Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Aslan and Burke: Not Good, but Safe

Currently I am in the middle of a series on the . Last week I wrote an article on , and I am going to continue that discussion here by showing how the Sublime operates in the movie and the book. In particular, I will show how Burke’s concept of the Sublime as infinite, terrible, and uncertain applies to ’s creation of Aslan, but not the movie’s adaptation.

No book or novel has ever been made into a movie, except perhaps a very short book. It is simply impossible to take every element of a written story and transform it into another art form while keeping the original meaning in its entirety. I mean its absolute entirety. But that does not mean that books should never be adapted into movies, it just means that the director must make certain decisions in order to capture the essence of a story while shortening it into a movie. That is the difference between an adaptation and making a book into a film. When I see an adaptation, I do not expect it to be identical to the book, but I do expect a good director to retain the themes and power of the original source. It is my contention that Adamson failed to adapt The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I will be looking specifically at three ways in which Aslan was portrayed differently from the book: his status as teacher, his relation to the “Emperor,” and his Sublime attributes.

One of the elements of Lewis’s book that does not make it into the movie is the role Aslan plays as a teacher. I am thinking of two scenes in particular, but there are doubtlessly others. In these scenes from the book, Aslan commands one of the children to do something. In the movie, these commands are left out and the children simply know to do what is right. The first of these scenes is when Aslan pulls Peter aside to talk to him and Susan blows her horn calling for help. In Adamson’s version, Peter knows that it is Susan and he runs to save her. In the book, Aslan tells Peter, “It is your sister’s horn.” This might seem like a minor detail, but if one considers the complexity of Lewis’s allegory then it is important. Although Peter is going to be High King of , he still needs instruction from Aslan. Peter does not have some innate knowledge of what he should do: this is a world where man is fallen in his mind as well as his soul and body. Adamson removes this and in doing so, suggests that Aslan is not needed in order for Peter to act correctly in this world. The conversation that Peter and Aslan are having before Peter runs off is on the “Deep Magic,” (which I will discuss later) and it appears that Aslan is teaching Peter. But this teaching is what Schaeffer would call “upper-storey,” it is irrational, otherworldly, and does not really affect this world. In other words, Adamson allows that God can teach us about spiritual things, but earthly things are the responsibility of man.

The next scene is after the battle with the witch, near the end of the book. Aslan and Peter’s forces have triumphed, but Edmund is dying. When Aslan and the other children reach Edmund, Aslan reminds Lucy of her cordial which has the power to heal all wounds; Lucy does not remember on her own. And after Lucy heals Edmund, Aslan commands her to help others. This is how this scene takes place in the book:

“There are other people wounded,” Said Aslan while she was still looking eagerly into Edmund’s pale face and wondering if the cordial would have any result.
“Yes, I know,” said Lucy crossly. “Wait a minute.”
“Daughter of Eve,” said Aslan in a grave voice, “others are also at the point of death. Must more people die for Edmund?”
“I’m sorry, Aslan,” said Lucy.

This exchange is quite different in the movie. There, Lucy realizes herself that she can save Edmund, and then she quickly runs around healing others without any word from Aslan. Adamson presents us with a God that has nothing to offer humanity on this earth: no words of wisdom, no commands, no rebuke, no instruction, nothing. He is a silent God. In this world man does not need God in order to do what is right, for each person knows instinctively what to do. This is no minor difference. Lewis gives us a world where people are genuinely fallen and need God’s instruction, His Word, and His guidance; this is a Biblical world. This is . Adamson’s adaptation is not.

The second area where Adamson fails to adapt Aslan properly is in the portrayal of the Deep Magic. In the book, the Witch comes to Aslan’s camp and presents her case for Edmund belonging to her on the grounds of the Deep Magic. Susan is shocked because of this magic Edmund must be given to the Witch, so she whispers to Aslan:

“Can’t we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn’t there something you can work against it?”

“Work against the Emperor’s magic?” said Aslan turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again.

Here Lewis shows that Aslan cannot go against the magic. But notice how carefully he constructs this. Lewis does not say that Aslan is subject to or beneath the power of the Deep Magic, but rather he cannot work against the Emperor’s magic. There is a great difference. In this allegory Aslan, like Christ, could not simply free Edmund from the penalty of his sin; the penalty of sin is death. To go against this would be to deny justice and therefore His very character; and God cannot be not God. This is the Deep Magic, which was established by God but also by Christ in the profoundly complex Trinity. Had Lewis said, as we hear in the movie, that Aslan was subject to the Deep Magic just like everyone else, he would he in effect say that Christ was not God; He was forced to obey a law over Him. Thus Aslan, instead of being obedient to the Emperor and his own character, is merely another being under the power of some mystical law.

The last argument I will make concerning the adaptation of Aslan is that he ceases to be Sublime in the movie. And with this loss of the Sublime, Aslan is further lowered to the status of hero. When I speak of the Sublime, I am primarily referring to ’s definition in his essay “On the Sublime and Beautiful:”

“Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling” (35).

This idea is very applicable to Lewis’s book considering the concept of Aslan being good but not safe (which is changed to good but not tame in the movie). Concerning the comprehension of God, Burke says that, “we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before Him.” (58). The very idea of God is terribly (in a literal way) Sublime, and Lewis understands this. Aslan, in the book, is feared by all. This also fits in with Burke’s concept of God and the Sublime: “The notion of some great power must be always precedent to our dread of it” (59). For Aslan to be truly powerful, and truly allegorically representative of Christ, he must evoke a sense of dread in the other characters and the reader. Both the “good” characters and the bad are afraid of Aslan. Even in the first description of Aslan we can see the Sublime:

“The Beavers and the children didn’t know what to do or say when they saw him. People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then the found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly” (123).

This is a powerful passage, and its power comes through the description that defies physical rendering. In our imagination, we can create Aslan as Lewis presents him here, with all that terror and majesty. This image transcends the rational and the material, and affects us on a much deeper level. It evokes in us the infinite, the unattainable, and the ethereal. Here is the God we find in Old Testament (who is the same today as He was yesterday), who is a consuming fire and is also love. While we struggle to understand how Aslan could be both good and terrible, we are reminded of the character of God in a way that transcends theology and logic. It strikes us Sublimely. If, however, we were to attempt to render this image in a painting or a significant drawing or in a movie, we would find that this power is gone. The individual pieces of Lewis’s description cannot be reasonably formed into a physical rendering because they are not reasonable in an earthly sense. This is in part due to the great uncertainty of Aslan’s true appearance. We are told of the affect of the lion’s appearance upon the children and the Beavers, but not what he looks like. In reality, we are only told that he has eyes, and a golden mane! Let me allow Burke to make this clearer:

“Painting…can only affect simply by the images it presents; and even in painting, a judicious obscurity in some things contribute to the effect of the picture; because the images in painting are exactly similar to those in nature; and in nature, dark, confused, uncertain images have a greater power on the fancy to form the grander passions, than those have which are more clear and determined.” (53).

In other words, whenever we try to make a physical representation of something, we must always appeal a great deal to nature, but this will always fall short compared to rendering something in language. In language, as in the description of Aslan, images can be created through ambiguity and uncertainty in such a way as to evoke an even more powerful ideal. Thus, we do not merely see a lion, we see an infinitely powerful, loving, terrible, lion. How could this ever be physically rendered? According to Burke, any attempt and rendering such things results in disaster:

“[Poetry’s] apparitions, its chimeras, its harpies, its allegorical figures, are grand and affecting; and though Virgil’s Fame and Homer’s Discord are obscure, they are magnificent figures. These figures in painting would be clear enough, but I fear they might become ridiculous” (54).

Aslan, in Adamson’s film, is ridiculous. He is beautiful, but not terrible, and not infinite. The problem with paintings and other visual arts is that you are always confronted with the finite. No matter how obscure of a painting you make, it will always have a definite ending even if that is only the frame. In language, an image can thrive forever. This is incredibly important. When Lewis attempted to create a character who stood allegorically for Christ, (not descended as a man Christ either) he did so in a way that allowed our imaginations to be affected by a Sublime image and evoke in us the infinite. But as soon as that lion is made into a picture, particularly in a film, we see that it is only a lion. Only an oversized cat. There is a finiteness to his roar, to his beauty, to his voice, to his size, to his terribleness, and to his goodness. He is no longer a god, he is now securely a mortal. This is the great problem with rendering a character that represents God in a film.

But Adamson could have done certain things to retain some of Aslan’s majesty, terror, goodness, and therefore his infiniteness. If Aslan’s terror had been emphasized, it would have affected the audience Sublimely. We would have been confronted with a character that defied our understanding, being good and terrible, and would have thus suggested a great otherworldliness. Adamson, however, chose to remove all aspects of Aslan’s terror, giving us a character that is good but not tame, rather than . Here is the difference: there are many animals that are not tame, but are very safe. Tame connotes control, not necessarily safety: not all tame animals are safe. But if an animal is not safe, then there is a definite danger. This difference can be seen throughout Adamson’s version of the story. Aslan is no longer a god that strikes fear in the hearts of the children and the other “good” characters, only the “evil” people fear him. Allegorically, this means that those who are followers of Christ have nothing to fear from God at all; there is no need to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as Paul said in Philippians. Only the evil people, those who are clearly evil, should fear God.

To conclude, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a great work of art, as Lewis wrote it; however, the film version denatures Aslan, making him nothing more than a hero and give us a poor work of nonchristian art. Aslan has nothing to say to people in regard to commands, instruction, or advice for this world. He is under the rule of a law, just as humans are. And he is a finite, ridiculous, safe (but not “tame”), hero who only judges those with clearly evil hearts. The great depth of Lewis’s work, which resides mostly in his use of the Sublime, is striped from this film, leaving us with a nice adventure story and a character that sacrifices himself for a friend. But it is not good Christian Art.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Why Bother? The Value of Art and Aesthetics for the Christian

I have spent the last eight months writing on various issues in the arts all centered on a Christian response to these issues. The reason that I am writing all this is because I know the arts to be an important aspect of Christian life and I feel that many in the Church have fallen asleep in regard to this. There are many reasons why Christians have failed to fulfill their role has creators in the image of God, but I believe one of them has to do with the idea that art is simply not a valuable use of our time. What I have been proposing over the last year requires Christians to take an active role in art, either in producing and/or appreciating. In both cases it will require more time than the brethren has been devoting. For those who produce, they must rethink what it means to make art for God and where their own aesthetic comes from. For those who appreciate art, they must learn what good redeemed art looks/sounds/feels like and seek out Christian artists who are making that art. But if the days are evil, our time here is short, and many have yet to hear or understand God’s free gift of salvation, how can I ask believers to spend time study or making art?

Over the next few weeks I will be presenting a series of articles arguing why it is important for Christians to take an active role in the arts. I will be doing this series concurrently with the one I have already started on the Sublime. These arguments will not all be my own, instead I will be quoting from Francis Schaeffer, Calvin G. Seerveld, and Hans R. Rookmaaker. My hope, and prayer, is that my writing this many brethren who have viewed art as either entertainment or as a waste of time will become aware of the enormity of the arts and their incredible value for the Christian. I understand that many who will read this will probably be artists themselves, but I am more concerned about those who do not create art themselves.

Art as Communication

Francis Schaeffer, in his short book Escape from Reason, gives an analogy to demonstrate the importance of understanding culture:

"If a man goes overseas for any length of time we would expect him to learn the language of the country to which he is going. More than this is needed, however, if he is really to communicate with the people among whom he is living. He must learn another language—that of the thought-forms of the people to whom he speaks. Only so will he have real communication with them and to them. So it is with the Christian church. Its responsibility is not only to hold to the basic, scriptural principles of the Christian faith, but to communicate these unchanging truths ‘into’ the generation in which it is living."

This is the focus of practically all of Schaeffer’s work: to teach the brethren to communicate to a fallen world. It’s a nice thing to say that all we must do is study the Word and wait for the Holy Spirit to give us the words to say. But in studying the Word we will come across Christ’s law which calls us to love our neighbor. This does not mean that we merely love them abstractly, we must love them as humans. This requires that we know them, their needs, their fears, their concerns, their stumbling blocks, and their desires. Essentially, we must know their worldview. While we never see Christ studying different cultures and worldviews in the Gospels, we do have evidence that He did just that. When Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman, He knows her needs which were specific to her particular cultural and personal situation. The same can be said for Paul, who wrote to the churches concerning their individual needs that were often unique to their culture: some struggled with sexual immorality, others with idolatry, others with love. The apostle also instructed the churches to act in ways that were specific to each culture. Don’t eat food sacrificed to idols in certain places around certain people. This requires a deep knowledge of the belief systems of those around us. It is a historical fact that art is the best, or at least one of the best, ways to know the worldviews of a culture. Those who are in-tune with what a culture’s art is saying, what it is truly saying, will know what that culture believes and therefore how to best speak to them as people. But this is not easy. One cannot simply listen to a Metallica song and decide that all of American culture is really angry. You must learn to discover what a work of art is saying with its form and its themes, and you know whom it is speaking to. This means time and effort. But we have a great motivation for this, for when we genuinely seek to understand the art of the culture around us then we are seriously seeking to know the people around us. This is love. Biblically we know that the world and the people who live in it are fallen and without hope except for Christ, so when we respect and appreciate their art, then we are acknowledging their suffering and their sorrow. And this is important. We must never belittle the evil in this world. I am not suggesting that all good Christians will appreciate good worldly art and agree with all the themes and messages, but no matter had hard the world tries to flee from the Truth, even they cannot find a way of escaping it completely. It is our job to know what they believe that is not Truth, and what they believe that is Truth. No work of art was ever 100% a lie. What the worldly artist (and their fans) gets correct, we need to discuss with them and expound upon. And what they mistake as true, we must inquire about and encourage them to explore.

Art is a type of communication that privileges the critical things in life, the “upper storey” issues as Schaeffer would say. In our current culture, upper storey issues like faith, religion, Truth, absolutes, meaning, value, and universals are all seen as relative beliefs that have no real baring in the real world. Holding a particular faith or philosophy is like cheering for a baseball team: you can wear the shirts and watch the games, but in the end it’s only a sport. This philosophy has led to the death of dialogue throughout our culture. To speak about upper storey issues is to offend someone; therefore beliefs can only be spoken of as relative and personal. But in the arts, these issues are still commonplace since it is the nature of art to speak to the deepest fears, desires, and beliefs of man. The world is speaking, painting, writing, singing, and acting out their great questions and problems, the very problems that Christ died to rectify. In almost every other arena of this life, people have ceased to speak to each other on the important issues, which has left many Christians with little opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission. But in the arts the dialogue is still vibrant. For Christians to retreat from the arts is for them to retreat from the place where they can hear the world crying for answers the clearest. And whenever we fail to support Christian artists who are striving for God’s glory, whenever we fail to be knowledgeable and appreciative of the world’s great artists, then we have retreated.

I will continue to explore various reasons why Christians must take an active role in the arts through the next few weeks, so I encourage those who might feel that the above argument is insufficient to suspend their judgment until I have finished. For now, I would only ask that you consider and pray over these ideas and your response to them.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Andrew Adamson and Makoto Fujimura: Discerning Christian Art

Last night my wife and I went and saw Andrew Adamson’s adaptation of ‘s epic fantasy, “.” The colors were beautiful, the landscape awe inspiring, the music was ethereal, the evil was apparent yet not obscene, and the good was pure and redeemed. As a child I, like many others I know, read the novels countless times, so I was looking forward to seeing the fantasy displayed on the big screen. The build up to this movie has been quite significant as it is essentially the first movie to appeal to the “” audience that was revealed through “The Passion.” As with Gibson’s film, Wardrobe was marketed specifically to churches and the Christian demographic. Lewis’s tale, however, will have a much wider appeal since so many nonbelievers have read the books as kids. The release of this movie is an important event in : a book from perhaps the greatest apologist of the last century, filled with allegory, symbolism, meaning, and Biblical truth is remade for a whole new generation to experience in a new way.

On the cover of this week is , a New York painter and a Christian. WORLD has made Fujimura “Daniel of the Year,” an honor given to those who challenge the worldly culture around them. What is surprising about the painter is that he does not follow the realist aesthetic that is commonly held by Christians. Fujimura’s style is abstract and influenced by ancient Japanese techniques and literature. His recent series, “Water Flames” is a clear example of abstract art: the subject of each painting is flames, which are painted in brilliantly sharp colors. According to the artist, the horror of 9/11, Dante, T.S. Eliot, and Jeremiah all influenced his works through the theme of refining fires. I regret that I am not able to physically see Fujimura’s “Water and Flames” paintings myself as I am thousands of miles away from New York; however reading the WORLD article/interview on Fujimura was quite moving in itself. Fujimura speaks of making art that can “grieve with the world but also serve the world that needs love.” Before this article, I had only heard one person mention Fujimura, and that was in passing.

So which is the Christian artist? Adamson’s direction of Wardrobe clearly appeals to all the established Christian aesthetics: it does not offend, it is beautiful, it is skillfully made, it is realistic even in its fantasy, there is no ambiguity, and the message and themes are apparent to everyone. Fujimura meanwhile focuses upon the horrible power of fire, his paintings are beautiful but only within their awful truth, the subject is completely abstract (there is only symbol in the paintings), and while the painter explains the themes, their depths are hardly fathomable.

I am frightened for the future of Christian art. We sit at a fork between the complete commercialization of Christian art and a new awakening to redeeming art for God; between the Adamsons and the Fujimuras. For years Christians have struggled with commercial art, but mostly in music and paintings, and even those were primarily commodified by other Christians. With The Passion, secular “artists” were shown the profit to be made from Christians and they have no intention of allowing this demographic to slip-by. Many Christians have been rejoicing over this new attention from Hollywood, but this joy is not founded on godly discernment. Even though Lewis’s book was an example of good (not great, but good) Christian art, the movie adaptation is not. All of Lewis’s profound themes and images have been stripped down, leaving us with a sacrifice from a hero-like (but not God-like) lion, who does not evoke fear except in his enemies and does not teach anyone except the truly rebellious (Edmund). Where Lewis’s book is filled with a compelling and intricate representation of God and man’s relationship to Him, the movie is about doing the right thing and loving about others. A nonchristian can hardly make a work of Christian art that truthfully proclaims the profound love of God and our state in the world, even if he is given a godly source to work from. But we can only expect more attempts at appeasing Christians with faux art from Hollywood (and soon from commercial “art” makers as well). In these times, we must be discerning and understand that just because a character sacrifices himself for someone that doesn’t mean it is “Christian art.”

Instead of embracing the world’s attempt at commodifing the Gospel and supporting the ungodly aesthetic of hyper-realism, sinless beauty, inoffensive messages, and clearly articulated and finite themes, we as followers of Christ need to understand what it truly means to serve Christ through art and through the appreciation of art. While I am very concerned over the increased commercialization of Christian art, I am also hopeful that doors are being opened for artists like Fujimura to change minds and glorify God. There are many great Christian artists making . Unfortunately, it has been hard for believers to hear of these artists because of distance and rarity. The hope I have lies upon the ability of technology to bring Christian artist together, , and other believers about the importance of rejoicing over redeemed art. Fujimura takes risks, he works with themes that are both Christian and ambiguous, and forms that are abstract but not relative. The WORLD article points out that Fujimura has received criticism from both secular and Christian circles, from the former for being too religious and from the latter for being too abstract. Fujimura reply to this is a challenge to Christians to “be more discerning as we are called by the Apostle Paul to learn the signs of the times.” We have a choice to embrace the world’s perception of our beliefs through unredeemed aesthetics and dumbed-down themes all for the benefit of being recognized as a wealthy American culture; or to support risky, challenging, offensive (to the world and perhaps to our perception of “art”), allusive, complex, obscure art for the sake of glorifying God and edifying man through redeemed aesthetics, and perhaps even surrender our reign at the box office.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Counter Culture Lie: This is My Creation, This is My Art

The word “art” has lost almost all of its value in the English language. When I hear people using the word, I am confronted with a definition that has more to do with creativity and creation than any ideas of allusiveness, beauty, suggestiveness, power, evocation, sympathy, communication, or transcendence. It is not uncommon for pop stars to call themselves artists, or for to label their work as “art.” That is not to say that both the pop star and the graffiti writer cannot be , but simply that they rarely are. I picked these two particulars because in the vast majority of cases what they create is not art although it is quite commonly called as such. My aim is not prescriptivist; I have no desire to tell everyone what the correct definition of “art” is. However, I would like to approach the discussion of how this word is used pragmatically: what do we want to be “art” and why?

The roots of the loose definition of “art” come from the ideal of the natural artist/genius. If you believe that artists are those who are born with the ability to create great art, then you do not need to hold to any strict conceptions of what art is. Art becomes completely intangible and divine. The opposite view (which oddly enough also influenced the loose definition of “art”) of this is that something is a work of art if it is skillfully crafted and/or requires an element of creativity in its creation. A combination between these two opposing ideals (a ?) has resulted in the present use of the word art to mean that indefinable work which is skillfully and creatively made. Since the artist is naturally gifted to make , whatever they make must be art. In this, skill and complexity always gets diminished in value under the weight of creativity and innate artistry. Thus, it is art because a person with divine (post-Romantics would replace “divine” with the essential human quality “to be artistic”) abilities creatively makes something that in some way communicates. I have heard this used to defend mainstream and its preoccupation with violence, partying, and substance abuse: they are artists because they skillfully and creatively crafted their lyrics. But under this definition few things are not art. A well-made table becomes a work of art. Interior design becomes an art form. Packaging for cereal becomes art. A plain bowl is art. Everything created by a human being becomes a work of art.

There is a great irony here. Many of the people who now claim the loose definition of “art” are those who aspire to the ideal. The thought that some rich, white, “scholar” would tell them that their music/painting/writing isn’t art is ridiculous to them. Down with the elitist upper class art and up with the people’s art. After all, what could their erudite art have to do with the struggles of the working class person?

When I was a kid, I had a vivid imagination, as did a couple of my neighborhood friends. One day a couple of my friends and I were playing in my front yard. We were imagining that we were fighting a vast army of robots (or aliens or communists…). My friend Jeremiah and I always managed to evade the enemy’s bullets and attacks, but the kid across the street who was playing with us kept saying that he had been hit. First he told us that his leg was blown off, then an arm, then the other leg, then a hand; but he kept fighting; the kid was invincible. He never did die, but he kept getting hit. This really bothered Jeremiah and me. Even if it was make believe, to just make up your own rules and flaunt them like he was doing made us sick. In many ways, the Counter Culture art movements do the same thing. Instead of taking them time to learn and understand what art means, they change the rules and proudly proclaim their ignorance to the world. Meanwhile, the “game” becomes less and less valuable to all involved.

The horribly sad irony here is that by loosening the definition of art, art becomes valueless. So that in the end, they are not making art that rejects the capitalistic ideas of the upper classes, they are merely making all art equally cheep.

The question becomes: is this what we want the definition of art to be? Is the word of any use to us with this definition? Essentially what we are left with is that art is that which is created by a person and is pleasing or beautiful. This definition would lead us to believe that Hanson, the Backstreet Boyz, and Brittany Spears are all “art.” Our intuitions should tell us otherwise.

For an example, I have chosen a favorite art form of mine, Hip-Hop. But this example could work equally as well in almost any other pop-art form. Hip-Hop is a genre that is full of tremendous artistic potential. Not only could someone use this genre to creatively and skillfully make music, there is also room for beauty, complexity, allusiveness, communication, empathy, and power. What we tend to find in this genre, however, is music that lacks any of these great qualities and relies heavily upon skill, creativity, and pleasure. The potential remains, but is untapped. On top of this, MC’s often claim to be “artists,” themselves. Which means that they are making either bad art, or commercial entertainment and bragging in their ignorance that it is indeed “art.” The sadness that I feel over this is because there is no reason for Hip-Hop, or Rock, or , or Cartoons, or Sitcoms, not to be art, but that requires discipline and action, not simply making trash and swearing that it is “art.”

I am not going to (at least, not at this time) attempt to establish what the real definition of “art” is; however, I think we all agree that it should be something that goes beyond silverware and floor tiles, placemats and hairdos. Many beginning artists see themselves as part of a revolt against the established academic authority and their definition of art. But revolts can lead to apathy. The beginning artist must resist the temptation to claim that they are making “art” and simply begin practicing and improving. If it is not art, don’t just say it’s art because you made it; instead, make a conscious effort to improve your skills and understanding of art.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Sublime Part 1


For the last three or four months I have been intending on writing a series of articles on the Sublime, the Infinite, and a distinctly Christian aesthetic.  I have been prevented from beginning this series by school and a deep fear that I will not do this subject the justice it is due.  However, since I seem to be unable to devote the time that I deemed necessary to study the Sublime, I am simply going to explore the issue here and allow the articles (and the responses to them) to form a starting point for further studies.  I must begin this series by citing wonderful conversations with my best friend Stephen as a foundation for my thoughts.  

The Infinite as Ubiquitous and Fundamental

Ecclesiastes 3:11
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even the to end.”

1 Corinthians 4:1
“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of God and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

In every person, there is a passionate, piercing, and haunting desire for the infinite.  The desire takes many forms but is evident in almost every endeavor of man.  For some, it is articulated through a longing, for others it is hollowness.  (This is Pascal’s “God shaped vacuum.”)  Whatever form, this desire for the infinite reflects an innate knowledge in all humans that the world is fallen and something is terrible amiss.  

An example from my friend will illustrate this point.  When someone drives by a dead dog on the side of the road, they are always affected.  Even the most callus person recognizes that this death is foreign to the world.  There are a few people would attempt to embrace death, violence, and decay, but their embrace is always so self-consciously uncommon that they only exemplify a knowledge in us that death is somehow unnatural.  If we truly were mere products of evolution, would we not all feel a union with death and its inevitability?  We all recognize that death is not the way it ought to be.  We all long for some world where death and suffering are as unnatural as them seem to be in our hearts.  

A young man never longs to have sexual intercourse with a girl; he always longs to make indescribable and eternal love to the most beautiful woman imaginable.  It is a desire forever stifled by reality and the muse of many addictions.  He craves Guenevere, Eve, Aphrodite, Venus, a model, Gatsby’s Daisy, what is unattainable: both foreign to the earth and common to the heart.  When he first sees a girl, he imagines a person with infinite wonder.  Her mystery is endless and enrapturing.  He sees in her a hint at infinity.

A child never desires to eat an ice cream cone; the taste that fills her imagination is always a sense that could never inhabit this earth.

A person never sees a beautiful sunset and believes that it will end and that it sets upon a broken and violent world.  

Someone will object to my romantic ideas saying that there are many people who believe life to be a miserable existence.  But I would suggest that even those whose intentions and thoughts seem to be focused upon the brutal, evil, and sad in life, do so with a passion that is equally infinite.  In my own life, whenever I have become horrible depressed, it always takes the form of some eternally alienated feeling.  I was never simply sad; my depression shook the very foundations of my world.  This innate desire to obtain the infinite does not only manifest itself in beautiful or pleasant ways; occasionally, this desire turns upon itself and becomes a thirst for the epically dark.  

Another person would argue that my examples only work in the cases of those people who posses a romantic sentiment.  But this is not so.  Even the most unromantic person longs for the infinite when he or she does the simplest things.  For instance, when someone watches a commercial for a product that appeals to them, they reject all sense of reality, and they desire for all the claims of that commercial to be true.  I am speaking of not only of the linguistically communicated claims, but more particularly the subtle, semiotic claims.  A laundry detergent commercial states that it will make your clothes cleaner, fresher, and colorful, but it is the image of a beautiful women in a sundress hanging out clothes on a powerfully sunny day that speaks to the eternal in the hearts of all people.  We see, at times, in these advertisements the manifestation of the ideal world that resides in our minds.  Thus, the person comes to envision the laundry detergent to be a hint at that eternal.  There are many other examples of the desire for the infinite within the unromantic person, but they all amount to the same principle: whenever we imagine or long for anything, it always touches in some manner upon an infinite ideal.  

The two verses that I began this article with point to our obligation to the “mysteries of God” and the “eternal” in the hearts of all men.  It is my conclusion that this desire for the eternal is a desire for heaven.  I will be elaborating considerably on both these verses and how this idea of the infinite applies to art in the next few posts.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Redeeming the Time

I would rather spend a few moments talking with a dear friend then going anywhere or experiencing anything.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Difference-a Fragment

As someone has probably already realized, I have not been updating this lately.  There are two reasons why I haven’t written: first, I’m taking three graduate class right now which are demanding a lot from me, and second, I’m talking to someone about writing for a magazine with similar themes as those I’ve been discussing here.  Since my inspiration in the last few months has been sucked dry by school, I decided to save those few ideas I do have until I know what will happen with this writing opportunity.  

Before school got into full swing I was able to start the following fragment on Hip-Hop and music in general.  I decided to post in here, unedited, since I won’t be able to write anything new until some time in December.  On that note, the Chapter Five that I posted before this is also for the most part unedited.

I have recently been spending some time on that great life-taker the “Internet Forum.”  In particular I was involved in a lively debate over at ArtsandFaith.com—a great site.  The topic got around to what makes good Christian Hip-Hop.  I pointed to my previous blogs on the subject wherein I argue that there should be certain difference between secular and Christian music—a difference that must transcend lyrics.  It is this idea that I am going to explore a bit more here.

One of the things that have historically held popular music in general from being treated on the same level as other Art is the fact that many musicians do not consider their works as a whole. (A Marxist would disagree with me here, suggesting that the only true separation is along class lines.  Elitist members of society create Artistic rules and structures in order to systematically renounce pop music as useless.  Oddly enough it is pop music that helps make the rich, richer and to establish materialistic philosophies as the norm in our culture.  But that is for another post…) It is not uncommon to here a singer talk about how a lyric expresses or says this or that, but rarely do they attempt to explain what the music expresses or says.  This is due, in part, to a belief that music does not have tangible communicative properties.  Lyrics can speak, music can only make people “feel.”  Therefore, many musicians fail to even attempt to communicate through their instruments.  Another reason for this is that most popular music is made by people who do not think in artistic terms (a fault of our world’s retreat from intelligence and critical thinking).  Most rock bands are made up of young teenagers, whose goals are more often than not to let out aggression, be popular, and meet girls.  

For most pop music this problem of uniting the themes of the lyrics and the power of the music is very difficult.  The ability to have a four piece band all understand and agree (even in a general way) on a theme and work together successfully to express that theme is daunting.  The few bands that are able to do this are often headed by diabolical singers or the members communicate exceptionally well: I.E. Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins….etc.  Making a song with four members of a band, where each member has an instrument, and each instrument has a part, means that there are many opportunities for the theme to be diluted.  

Imagine if the theme of the song is love, as it often is.  The lead singer writes the lyrics to the song and a basic chord progression on guitar and takes it into the band for them to learn.  In his lyrics the focus is upon the difficulty of finding true love.  Lets assume that he tells the band that this is the theme (something that in my experience is rarely done---most of the time the singer just plays and sings the song and the band ignores his words and pays attention to the melody and the music…but I’ll give our fictional rock star the benefit of the doubt.), and they each begin learning the song.  Even if they are conscious of the theme, they will each have their own interpretation of what “true love” means.  Thus the process of interpretation has begun before the Artist has finished the work.  Sometimes this can be helpful, by “pooling” their visions of a theme together they can make a work that better communicates to the listener.  But my point here is that there are several points where the theme can become watered down and diverted.  In the case of Hip-Hop this problem can be minimized simply because it does not require so many people in order to produce the song.  In reality, all that is necessary is a producer and a rapper, and often times these are one in the same.  

Chapter 5

Chapter 5
     When U received the message that he could return to work at the station he felt both relieved and anxious.  It was two weeks after his meeting with Mr. Hughes.  He had spent most of his jobless days brooding over the integrity of the System.  Whenever a genuine doubt would stab its way into his consciousness, U would quickly look at his PDA to see if there would be a punishment for his doubt.  But, every time he looked the time of day was all that would glare back up at him.  Imagining himself back at work, watching the movements of the new supervisor, became U’s new obsession.  He was still leery of Mr. Hughes’ story, but the possibility drove him into almost constant contemplation on the topic.  But when he actually read the message on his screen, ordering him to return to work, he’s obsession took on a fearful preoccupation.  Enemies
     Walking into his office U scanned the room from signs of the unordinary.  Having been gone for two weeks meant almost everything felt a little off to U, but nothing was foreign.  U kept his old schedule of arriving before anyone else in the compound and leaving after them.  He hoped that these extra hours would give him a better chance of coming into contact with the new supervisor, but it was another week before he even heard mention of him.
     U. was uneasy, not because of what he had been told of the new supervisor, but of what he had not been told.  Going back to work at the station had brought U. through several states of mind; from a gnawing anxiousness to an ignorant peace which could only last a few moments.  The office felt unsettlingly the same, considering that here U had killed a man with visceral brutality.  Had this place been as he had idealized it in his lofty thoughts, then he would have felt the need to remove his shoes for fear of desecrating hallowed ground.  As it was however, the sterile, poorly lit room seemed to U to suggest a once sacred relic which had been denounced as a fraud and all those who were healed by its ethereal qualities had reverted to their previous states and completely forgot about the relic as a sacred object.  This emotion began to subside in U as he gave himself over to work.  A new fleeting thrill filled him, to discover the truth, or lies, of Hughes.  It seemed to U that the only way he would ever be allowed close enough to the supervisor to really ascertain the truth would be to return to his previous work ethic.  And so U poured himself into his job.  
     It was two weeks after he had returned to work before U caught any sight of the new supervisor, and when the time did come he hardly knew what to do.  U had been arriving early to work as he had done before the murder, now, however, no one was ever seen by U as he walked down the long hallways of the station.  The walk would often give U time to wonder when or how he might meet the new supervisor that day.  This thought was upon U’s mind as he entered his office early on morning.  He had left his apartment a few moments earlier than usual on this particular morning and this brought him to the door of his office and to a sight which only confounded the preoccupations of is mind.  Seated at his desk, with his back to U, was a man in a deep gray suit.  The man turned around as he heard U approaching.  He was young, not any older than thirty five, or six.  Face, clean cut, very well kept over all, in fact.  The man’s body seemed to freeze as he beheld U.
     “Well, good morning, you must be U.  I’m the new supervisor for this quadrant.” the man slowly turned back around to the computer which he had been facing.  U could just make out the supervisors hands as they worked feverishly at a PDA.  The computer screen on U’s desk shuttered and then turned black.  
     “I’ve just been going over your work.  I liked to arrive before the programmers so that I don’t have to disturb them…unless of course something is wrong.  I have to say that your work here is very impressive  By the way my name is Dr. Hardenbrook.”  The doctor quickly put his PDA away, stood, and moved towards the still silent U.  
     “I hope you find everything in order,” said U as he shook hands with the new supervisor.  The other man’s palm felt damp and yet it gripped U’s hand firmly.  He began to regret having offered his hand in the first place, only there didn’t seem to be a way around it.  
     “Oh, yes!  In fact I think I’m about finished here.  It expedites my job so much when you workers keep such ordered records.  It was wonderful meeting you Mr. U.  Have a great and…uh, keep up that great work.”  And with those short, quickly executed sentences the supervisor was gone.  U was left staring at his office and his now turned off computer.  His mind was filled with the dark possibilities of the supervisor.  At the end of his five second revelry U turned quickly to try to catch the sight of Dr. Hardenbrok.  The supervisor was walking uncomfortably into the eveloping hallway and soon was covered in the darkness only to be seen in flashes from the dancing picture frames which would light up an arm, or his coat, or his face, but never the totality of him.  Mr.  Hughes’ words came flooding back to U.  He allowed the door to swoosh shut, watching it all the while.  And then he walked over to his computer, staring at it as if to take it all into his consciousness, to search for something wrong.  Turning the computer on U listened intently at the room itself, as if to ascertain if something in the very substance of the room had been altered by the new supervisor.  
     Why had he been so nervous?  A feeling of panic griped U and he began to search through his computer to see if he could find if anything had been tampered with.  But even if Dr. Hardenbrok had done something, changed something, or whatever, U wondered to himself, what good would my workstation have done?  What could I possibly have that a supervisor does not have access too?  But then, why would he be afraid of me seeing his work?  Maybe he was just unnerved by my abrupt entrance.  All these possibilities went coupled with a thousand counter thoughts in U, but no resolution presented itself.  U was again struck with the fact that all these seemingly irrational doubts were allowed to go unjudged by the system; his PDA was silent.  
     As U began his work for the day every keystroke seemed to distract him.  “Was that button always there?  Was that title on this page yesterday?”  U thought to himself.  Everything appeared foreign but nothing was tangibly altered on his computer.  When his break came instead of remaining in his office like he usually did, U pulled on his deep gray coat, locked his computer with a code and walked down the hallway towards Miss. Gram’s office.  U’s break came at 10.25 and lasted until 10.40 at which time U had to be at his computer typing or else suffer a dock in pay at the equivalent of one hour’s work.  In addition, visiting with other employees during your personal break with likewise result in the loss of one hour’s pay.  With a full understanding of this U quickly moved across the long hallway to his coworker’s office.  A tension rested upon his chest and when he breathed, a sound between a quiet grunt and deep sigh came from his mouth or nose.  Miss. Gram had been given an office along a short corridor that ran across the main hallway.   When U turned the corner onto the corridor he hesitated for a moment, looking around for the supervisor, who had left U’s office hours ago.  U was surprised to find Miss. Gram’s office door open.  As he approached he could make out his coworker as she sat facing her computer.  Gram’s feet were pulled back underneath her chair and she leant forward as if she was lost in the flow of characters that went across her screen.  This most not have been to far from the truth because U was able to get inside her office before her trance was broke and she turned to notice him.  A tuft of dark auburn hair was tucked behind her left ear and as her head came to a halt in front of U.  
     “Mr. U…” a deep, anxious exhalation left Miss. Gram’s mouth, “why are you here?”  
“It’s my break period,” U said simply, and then realizing the insufficiency of his he added, “I needed to talk to you about something.” After he finished, U watched as Miss. Gram’s face drew a perplexed look.   Regretting having used such suspicious language, U searched himself for a believable excuse: “It’s about the new supervisor…did stop by here?”
“Mr. Hardenbrok? Yes, I think he was here this morning.  When I come in today I noticed my computer had been accessed.  I assumed it was the supervisor since he is the only other person with the ability to that.  Why do you ask U?  Are you feeling ok?”  Her eyes had been darting around the floor while she was speaking, as if she was looking for her words which had been scattered to the ground.  When she finished, Gram looked up at U again.  He wondered himself why she would ask him if he was feeling ok.  What if she was worried that he might kill the new supervisor?  
“Oh, well I just wanted to see if I could catch him…I had to talk to him about some of the work I’m doing.  You said he did access your computer, I think he might have had some difficulty when he accessed mine.  Was there anything odd on your system this morning? Anything out of place?”
“No…at least not that I can remember. What happened to your computer U?” But U was lost in thought.  A few moments latter he awoke and answered Gram.
“I don’t know.  Maybe nothing.”
“Nothing? It sure sounds like it must have been something for you to come here during your break.”
“Well, when I came into my office this morning he was there.  Maybe I startled him or something but he looked very surprised to see me, scared even.”
“So he wasn’t expecting to see you.  Look Mr. U, if this isn’t important I do have work I should be doing…” She turned back to her computer.
“I think he was doing something”
“Of course he was,” Said Miss. Gram as she started typing, “he was doing his job, which is what should you be doing.”
“I don’t think he was doing his job.  At least, not his official job.  He was doing something he didn’t want me to see.  After I came in he quickly packed up and left, but not before he closed down the computer.”  U had to raise his voice to compete with the rising sounds of Miss. Gram’s typing.  He reached over to her shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
“Will you listen to me,” he implored, “I think this Mr. Hardenbrok is up to something”
“I can’t talk right now U, I’ve already received several warning buzzes to return to work.  I suggest you listen to your own warnings and go back to your office yourself.”
“My PDA is not buzzing Miss. Gram.  It has not buzzed once, in two months.”  And with that dramatic declaration, U walked out of the office, down the corridor, through the hallway and back into his own workspace, the whole time day dreaming about the affect his exit had on Miss. Gram.  In general, he felt quite pleased with himself.  He sat down in his office chair and sat staring at his screen, not contemplating what he saw, but what he had done.  As U was about to return to work he saw a red flashing light emitting from his hip where his PDA set.  
“Mr. U.  Please contact me immediately concerning your recent conversation with a Miss. Gram.  Do not speak to anyone else regarding the actions of Mr. Hardenbrok until we have spoken. Mr. Hughes.” Thus read the PDA.  U clicked the confirm button and felt a feeling of panic creep over him.  What was I thinking, he thought, she knows I’m after the supervisor now.  And why was she so calm?  Does she know what he’s doing?  Maybe she’s with him.  How did she know that there was something wrong with my computer?  All I ever said was he had trouble accessing my system.
U reached back down to his PDA and sent a message to Mr. Hughes:
“I’m sorry I told Miss. Gram too much, but you must listen to me.  The new supervisor is doing something.  I don’t know why yet, but I believe he is sneaking onto my computer.  I only talked to Miss. Gram because I thought he might be doing the same thing to her.  I found out that not only is he using her workstation, I believe that she knows it and may be helping him! Please tell me what I can do! If I’m right the Gram will tell Mr. Hughes and he will try to stop me some how! U.” As U mentally dictated the message his own words began to settle in upon him and he paused for a moment to look up and see if anyone was around.  After being assured of his safety U sent the message.  His heart was beating heavily and images of Gram whispering to Mr. Hughes filled his mind.  A thirty-second eternity passed before his PDA again flashed with text.
“Do not worry.  We expected as much.  Please return to work and act normal. If you see Miss. Gram again do not mention anything about your earlier visit.  More instructions will follow. End.  Mr. Hughes.”
It was not until long after U had gone home that he again received any communication.  He had been given plenty of time to worry about what he had done, and wonder what Hughes had meant by saying that they “expected as much”.  Luckily for U he did not see Miss. Gram again that day but the possibility of running into her the next day plagued him.  
“Mr. U, I am sorry that made you wait so long before this communication.  Due to the earlier events of today I was compelled to meet with the other associates and discuss our next plan of action.  I was able to convince the others that you can be trusted.  Despite the fact that you possibly divulged your suspicions of the supervisor, the association has decided that you will be a welcome addition.  I regret that I was unable to tell you about the association before, but until I knew whether or not you could take orders and be trusted I could not reveal the extent of our operation.  I hope you will not hold my caution against me.  A lot was at risk. Mr. Hughes.” U read the message and was immediately filled with excitement.
“I don’t really understand.  How many more of us are there?  And what about Mr. Hardenbrok?  If Miss. Gram tells him about me won’t there be trouble?  If my life is in danger please tell me. U.”
“I already told you not to worry Mr. U.  The situation is under control.  Even if Miss. Gram tells the supervisor, he can do nothing to you now.  You are safe.  But we must see you in person.  Tomorrow, instead of proceeding to work, you will take your shuttle to the Hydrogen 3 mines 60.13 meters south of Minerva.  You will be gone for the whole day so plan accordingly.  There will be no need to notify the Station, we will see to that. End. Mr. Hughes.”

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Afraid of Death

It had occurred to George before that she was pretty, but seeing her made-up and smiling like this almost crushed him. It took a lot for him to ask Jana, 4 months of longing, 3 weeks of dreading, 5 days of planing, and 6.25 hours of doubting and sweating.

He loved the way she would only pour skimmed milk into her coffee and eat the salad for lunch, it made him guilty but at the same time happy, knowing that if he every married her, she would make him change his diet and all that stuff—he always wanted to live healthy. George got her at right after her trip to the bathroom after lunch and before she made it to her cubicle, he wanted her to feel satiated and clean.

“Ugh...back to work eh? Seems like lunch goes by way too fast...” George fell in beside her as they both walked from the hallway that housed the bathrooms and lead from the cafeteria to the offices.

“Yeah...that's true...” She said slightly, allowing the words to drift out unaffected.

“Oh um, my name is George.” He stuck out his hand.

“Jana, nice to meet you” She turned to face him and allowed herself a little smile that she hoped wouldn't encourage him to much.

“Jana?” He said, veiling his intimate knowledge of her name, “Nice to meet you too. Have you...eh...been here long? I kinda like to think I know everyone here but--”

“Well I've been here since June, but I guess I haven't made the rounds much. I tend to keep to myself.”

“Hmm, I know what you mean. I do that sometimes too.” He felt stupid and worried as they both neared the end of the hall. Time was running out.

“Say, we should eat lunch together, us 'loners,' I mean you’re not doing anything, I'm not, I tend to eat alone--” Jana silently groaned and broke in:

“The thing is lunch is kinda my down time. I use it to relax and think and stuff. Its what gets me through the day. So--”

“Right, I know what you mean.” His voice dropped as a sudden wave of embarrassment overcame him. “That's alright maybe another time, or something. Well, this is my row, I've got that cubicle furthest away from any of the windows.” Even as he finished complaining he regretted it. He gave her a faint wave and walked briskly down to his space. The next day, however, providence had pity on George and things got a bit better.

“George?” The voice startled him from his typing revelry, drawing him towards the open wall in his cubicle.


“Uh, hey, umm...did you..still want to have lunch?” George didn't bother to ask her about her sudden change of mind, but managing a weak affirmation he agreed to meet her for lunch. Unfortunately, a mandatory staff meeting kept the couple from the lunch date, so Jana broke down and agree to have dinner with him.

“So.....when did you want to order?”

“Soon...I mean now. If you’re ready, or we could wait.”

“Well I'm getting hungry and I know what I want so whenever you’re ready--”

“Oh sure, I'm ready, lets see here...I'm just gonna have this chicken dish with the side of vegetables. Waiter!” George asked Jana what she would be having for dinner—a salad, which just about killed George—he ordered the chicken dish with the side of vegetables and they both had iced tea to drink.

The conversations that arose that night were unnaturally meaningful, both George and Jana found themselves fluidly digressing from one topic to another, exposing the expanses of their lives and thoughts in passionate effusion. They began with the simplest of things—favorite movies and music—and quickly shuffled through desires and beliefs, books and families, each of them set upon reaching the goal of disclosing past loves and the inevitable discussion that would follow on the nature of love and the struggles of relationships. Before they arrived at that pivotal talk, he excused himself and headed towards the bathroom. He could have been nervous, but he wasn't.

He used the urinal and washed his hands at the sink. They only had the wall-mounted machines that air-dry your hands which always annoyed George. Since no one else was in the bathroom he gave a little prayer while he washed his face and rubbed his neck which was sore-particularly the left side. As he rubbed he thought about going back out there, he already missed her. He kept trying to imagine her face in the mirror in front of him, but he couldn't. He wished there was some way to get a picture of her. Then he found the bump.

On the left side of his neck, half way down, a small, hard, round bump protruded out. At first he didn't know what to do, if he should touch it or not. But then he remembered that all the rubbing hadn't hurt him so it couldn't be sensitive. He began to wiggle it around and feel it. The last time he had been sick was 3 months ago, or so, and he couldn't think of anyone who had been coughing around him. No one he knew had been sick. A young boy walked in the bathroom, reminding George of the outside; he realized that he had been gone for a long time already.

“Hey, sorry 'bout that, where were we?”

“You were just telling me about high school, something about being bored I believe?”

“Oh yeah, thats right. Well it was mostly boring, just like it is for everyone else but--”

“So did you ever date in high school? That must have made it at least a little interesting!”

“...I saw one or two girls but it was all stupid, you know how it is at that age. I think you date in high school just to talk about dating in high school.” She laughed and he gave a slight chuckle that—he thought—made him seem humble.

“I totally know what you mean. I must have had five relationships between my sophomore finals and my Junior midterms. And I hated them all!” Her laugh cut straight through George.

“That's high school. So what did you do after high school? Did you date a lot in college too?”

“No, not really. I stayed away from relationships for awhile so I could focus on studying, but I did go out once or twice I guess.”

“Nothing serious?” George asked, worrying that he might have been too blunt. Jana took a drink of the iced tea.

“I did meet my husband there, Nathan...so yeah I guess there was that...” The air collapsed around George, quietly suffocating him.


“He's gone now. I lost him three years ago to cancer.”

“Oh, oh I'm so sorry...I didn't know. I'm really sorry to hear that--”

“No, no don't worry about. It's been three years and we didn't have any kids or anything so I guess that was a blessing. It could have been worse I guess. I mean it wasn't that bad, just the first year was really tough, but God's helped me and I'm ok now. I am.”

“Wow, that's amazing that you pulled through that and all.” He knew he sounded awful, but she had stopped talking and so he had to say something. It suddenly occurred to him that he was sweating, and that he hadn't been eating much. He took a bite and watched her hoping that she wouldn't see the anxiety and discomfort in his face. She didn't.

“Yeah well, like I said, that's pretty much the past now. I mean, as much as it can be...” This time he jumped in before she stopped talking.

“Is that why you came to work for us?” He attempted to summon a deeply interested expression. He didn't.

She nodded as she chewed her salad, “I went back to school for a couple years and then almost got hired right away.” He twisted in his seat for a second. “I really poured myself into school that first year, it gave me some direction and motivation. I guess if it hadn't been for that I would still be mourning.”

“Will you excuse me for a moment? I'll be right back.”

Inside the bathroom, George headed straight for a stall. He wasn't sure why, but the thought of being walked-in on frightened him, even though he wasn't doing anything. He felt the bump on his neck and walked the length of the stall---it was one of those large stalls.

Married, (he thought to himself) she was married. At least if she had divorced he would know that she didn't like her old husband. But a widow? Who can compete with a dead man?

He stopped in the corner of the stall, on the far side from the toilet, and prayed quickly and quietly. But his chest continued to pound in him and his thoughts continued to swim rapidly through his mind. I can't leave her out there, (he thought to himself) she'll get suspicious. He wasn't even sure why he felt so disgusted and frightened by this dead man and his wife--his widow. He had been through this before, only last time it was a woman with a job, before that a blond with a skirt, before that a heavy-set girl with a smile, before that there was no one.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” She asked with such a tone of sincerity that George felt like dying himself.

“Yes, yeah I...I feel fine,” sitting down, “my hands got sticky from the salad dressing and I just wanted to clean up before I started to stick to everything.”

“George,” it was the softest sound her voiced had made that night; she let his name drift off into infinity, “I want you to know that I really like this.” As Jana spoke her eyes slowly crawled upwards, meeting with his in a moment of debilitating honesty-a moment he would forever romanticize beyond all hopes and possibilities. Unable to break the stare, George felt the bump on his neck with his left hand and spoke:

“I have to go.”

George paid the check quickly and quietly, occasionally reaching up to his neck to feel if it had grown or shrunk. He wondered if he was imagining it. It was hard and lumpy, it felt unnatural. When he entered his car he was overcome with an incredible urge to get something that would cure him of whatever it was that he had. So, he drove to the nearest supermarket to peruse the drug aisle. During the drive, the thought struck him that he might be dying, maybe a tumor or something like that. All he could think of was dying, and that made him think of Jana's dead husband.

There were a few scattered cars in the parking lot when George pulled in. The lot was poorly lit by rows of lamp posts, some of which hardly seemed to penetrate the dark night. He knew where the medicine aisle was and so he wasted no time finding it. He grabbed a package of something that claimed to, “...ease soreness, swelling, and pain in the neck and back....” it hardly seemed to fit the bulge he felt, but he had to get something.

As he walked back to his car the vast loneliness of the parking lot hit him, the artificial lights which hardly worked anyway seemed to paint everything as weak and phony as the lights themselves. The thought occurred to him again that he might be sick, really sick, and he might die. This wasn't the first time this thought had come to him, but for whatever reason this was the first time that it felt real. After the thought settled in on him he couldn't ignore it, he felt his chest sink down into defeat. He wanted to tell himself that it was unlikely that he had anything deadly; but every time he was close to convincing himself, he realized that if it wasn't this lump, it would be something else. He was going to die and it might as well be now as later. He wanted to cry. He did.

When he got home, he immediately turned on his computer and spent the next several hours searching for symptoms, focusing on terminal things. It wasn't until his eyes could hardly stay open that he decided to go to bed, he reached some level of peace by planning on seeing the doctor first thing in the morning. Lying in bed, just as the creeping feeling of surrendering to unconsciousness swept over him, an image of Jana came to mind and the anxiety returned. The memory of how he had just walked out without any explanation woke him completely, and he soon was back to obsessing over his own death. He rolled over in his bed, unto his stomach so that his face was buried in a pillow and tried to relax, but he couldn't. Looking over at his clock on the nightstand he saw that it was nearing 3 am, he put his head back into the pillow and prayed.

God. I can't sleep. You know my thoughts but. I feel out of control. I don't want to die dear Lord. I don't want to die. save me. Let me sleep. Don't let Jana hate me.
Let me sleep.

Each word seemed incapable penetrating his skull and floating to the beyond. He wasn't even sure why he kept praying other than he knew he should. It felt both pointless and important to him and he couldn't tell which emotion was right. He had always believed, had faith, but the hollowness of his prayer made him question even what he had believed. When he finally fell asleep it was only after an hour of feeling infinitely and unfathomably far from God and everyone.

When George went to leave for his doctor's appointment the next morning, his nervousness reached such a feverish pitch that he felt quite numb, as if everything was unfolding in another world or on TV or in a book. This numbness followed him as he filled out various forms at the doctor's office and as he was moved to a examining room. He sat on the table in the middle of the room and looked forward towards a mirror, the sight of himself in the medical gown forcefully pulled him from the netherworld into the stark florescent light of the room and he felt like he was going to die and he couldn't stand it. He wanted to leave more than anything and never find out about the stupid bump. If he had to die, better to die ignorant, better to die outside of white walls and syringes and yellow gowns. Why waste away before helpless strangers in a foreign building, spending hours waiting in suffocating rooms and filling out eternal forms? He stood up and walked towards the door and would have made it had his phone not rang.

From his pants, which lay along with the rest of his clothes in a small pile on a chair behind him, George's cell phone rang. Turning away from the door, he quickly found the small phone and answered it:


“George, this is Jana...” Her voice was small and thin through the cell's speaker, but it still fell like a familiar melody on his ear.

“...hey...I...I'm sorry about last night I had to take care of something and I...” He wanted to tell her about the lump and about the tumor and about cancer and death and everything but he felt so melodramatic and fake he just couldn't make himself.

“You left because of him didn't you. George, I meant it last night when I said that I liked the dinner, it was good. I didn't think I was going to enjoy it at all to tell you the truth, but I did, and I want to do it again. I'm not saying that I love you, I don't know that. But I do want to have more nights like that, if you can.” Her words seemed to cut straight through all his worries, he forgot death and he forgot the white walls and he forgot his gown and everything.

“I do too...”

“You can't just say that George, my husband's dead, and I miss him, and I will always love him, but if I ever marry again, I will love that man more and I can't see you if you are afraid of a dead man. I can only offer this once, if you want to get to know me, you can't let him stop you. But if you can't do that, let me know now, please.” Her words came faster and faster, each one drenched with exhaustion and passion, and resoluteness.

“Are you still there George?”

“Yes, yeah, I'm here. I want to see you again. As soon as I can.”

“Are you sure? You can't leave me like that again George, if you ever do that to me again I won't talk to you, it will be over.”

“I know, I'm so sorry about that, I was stupid, I was just afraid, but I'm not anymore. I really want to see you. I just have to finish up something here and I'll call you up ok?”

“Ok. Thank you George.”

He hung up the phone and walked back to the table. Pulling his knees up against his chest he buried his eyes in his arms and prayed and he knew he wasn't as far from God anymore and he didn't care about death anymore.

George met Jana latter that same day for the last time and then he died, but he wasn't afraid.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I just found this crazy cool from http://www.sphereofhiphop.com with Moodswing9, one of the founding members of Anticon. In it he discribes his conversion to Christianity. This quote here really got me excited:

"...the works of Francis Schaeffer have had a huge impact on my life. He deals with Presuppositional Apologetics and Theology in the Arts. I think it should be mandatory reading for any Christian artist trying to understand his place in the world and sharing his/her faith. Also, I highly suggest any material by Hans Rookmaaker, Calvin Seerveld, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Jeremy Begbie."

About a year ago I found a copy of one of Hans Rookmaaker's books used in a book store and it totally changed my thoughts on Christian art. And, Schaeffer is one of my greatest influences.

The Death an Art Form: The Death of Film Part Two

In my first post on this topic I addressed the decline of creativity in and I suggested at the very end that might be the future for the dramatic . Here I will explore how I perceive this change will take place. My goal here is not to predict the next great art movement so much as to encourage artists to look at video games as a potential medium.

First, I want to look at the growth of video games. The source here is the . They have a great list of “Top 10 Industry Facts,” I copied the ones that were pertinent to our discussion here:

1. U.S. computer and video game software sales grew four percent in 2004 to $7.3 billion -- a more than doubling of industry software sales since 1996.

2. Seventy-five percent of American heads of households play computer and video games.

3. In 2004, more than 248 million computer and video games were sold, almost two games for every household in America.

4. The average game player is 30 years old and has been playing games for 9.5 years.

5. The average game buyer is 37 years old. In 2005, 95 percent of computer game buyers and 84 percent of console game buyers were over the age of 18.

8. Forty-three percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (28 percent) than boys from ages 6 to 17 (21 percent).

9. In 2004, 19 percent of Americans over the age of 50 played video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999.

10. Forty-two percent of game players say they play games online one or more hours per week. In addition, 34 percent of heads of households play games on a wireless device, such as a cell phone or PDA, up from 20 percent in 2002.

This challenges some interesting conceptions people have about video games; they are no longer just for kids, they are a powerful market force for people of all ages. The $7.3 billion in sales, however, has been down played by some because it cannot compare to the movie industry. The argument goes that the sales of games and the ticket sales of movies are fairly close, but with sales, movies make significantly more. But this trend is changing. In a recent about Nintendo's hand held gaming system, DS, a study is cited that shows how the gaming industry is expected to grow:

“According to market research firm DFC Intelligence, the worldwide portable game market is expected to grow from $4 billion in 2004 to $11.1 billion by 2007.”

Keeping in mind that the total sales for all systems in 2004 was 7.3 billion, the idea that in less than two years hand held sales will reach $11.1 billion is staggering. And it is important to remember that the average age of players is only going to go higher as those raised on grow older. So what does this all mean? The video game market is set to grow tremendously in the next few years as players grow older and younger players are added. But this fact alone does not lead me to believe that games will one day replace movies.

As I previously stated, one of the biggest arguments against the rise of video games in comparison to movies is DVD sales. While this is valid to some extent it does have at least one important flaw, piracy. Right now it is extremely easy to illegally download or buy a DVD, the copy protection is weak and anyone with a camcorder, a movie ticket, and an internet connection can post a movie online. The only way for the movie industry to stop piracy is to work with all the different manufacturers of DVD players to create a copy right protection system and/or to individual hunt and shut down movies posted online. The former attempt at prevention is quite possible although costly, but the later is nearly impossible; as fast as the industry can identify and stop someone from sharing or selling a movie, someone else has created a new means to illegally distribute them. Peer-to-peer file sharing is not going away because it would be unconstitutional to stop in general and it is next to impossible to identify individual illegal files. Thus, try as they might, the greatest hope for the industry is to limit the piracy as much as possible.

For the video game industry, is not nearly as big of a problem. Since each of the three main systems (, , and ) has complete control over the specs of their machines, they can very easily implement copy right protection into the hardware. In addition, from the software end, it is much more difficult to make a usable, illegal copy of a game than a copy of a movie. In some systems, the only way to use an illegal version of a game (that I'm aware of) is to physically modify the hardware, something that few people have the patience to do. What this means is that DVDs will continue to be pirated in large numbers while the video game industry will remain relatively untouched by this epidemic. This, however, is still not enough to catapult video games to the primary dramatic medium.

One of the main reasons I see the rise of video games as significant is the amazing advances in the technical capabilities that have been made in the newest generations of gaming systems. What has kept gaming from being a reasonable art form has been the difficulty in rendering the artists vision, whether that be in regards to visuals or audio or voice acting or the size of the game. With the newest systems, these problems have been greatly minimized and in some cases all but vanquished. Now, almost whatever the designer imagines can be materialized on the screen, something that the movie industry still in struggling with. This means that epic stories that span hours and hours can be created with voice acting and believable character models for a lot less money than a film would cost to make. In film, anything past two hours in length greatly taxes the attention span of the audience; games, however, can successful stretch into 30-50 hours of playing because they are interactive. This opens up possibilities that film makers could never even dream of. The tools that video games can give to the artist are tremendously powerful, increasing in number and potency, and are relatively unexplored—a combination that will undoubtedly lead to innovation and a new art movement.

There are only two objections that I have heard that seem like they could genuinely hold video games back from usurping film:

1.People like movies because they don't have to do anything except watch, games demand interaction which sometimes is to taxing in our apathetic and A.D.D. culture.
2.Video games, by their very nature, require interaction, which means that the artist must surrender some control over the action. How can any significant artistic statement be made when the player has the freedom to undermine (through his/her choices, movements, actions, etc...) it?

To the first point, I would point out that more often than not people turn to , not film to fulfill their lazy-entertainment fix. In addition, video games hold many possible levels of interaction, sometimes it is intense, other times it is not. For example, some games are including more and more movie-like clips that unfold the plot without the player's help. Another example can be seen in the , millions of people choose to focus intently on surfing the Internet so much so that many TV news stations are struggling to keep their audiences from abandoning them for blogs and online news agencies. Millions upon millions of people have already made the choice to be active in their entertainment, whether that be the Internet or in video games. So, this point can be refuted on three grounds:

1.Video games do not need to fill this passive entertainment role since TV is the primary means by which people “vegg out” already.
2.Games can have a combination of passive and active roles for the player.
3.Many people already choice to engage in active entertainment.

As for the second point, I would suggest that this is something that is only a problem for those without the imagination to see how artists could work through the games to guide the players actions. For an illustration I'm going to go for quite a stretch, but I believe it will be worth it.

From a perspective, humans have free-will, yet God's will encompasses all of our lives and our choices to weave a reality that is filled with symbolism and meaning. We choose to do everything that we do, but if we look back throughout history we find various themes that reappear over and over. Also, in nature and the unfolding of time one can find all sorts of symbols and metaphors and allusions and meaning. In other words, our free-will does not exclude God's will and providence in our lives. In the Old Testament one can see this happen in the nation of Israel. They chose over and over again to disobey God. Through this disobedience, themes and symbols appear that clearly are from God. worked through their choices to create the themes of love, redemption, and salvation etched in history. In the same way, I believe video game designers can create worlds where the player has free-will, but that the individual choices can be shaped by various devices to form a united artistic creation. The player, like humans, do not have unrestrained free-will (a human can have the will to fly but not the choice), so that the designer can script for a limited number of possible choices. If this is done, it will be both effective and practical for a video game designer to create an actual work of art. While the interaction element of games might change the approach to the art, the artist can still retain control over the work.

The video game market is growing tremendously and is projected to continue on this path. Its future is held in the hands of an older and older demographic and wider acceptance from cultures. Where the film industry is struggling with originality, copy right protection, and tools for exploration, games seem to flourish. The problems that have held back games in the past were mostly caused by technological restrictions—something that has been greatly elevated in the next generation of consoles. The tools, money, and market are all in place for the video game industry to move from pure entertainment to one of the main art forms of the 21st century. It is only a matter of time and desire.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Francis Schaeffer and Criticism

I ran across an interesting article on one of my biggest influences, . Schaeffer ranks up there with as one of the great apologists of . He taught that Christianity involved our whole lives, including art and philosophy. A belief that was, and still is, profound and revolutionary. This article was from truthseeker.com. Here is the introduction that you can find on Truth Seeker's home page:

“The Journal of Independent Thought

Devoted to: science, morals, free thought, free discussions, liberalism, sexual equality, labor reform, progression, free education and whatever tends to elevate and emancipate the human race.

Opposed to: priestcraft, ecclesiasticism, dogmas, creeds, false theology, superstition, bigotry, ignorance, monopolies, aristocracies, privileged classes, tyranny, oppression, and everything that degrades or burdens mankind mentally or physically.”

They attempt to take Schaeffer to task as an art critic and a shaper of Christian aesthetics. In an article about , Earl Lee (an unlikely name if I've ever heard one) lists one of the “myths” about art: “Christianity is important as a patron of the arts and sciences, and of learning in general. Much of Western is inspired by religious themes. The preservation of Greek civilization was led by monastic orders and helped bring about the Renaissance.”

Lee quickly acknowledges that “clergy and churches were once important sources of income for artists, at least in the Medieval and Renaissance periods,” in other words, it is true that they (almost single handedly) saved all Classical texts from obscurity, thus preserving the foundation from all Western art. After brushing aside this concession, Lee moves to the kill:

“Today, however, most religions are not particularly interested in art, except architecture. One can easily argue that limiting the great artists of the past to religious themes may have done more to hinder the development of artistic ideas than help it.”

On this point, I would have to agree with Lee, . He points to examples from “Christian” music which he says “shamelessly rip[s] off the style and music of mainstream rock musicians”. This shows Lee's flawed understanding of art since he apparently thinks Christians cannot use similar music and style as mainstream musicians. As if Christian musicians had to magically invent their own style totally divorced from the mainstream. While there should be some important differences between the two, there will also be inherent similarities since both believers and nonbelievers alike are subject to the suffering of this world. However, it is true that Christian artists have not been as innovative as thought ought to be.

But this is not what really bothered me about Lee's article. He attacks Christian aesthetics from ignorance and exaggeration:

"Christian aesthetics are equally blighted. Read, for example, Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? or go to see it in the film version. Schaeffer mauls the history of Western art and philosophy, often betraying his own ignorance of the subject about which he claims expertise. Like most ideologues, including the Nazis, Schaeffer is happy only with realism and naturalism in art. He even goes so far as to claim that Michelangelo's statue of David is not "Christian" art, because the historical David was circumcised. Because Michelangelo's "David" is not circumcised and is not therefore a historically accurate representation, he claims that the statue is, in reality, secular humanist art, not Christian.

Since Schaeffer's argument for Christian truth and "realism" can be applied to most of Western art since the Medieval era-realism was not an important artistic movement until the 19th century-we can safely claim that none of the great art of the past is Christian-almost all of Western art is Humanist and therefore an argument for more Humanism."

Schaeffer's “maul[ing]” of the history of Western art in How Should We Then Live? is an attempt to condense thousands of years of art into a short, easily readable book. In doing this he had to make some generalizations, something that is inherent in any critical discussion (and something that Lee doesn't shy away from). But generalizing things for the sake of space is not the same as being “ignorant”. This is not what I wish to really challenge Lee on however.

Note Lee's account of Schaeffer's analysis of “David” in How Should We Then Live? Lee hinges his entire argument around the belief that Schaeffer calls “David” a humanist work because of some foreskin. This is nothing but a pathetic attempt at shocking the reader. Schaeffer actually gives several reasons why the “David” statue is humanistic. Even on a surface level one can look at the statute and see that it glorifies man. As one of Schaeffer's examples goes, the almost absurd size of the work (17 feet tall) suggests that Michelangelo does not intend us to see “David” as the historical, human, David but rather the perfection of man. And this is Schaeffer's point.

Aside from straw-maning Schaeffer, Lee mistakenly identifies Schaeffer's aesthetics from his criticism. Schaeffer's occupation with How Should We Then Live? is not to set out some aesthetic standard for Christian artists, but rather to look at what has happened; here he is descriptive, not prescriptive. he does describe some guidelines for art, but not in this book. In other words, Lee is pulling this argument that “Schaeffer is happy only with realism and naturalism in art” from his own desire to write him off. And the point of all this? Lee wants to say that Christian art has no advantage over secular art. But it . The question really is why haven't Christians produced the art that should naturally arise from the worldview they claim? The answer lies not with poor aesthetics or ignorant philosophers but with apathy, laziness, and sin. Lee is a pragmatist and would have us look at the totality of Christian Art and see its mistakes and its eccentrics and its puritans and its people as proof of a failed and flawed belief system. But Christianity doesn't allow that. Christianity assumes that all people are fallen, all people sin, all will fail; however, this does not mean that greatness, that righteousness, that good-genuinely good-art cannot come from here. It can and should. But often the answer lies outside the realm of complacency, an awkward and horrific place for many believers. Although Lee illogically attacks Schaeffer, we cannot blame anyone but ourselves, because Christianity lacks the complete track record in the arts that it ought to have. So .