cross with the member of the class who said that computers are only a tool which manipulate in a negative way. Yes they are a tool. But so are the paint brush, the pencil, the piece of paper, the instrument etc. Animatedly, I stole the pencil and paper off her and said ‘now create a work of art!’ to prove my point [with hindsight she could have chosen to get up and dance, but she did not!]

Digital photography enables the photographer to practice their skills at less expense of time and photo paper. Editing software enables them to be more creative with the image they have captured.

Personally, I have found Sibelius a very useful tool when I have been composing; but there is the generational aspect here, too; I was taught to compose with Sibelius! It would take me hours and hours to compose with pen and paper, not that I lack the skill, knowledge or theory, but I have learned how to use Sibelius with the ability to copy sections at the click of a button.
I remember when I was very young being told that the only way to compose was with a pencil, manuscript paper at the Piano. This was such a confidence crusher for me, as I lack the ability to play the Piano with ease.

Programs like word are tools which I could not live without and produce the work I need to produce. They give me the ability to rearrange my thoughts, ideas and arguments with relative ease, compared to writing out however many drafts by hand! Had it not been for the computer, I would never had any confidence in my creative writing ability. The option of putting down ideas, coming back to them, rearranging, editing, changing until the author is happy that they are ‘right’ is such a blessing.

Music technology provides the facility to record multiple layers, to save time re-recording in the studio by editing. [Although it was argued that the ‘perfect’ output of some recordings makes live performances seem weak?]

It also enables a musician to listen to various recordings of the same piece of work and compare their interpretations.

We as artists have limitations. Our work has blemishes. And I accept the computer should never take the role of the artist. But the computer can be used, as a tool, by the artist to aid, inspire and develop work.

The computer certainly doesn’t replace other means of creativity.
It has it’s limitations.
But we can use it wisely.

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Protected: Out of the desert land?

March 19, 2010

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Question

March 17, 2010

If creativity and art cannot happen without first the catalyst (inspiration?) of pain and suffering… were Adam and Eve truly Creative, as we know the meaning today, before the Fall?