Wednesday, August 19, 2009

blasphemy! blasphemy! blasphemy!

the preamble
i've been reading 2 samuel (yes, i do read the bible, although perhaps more occasionally than i'd care to admit) and was struck by something i read. it was occasioned by the episode in the david story where he stayed home and played while everyone else went to war. while at home, wandering on his balcony, he spied a beautiful woman bathing on a roof somewhere with spying distance. and he desired her (idle hands and all that). and, being the king, he sent for her. and she came. to be honest, i'm not sure what choice she had. the bible says he lay with her. and then she purified herself from her uncleanness. i find that interesting. anyway, wouldn't you know it -- bathsheba (that was her name) became pregnant.

so david brought her husband back to the house from the battlefield, hoping he'd be happy to be back with his hot wife and that he'd lay with her as well and thereby create a skin for david's sin. of course, uriah (that was his name) was too honourable, and decided that he couldn't indulge himself when his fellow soldiers were going without and he refused. in fact, he avoided his wife altogether. which meant uriah wouldn't be providing david with an alibi to hide behind. bad enough that david coveted another man's wife, but then he schemed and conspired to have that man killed. once uriah was dead, and his wife had mourned him, david sent for her again, and made her his wife. and she bore him a son.

now, that's all preamble and context for the thing that struck me. see, this thing remained a secret (for the most part). some time later, nathan, a prophet, came to visit david and told him a story. in essence: a man had lots of lambs and yet he stole the only lamb another man had for his own purposes. david recognized the injustice of that and declared that the many-lambed man should pay for his selfishness, at which point natham lowered the boom, pulled off the veil and let david know that the selfish man was david (and bathsheba was the little lamb).

the amble
now here's the thing i want to discuss (and i will bring it around as a way to look at art or the art process or the calling/ responsibility of the artist): nathan says that this event has given people (okay, okay - he says the enemies of God) an opportunity to blaspheme. well! what does that mean? i think it means this: his actions, and the results of those actions, mis-represented God and the Truth of who he is. his character. his justice. the Truth.

i would like us to consider that idea in the context of art, its making and receiving. after all, there are numerous instances when art is accused of being blasphemous (andres serrano, chris ofili). and perhaps people mean that it misrepresents God. that it misrepresents the Truth. more often than not,however, i think people mean that it offends their image of God, what they understand to be true of him.

here is a tension. on the one hand, God is the Great Iconoclast. every time we think we have him solved he surprises and confounds us, and chips away at or outright destroys our image of him. that, despite the fact that we are inherently idolatrous (and, for that matter, theolatrous). we make idols of things, images, ideas, people without thinking. on the other hand, we are image-bearers of God - we carry the imago dei. like him, we are creative beings. and yet he gives artists the pleasure and the responsibility of working with images (or texts - which in turn create images in our minds), and using those images to communicate to people, to move them. the questions is: how deeply and closely do we consider the images we make? what do they reflect?

so let me say this: it is blasphemous when art misrepresents the Truth. yes - the Truth about God, but also the Truth about man. about relationships. about suffering. about injustice. about joy and hope and love. to quite the japanese director, akira kurosawa: the artist is the one who does not look away. the artists sees the truth. the artist must engage with the Truth.

of course, all of this is to say that i think, and will maintain for all my days, that art's purpose is, in fact, to communicate Truth, within and between communities, starting with the individual. it is an inherently communal enterprise. it is purposeful in its intent to connect. to commune, i.e. to make something 'common' or shared. i think it is counter to the purposes and, indeed, the character of God, who has made us in his image as creative beings - and even some of us with the calling of the artist - to present anything but Truth, on whatever level or about whatever subject. in fact, it is therefore blasphemous, a gross and perverse misrepresentation, to live anywhere or anyway else.

all i want is the Truth.

just give me the Truth.


Scribing said...

and let's hope we can handle it.

i am in agreement with your premise. i embrace a quote from Solzhenitsyn that helps me in my approach as i create. he said (loose quote): the artist's duty is to make himself available for that one word of truth that outweighs the world.

it seems a high call to chase such a pursuit and to handle those truths that have the weight of glory.

A.H. said...

But what about questioning the truth? An artist may choose to present an opportunity to ask "what is the truth?"; allowing the viewer to explore an issue from a new perspective, taking the viewer on a journey to examine their own beliefs, values and assumptions.

Also, what about the viewer's role? Each viewer brings their own knowledge, experience and bias to the viewing process and this influences what they take away from the experience.

techne said...

well A - the artist has a holy responsibility to engage with the Truth. often simply presenting the truth unadorned is enough to shift people, seeing as we are so prone to pretending, dissembling or simply refusing to see.

the viewer's role, is much the same as the artist's. their task is to ask: is this True? have i found Truth in this work? even just a hint, a whiff, a sniffle? of course one's own experiences and knowledge affect one's reading, but a good viewer's task is not simply to come to a work and impose their own ideas on it -- their responsibility is to engage (there's that word again) with the work on it own terms [first]. c.s. lewis sums it up nicely in an experiment in criticism:

[when looking at art,] we must use our eyes. we must look, and go on looking till we have certainly seen exactly what is there. we sit down before the picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. the first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. look. listen. receive. get yourself out of the way. (there is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)