A Theology of Artistic Sensibilities

Nelson, Mary Carroll

ENTRANCES INTO REALITY A THEOLOGY OF ARTISTIC SENSIBILITIES THE VISUAL ARTS AND THE CHURCH John Dillenberger Crossroad, $22.50, 280 pp. Mary Carroll Nelson John Dillenberger unveils...

...But Dillenberger decries the present lack of a working relationship among the church, architects, and artists...
...Seeing has its own discipline, born of continuous seeing . . . Only a concern with seeing will restore sight to its rightful place...
...This is a strenuous book...
...He concludes the chapter with this summary: "In the modern world, the spiritual perceptions of artists and the full scope of a religious tradition seldom coincide...
...In the history of the Christian church, various opinions about the role of art have existed simultaneously...
...Architecture can therefore be said to be the art form of Protestantism...
...al., generators of "The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 18901985," a pivotal exhibition which opened in Los Angeles last summer and is now on tour...
...It is not artists who have deserted the church, he says...
...He notes that the sculptor Richard Lippold "is impressed by the way in which modern science has changed our perception...
...The author has a grand insight into the work of a number of people, not from a formalistic viewpoint but from pondering what he sees...
...That js what he wants others in his relatively bleak profession to do to be able to see, to use their senses with delight and as a form of worship...
...Mary Carroll Nelson John Dillenberger unveils A Theology of Artistic Sensibilities amidst an eruption of art-related curatorial and publishing events centered upon spiritual relevancy...
...Generally speaking, Protestantism, in rebellion against a perceived opulence and corruption in Catholicism, was iconoclastic, although Luther preached against destroying images and Lutheranism remains open to the visual arts...
...It is all couched in a heap of words, some felicitous and others so academic and specialized that it is a hardship to wade through them...
...Unfortunately, though his book contains 123 black-and-white illustrations, some 107 works discussed are not illustrated and only a handful of readers will share the knowledge of both art history and theology which Dillenberger brings to the subject...
...The Seventeenth Century was at once the narrowing of worlds and the broadening of worlds," Dillenberger writes...
...Thus, . . . Protestants and Roman Catholics lost the power of the visual...
...He argues that the senses serve human values, not just the aural sense, but the visual as well...
...Something larger, more applicable to our pluralistic culture which sorely needs recognizable spiritual nourishment, would seem more appropriate to the Olympian viewpoint Dillenberger has taken of his subject...
...In an uninflected comment, he suggests that the idea of a church as a space filled with pews might already be passe...
...Protestantism, meanwhile, placed its emphasis on the auditory, on the place of the pulpit in the church and has been supportive of architecture, while excluding the visual arts...
...In the centuries since, however, Catholicism sustained this transfiguring style long after it lost its energy...
...Dillenberger traces two currents of belief from the earliest times until the present: these are the proscription against making a graven image versus a reverence for the icon as a manifestation of divine reality...
...Most of all, the sources seem to well up from within...
...Things are no longer solid: their structure is an illusion . . . Space is the constant in which the small and the vast are present...
...The essence of the baroque spirit was to combine religious absolutism with the new science and to portray this world in a state of active transfiguration...
...Ever troublesome, these opposing viewpoints fed the Reformation/CounterReformation controversy...
...He holds a revisionist view of twentieth-century art history parallel to that of Maurice Tuchman, et...
...Dillenberger also remarks on the effect science has had in this convention...
...He discovers the spiritual wellsprings of, among others, Joseph Stella, Arthur Dove, Georgia O'Keefe, Arthur B. Davies, Charles Burchfield, John Steuart Curry, Marsden Hartley, Augustus Vincent Tack, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, and the Abstract Expressionists...
...Art history, viewed through a theological perspective, leads Dillenberger to his purpose, which is to plead for the unique role of the visual as a way of knowing and for its rightful place in theology...
...The' visual arts were a memory rather than a source of power...
...In "Contemporary Theologians and the Visual Arts," Dillenberger seeks a theology of diversity that includes the arts...
...Clearly, Dillenberger's is an adventurous mind and he has the vision to imagine a theology of artistic sensibilities for more than the limited few who choose the seminary...
...Discussing Barnett Newman's abstract art, Dillenberger looks beyond its formal syntax and, relying upon a decade of friendship with the artist, posits that Newman's vision is "introspective and ontological...
...it provides a new entrance into reality and pushes us through that entrance...
...Roman Catholics never abandoned the visual arts," he writes, "but in Roman Catholicism too their formative power was considerably reduced through a repetitiveness of style and content...
...333...
...Dillenberger's goal is to include the visual arts in the curriculum of the seminary, a disappointingly modest conclusion...
...rather the church has deserted the artists...
...Baroque art is the heart of the Counter-Reformation...
...He quotes an address by Langdon Gilkey: "Art makes 'us see in new and different ways, below the surface and beyond the obvious...
...In his excellent chapter "Perceptions 332: of the Spirit in American Painting and Sculpture," Dillenberger briefly surveys pivotal artists and their intentions with a perspective, as I remarked, that is similar to Maurice Tuchman's...
...Nonetheless, I found the book valuable to read...
...Dillenberger brings to his task a rare competence in theology and art history...
...Art opens up the truth hidden and within the ordinary...
...In a single paragraph, slipped into his chapter on "The Church, Art, and Architecture," Dillenberger refers to a "truncated religious ethic" that believes "it helps the poor by modesty without style...

Vol. 114 • May 1987 • No. 10


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.