Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Modern, Post Modern, and the Image of Christ, A Prelude

Here He is, the conventional Jesus Meek and Mild.  On top is the Protestant version I was raised with.  Below is the Catholic version.
Like so many conventional things that we accept as ancient and eternal verities, these image types began in the 19th century.   This is the image of Christ remade to accommodate modern bourgeois sensibilities; long on sentiment, short on challenge or complication.

Where did this image come from and why?  
Why does the Christian religion, whose imagery dominated and drove Western art for centuries, seem to suddenly drop off the radar by the mid 18th century, never to appear again?
Why does Christianity (at least in its organized sectarian form) play so small a role in modern and post-modern art?

These are questions that have pre-occupied me for a long time.  
I'm usually in demand to talk about Early Christian and Medieval art, as well as the Renaissance in religious terms; the Baroque, a little less, unless it's Rembrandt (though he was not above Baroque razzle dazzle when it suited his purposes).  Anything beyond the 17th century is usually confined to the PreRaphaelites or Georges Rouault.  I want to expand that discussion further and bring in artists like David, Goya, Turner, Friedrich, Van Gogh, Picasso, Beckmann, Pollock, Rothko, and Warhol into it.

I've decided to spend some time in this space meditating on these questions.  I don't quite know where I'll be going with this, or where I will end up, and I'm still figuring out all the image posting options, but let's see what happens.

Stay tuned.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Ghastly isn't it?

Grandmère Mimi said...

The Jesus pictures are pretty hard to take.

I'm looking forward to the art posts, Counterlight. The Rothko Chapel in Houston is a lovely place. Most folks don't take the trouble to visit when they're in Houston. They have no idea what a treat they're missing.

I find the Pre-Raphaelites pretty hard to take, so it will be good to read about other post-17th century painters.

Robert said...

I discovered working in prison that one of the most powerful pictures of Jesus that I have been passing out is a black Jesus. For some people, the idea that Jesus is not white is a real revelation.

johnieb said...

I'm looking forward eagerly to more of this.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Oh, this will be fun. I'm glad Mimi sent us over here.

Ann said...

Welcome to the blogosphere!

Anonymous said...

Counterlight--I am looking forward to your discussions. Many blessings!

(as to 'why no recent Christian art etc--could it be that the Church itself forgot to employ artists? forgot what an important role art plays in vibrant faith? was it because there just were no patrons? or maybe it's just the damn protestants ran 'em off! I say that laughing.)


Counterlight said...

Can't be the Protestants. Despite the traditional Calvinist insistence on sterile white bare churches, there were some very great Protestant artists; Rembrandt for example.
Germany's favorite son, Albrecht Durer converted to Lutheranism.

I think that both society and the Church changed in ways that neither really anticipated. The Church has been in defensive mode ever since.

Boaz said...

Good to see you ranting and blathering Counterlight.

Anonymous said...


...so, as go the artists, so goes the church....? perhaps with the rise of modern literalism, the meteoric metaphoric holy story-telling and vision (and therefore art) in our holy scriptures were lost?

your questions have really excited my imagination!! Thank you!


PseudoPiskie said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Counterlight!

I grew up with those traditional Protestant pictures of Jesus. My favorite was one where he rested his arms on a table and looked straight out at us. I've always wondered how popular he would be today if his "pictures" looked like the short dark Jew he probably was.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, Counterlight, have you heard of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) mocra.slu.edu ? It's a medium-sized gallery on my university campus (Saint Louis Univ., St. Louis MO). The gallery is run by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Terry (Terrence) Dempsey, an interesting man with an eye for art and artists not immediately pegged as "religious", and for unusual religious art. I have been meaning to mention this because your paintings fit right in to the gallery mission.(yes, everything here is a mission connected to "our Catholic, Jesuit identity - CJI for short, among the locals...).

Great blog, Counterlight!


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