Thursday, January 10, 2008

Refractions: Refractions 26: The Epistle of van Gogh

This entry links to the Refractions blog of artist Makoto Fujimura:

Refractions: Refractions 26: The Epistle of van Gogh

Refractions 26 is Fujimura's entry on insights he gained from the Morgan Library exhibit of Van Gogh's letters to Emile Bernard. Fujimura, a highly-regarded artist whose parents were born in Japan, has posted a lengthy but thoughtful entry that covers Van Gogh's art and faith, especially shown through "Starry Night" (probably Van Gogh's most popular and recognizable work). What's interesting to me is that Fujimura fleshes out the basic picture of Van Gogh with a few details about his intellect and culture:  that, for instance, Van Gogh spoke and wrote in five languages, daily read from Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ in its original Latin, and was rejected from the pastorate by the Dutch Reformed Church because he was not well educated.

Fujimura relates Van Gogh's literary and linguistic skills to his artistic ability. Van Gogh was keenly interested in not only his own but other cultures and was strongly influenced (like several Impressionist artists) by Japanese woodblock art. Would he have been so artistically and visually aware in a less literary culture? How does reading affect a culture's art? How does it affect the way a culture thinks and works? (An aside:  Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death is one of the best books on this theme.)

So here's a thought:  Why are Christians, who should be the most literary people on the planet, so poor in the visual arts? We've got the kitsch of Thomas Kincade and the sometimes-preachy illustrations of Ron DiCianni (whose art I really like in spite of its drawbacks). But when I read the sections of Scripture in which God's prophets see visions of the Holy One on His throne, I see majesty, awe and holiness displayed in a way that brings the prophet (and me as the reader) to his (to my) knees in humility, repentance and worship. We can do this in our writing and music, but how can we develop a sense of the presence of God in the visual arts? And why aren't we trying harder to do so?

No comments: