Honesty

Chinese Communist Propaganda Poster, Cultural Revolution Era (1966-1969), Caption reads: “Never forget that the Chinese Communist Party Emancipated Us! All Happiness Comes from Chairman Mao!”

***

In Woody Allen’s 1972 movie Play it again Sam the following scene takes place in an art museum:

WOODY ALLEN:  That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn’t it?

GIRL IN MUSEUM:  Yes it is.

WOODY ALLEN:  What does it say to you?

GIRL IN MUSEUM:  It restates the negativeness of the universe, the hideous lonely emptiness of existence, nothingness, the predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity, like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void, with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless bleak straightjacket in a black absurd cosmos.

WOODY ALLEN:  What are you doing Saturday night?

GIRL IN MUSEUM:  Committing suicide.

WOODY ALLEN:  What about Friday night?

Here’s the original scene on a YouTube video:

In my last post, I suggested that there’s order in Pollock’s chaos and that’s something that first impressed me about his art. The above dialogue, besides being hilariously funny, suggests that Pollock’s work is an expression of a kind of dark, nihilistic existentialism. It’s negative and depressing. It shows the meaninglessness in the universe.

This idea brings several questions to my mind. Is abstract art an expression of a cynical, anti-Christian worldview? If so, can you appreciate art without buying into the underlying worldview? Do you have to approve of an artist in order to approve of her art? Does art have to be aesthetically pleasing? If it’s not pretty can it still be art?

The Apostle Paul said, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Take a look at communist art sometimes, especially propaganda art like the poster above. When compared with the realities of the totalitarian state that approved it, it’s hardly honest. Given the evil and suffering in the world—all of the chaos—one thing I think it’s safe to say about abstract art, which reflects that chaos, is that it’s honest.

Are you ready to have an honest dialogue about things of ultimate importance, about matters of faith? If so, what are you doing Saturday night?

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3 Comments

Filed under art, devotionals

3 responses to “Honesty

  1. Kyndra

    Great post, Professor Moger.

    Abstract art can and should be appreciated for its snapshot of the human condition sans a Redeemer, but with the realization that the snapshot is “honest” but incomplete. Our world may often be barren, but we do not live in “a barren, godless eternity.” God’s salvation plan is the full story that informs our worldview. Not every work of art has to depict the gospel story, but it is interesting how many great works of art do, in fact, hint at transcendence. Does abstract art ever evoke awe for the relationship between the temporal and the eternal?

  2. Rick

    Travis,
    But all that this worldview and their art manifests IS a lie. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”-Romans 1:18-20.

    An understanding and appreciation of the lost and their despair should propel us to devote ourselves even more to the ministry of the gospel among them, because without a knowledge of God and a personal knowledge of Him through His Son, there is nothing but emptiness and purposelessness.

    So is this is what an academic year at Navy, does to you? It leaves people like confused plebes at the end of plebe summer, without ‘excuse?’

    Blessings on your summer and your continued service there for Him! Miss you. Have gotten to know a number of your former students… we have to get together.

  3. Kyndra,

    Thank you for your compliment and comments. You asked, “Does abstract art ever evoke awe for the relationship between the temporal and eternal?” Art, abstract or not, can communicate in a variety of ways and viewers bring a host of experiences, understandings, and prejudices with them. You might see a majestic mountain and think about the awesomeness of God’s creation. A rock climber would see a recreational opportunity. A geologist . . . I’m not exactly sure what a geologist would see, but you get the idea. So, yes, I think abstract art can evoke awe for the eternal. Keep in mind that there’s a great variety within abstract art, even within Pollock’s oeuvre. (He only did his famous drip paintings during one phase between 1947 and 1950, his “drip period.”)

    Rick,

    Your objections are welcome here! For me it’s simply too simplistic to write off a whole genre of art as inherently dishonest or evil. Keep in mind that every new art form, whether in the visual or performing arts is labeled as bad and un-Christian. If we didn’t overcome our initial objections to new art forms, Christians would be stuck with listening to Gregorian chant and looking at mosaics. And, for the record, I like Gregorian chant . . . and mosaics!

    Peace,
    Travis

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