"Message" stream



(above, Marble catacomb inscription, Pio Cristiano: Vatican Museum)


Good friend Ben Volta and some others have a great stream going, on "messages" in art, on his blog; paticipate: http://benjaminvolta.blogspot.com

This is largely precipitated by a provocative lecture Friday night by Karlfried Froehlich, from Princeton Seminary, as part of the DIALOGUE series at Olivet Covenant PC studios: What is Christian Art? What made it very interesting for me, was his mostly historical approach, i.e., beginning with the most early of Christian artistic expressions - catacombs - and arguing that the term "Christian Art" is a specific time-based term that no longer has much meaning, or at least is no longer applicable. (Part of the post-Christendom argument, I suppose.) His expertise is history of the church rather than art, so it was interesting to have a different take on the subject. But one major discussion that the lecture ended with, was the role of "messages" in art, and his opinion that therein lies the contemporary "Christian" artists' onus...to think about and articulate their message(s) well.

(My apologies to those who may not be of any particular "Christian" persuasion...) I would however make the case that this history, no matter your inclinations now, is important to understand, for more efficaciously moving on to understanding later Christian artistic expressions, as well as the entire grand arc of all art to follow, including Modernism (often, incidentally, becoming reactive/revolutionary). The great majority of art history from the Constantinian era, up through the pre-American and French revolution periods, was concerned with Christian meaning, content and yes, messages...for better or for worse.

I picked up off my shelf, on Sunday, a book that was a little dusty; a gift from a professor several years ago...Art of the Early Church, by Robert Lowrie. And in it he reiterates much of what Mr. Froehlich talked about...but one interesting illumination was how most early Christian art was focused so completely on transcendent themes...resurrection, heaven; the new birth. Part of this I would imagine was simply a matter of context, all of this art having the origin of tomb art, basically. I'd quote it here, but unfortunately left the book home.

Not to detract from Ben Volta's discussion, but I'd be interested in hearing what you wayfarers think of this: what IS the role of "messages" in art making? (Especially as someone who considers themselves to be a serious art-maker?) And, pertaining to my comment on Ben's discussion, is INTENT important in the message? Can we take for granted that all art has a "message" of some sort, and focus completely on how it is conveyed/crafted, according to our intent? I would also argue that, no matter our INTENT at times...it still doesn't come across.

Anonymous –   – (Tuesday, 25 October, 2005)  

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Good work! see ya.

Rubens –   – (Tuesday, 25 October, 2005)  

Tim it's nice that you and Ben are taking these things deeper. Ben and I spoke a little bit about it after the talk. I think that the word "message" strikes a nervous cord with us that have grown up in postmodernism, because message seems to be something quite "definite". But I think that messages are ubiquitous in any sort of art form, whether the artist is cognizant of its message or not. I say it is always there because there is meaning in everything and meaning to me seems to give birth to message. More times than not, it seems to happen subconsciously. I think when "intent" is driven to become the actual message, coercion happens and it usually drives the work and its message to its demise. Because the actual work is also "messagical" if you will, and has a different form of describing intentional elements that are at times subconscious to the maker.

GIERSCHICK  – (Tuesday, 25 October, 2005)  

Rubens, I think you're right that our perspective is definitely rooted in post-modern milieu, whether we realize it or not...and I like your use of the word definite. Definition is something I have a love-hate relationship with; defining something has a certain pleasure in it, but...where do you go from there? I was thinking of "intent" more in the sense of being deliberate about a message, rather than just letting "whatever" happen "however," or, as you implied, pushing the message hard in one direction to coerce. I think of INTENT in message as more like a crafting of the basic conveyance of meaning that's already, naturally there. Since, like I mentioned in Ben's blog (postname: "message") my tendency is to think there is ALWAYS a message (something conveyed) and our discussion is immaterial in the sense that we can't help having something conveyed if we "bring something into existence" - or art making. And I think you and I are sort of saying the same thing. But, like what I seem to think Ben was getting at, he didn't want to think about message, because he would seem to be influencing too much the "work-ness" of the work - or creating too much definition or explanation, or ulterior motive around the work. I tend to strip things down, including words, to their basic elements, and then reassemble them if necessary; it helps me get my mind around something, instead of just flinging words around. But that's the etymologist in me...
"Meaning giving birth to message" is a nice phrase...seems very "natural."

benvolta  – (Tuesday, 25 October, 2005)  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
benvolta  – (Tuesday, 25 October, 2005)  

"instead of just flinging words around"

them fighting words... ha

I am not scared of a message getting into the "work-ness" of the work.

As far as the producer is concerned - the message is that it is art - thats all it needs to be - but there can be other messages present intended - unintended or whatever.

It is great if we have the old "free play of the mind" going on conjuring up messages that may or may not be there, but they are in the mind of who ever is looking at the art. It is a "narrative allegory" or what not.

who knows if it is really in the "art"?

With work where the intended message is not clear, there is a discrepancy that muddles it all up making the term "message" maybe the wrong term to use.

other than, you know, the message is that it is art.

GIERSCHICK  – (Wednesday, 26 October, 2005)  

ben, no offense was meant by "flinging words", I fling with the best of them. I'ts more an attempt at self-control.
Would you say, then, that any other "message" besides the work's "work-ness" or being, should mostly be in the viewer's power? In other words, the artist creates, and leaves it at that? If so, then I'd ask the question, wasn't the very decision to create the work, latching on to a message of sorts? ha...how far can we take this? :-)
Anyway, we should make this into an in-person discussion next critique.

Dayton  – (Wednesday, 26 October, 2005)  

This is all a quote from my post on Ben's blog. If the two blogs were disagreeing with one another I'd say we had an Hegelian thing going and start another blog and call it "Flesh Work." But as they are, it's basically the same conversation:

"Intention. That's an important word here. Intention has everything to do with how one realates to a work of art. What has the artist intended? What does the viewer intend (what cultural or personal bias is the viewer bringing to the table)?

Another important "I" word is interpretation. To interpret, or not to interpret. Do we interpret art, do we look at art, do we just come into its presence and let it wash over us?

Art as muse or as a-muse-ment? Does the viewer absorb the art, or does the art absorb the viewer. This becomes a matter of control. Who is in control when engaging a work of art. I think most people like to guard their sense of control. Maybe we all do? Who wants to be vulnerable in the face of some mystery?

I find it interesting that westerners often refer to all works of art (paintings, concertos, sculptures, symphonies, plays, novels, poems) as "cultural texts." My mom has always had the hardest time engaging art because she's a theologian and student of the bible, and just wants to approach everything with the interpreter's eye. I don't think there is anything wrong with the desire to get at the meaning beneath/within a work of art, but then we come back to intention of the artist. Some work is just not meant to be interpreted or deciphered. Many folks just don't want to do any work. They operate at the aesthetic reading level of a 6th grader (or don't read at all, more often), and then want know what something is all about. They disdain that which they don't understand.

I'm reading Moby Dick one evening and someone asks me what its all about. I reply that they ought to read it, and they reply that they cannot read. Well, I don't "articulate" Moby Dick to them. Herman Melville already did that. I encourage them to learn to read. This may see mean-hearted, but it's the opposite, in fact. So they learn to read, and in a year I ask them what Moby Dick is all about, and they tell me about a tragic and adventurous story of a Captain and his quest for an ellusive white whale!

Is that what Moby Dick is all about? On one level, yes.

But I ask the same person, after years of reading and study and immersion in literature, and Moby Dick is no longer just an adventure tale. They have learned to probe the deeper and deeper layers of works of literary art.

So when the artist is compelled to articulate the meaning or message of a work of art, I'm motivated to point to the art and say, there it is! And if the person who loves words demands it be translated into their language, I'm motivated to demand they learn another language and translate it themself!

This is not to say that its disingenuine for the artist to speak about their artwork. I quite enjoy that.

Enough."

Dayton  – (Wednesday, 26 October, 2005)  

Oh, and by the way. Why are we all writing about this?

That's a serious question.

benvolta  – (Thursday, 27 October, 2005)  

Tim: I think that is what I am trying to get at, that the decision to make the work is the only sure message, after that it is up for grabs, whether you made the work or whether you are a viewer of the work.

but I am rethinking things, I got myself confused.

ha, I said "fighting words" just to rustle your mennonite feathers.... %100 being silly


**** I will miss your spam blogs, you had the best ones:(

"taking care of a blog is like taking care of a dog"

remember that one, that was the best :(

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