INSIDE THE HAT: the pressure to be “useful”, avoiding propagandism and other fun dilemmas
My grandfather used to wear a hat when he was going out. Opposite to the obvious utilitarian function of this head garment, we still have hard time assigning or defining the function of the fine arts. Is art completely useless? During the period of one year, starting in 2021, we’ve been racking our brains (most of the participants made it to this picture), since we had an opportunity to attend a Year Round Mentoring programme in Artists Network, led by mentors Charles D.Kelley and Natalie Meeks, a part of European Leadership Forum (ELF) initiatives. While having some homeworks to do and then meeting online on Zoom to share insights and discuss, we, for example, studied the writings of Francis Schaeffer, often cited alongside C.S. Lewis.
Every artist is unique and it is quite miraculous that we were able to find some common ground while diving into the the ocean of concepts, ideas and opinions. What we chose to focus on: our differences or what unites us?
"Frances lived in those days, when many American evangelical Christians perceived art as worldly or completely useless unless it directly talked about the Bible. And yet he argued for understanding creativity as a God-given gift that doesn’t need to have an explicit gospel message to make it “Christian.” His writings on creativity continue to have a huge influence on many believers to this day, on those trying to understand art in a more holistic model." as it is written here.
“Since making art is a command stemming from the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:26, religious subjects are not exclusively required. (AB pp. 19ff.) Following from this, there is no such thing as a godly style or an ungodly style. (AB, 51ff., 59ff.)” - Francis Schaeffer, Art & the Bible (1973)
“As Hans Rookmaaker used to point-out , the better an artist understood the incarnation, the less he relied on “clues” such as halos or symbolic colors. Instead, Christ’s significance can be highlighted through artistic means such as rhythm, placement, and psychological interplay. Equally important is Schaeffer’s emphasis on style. There is no holy or baptized style. Modern art uses much more abstraction than does traditional art, although that is relative, not absolute. And, to be sure, certain styles were developed as appropriate vehicles for certain worldviews, and thus may be more difficult to redeem for godly purposes.“ <…> Can Christians paint non-objectively. Yes they can, as is exhibited by such artists as Makoto Fujimura and Kim En Joong. But good abstract art is difficult to achieve. (https://mereorthodoxy.com/francis-schaeffer-arts-retrospective/)
During the ELF Artists Network meetings we had some workshops and tried to answer some “easy questions”, for example, “what is art?”. My answer was that art reminds us about the realities of metaphysics. The metaphor of the veil that keeps the truth hidden is commonly known, yet many argue, what is the truthful method or THE WAY to lift it. Yet, in general sense, we can agree that there’s something beyond the visible material world, something that physics and science can not explain, and that is what we call metaphysics. I see the process of creating as stepping into the space beyond the veil and bringing some metaphysical essence back, during the process it transforms from the idea - thought into the material substance, either that will be the visual art or some other form of creation.
"Socrates tells the famous myth of the winged charioteer, a tale “of that place beyond the heavens none of our earthly poets has yet sung and none shall sing worthily...It is here that true beings dwells, without color or shape, that cannot be touched; reason alone, the soul’s pilot can behold it, and all true knowledge is knowledge thereof.”" (Christopher Perricone “Poetic Philosophy: The Heidegger-Williams Connection”, p.47, “The Journal of Speculative Philosophy”, New Series, Vol. 12, No. 1 (1998))
“We do not envisage art to have utility. As soon as art is seen in this way it is connected to the art market and we’re back into the capitalist, market-driven, growth model of production. If the utility of art is understood as a vehicle for advocating social changes or raising environmental consciousness we come to the problem of art as propaganda, which can also be counterproductive, as it undermines the subversive potential of artistic autonomy.” (https://www.thersa.org/blog/2009/07/george-orwell-all-art-is-propaganda)
"She's a thinker", Liviu told his friend Saša, as I was sitting just next to them. We finally met in real life and had a chance to talk. We knew each other from "Imago Dei" online meetings, an initiative organized by "Bridge Builders International". And now we met at ELF in Poland. I came from Lithuania and he came from Romania. Each participant of our Artists Networks had a chance to share their work. It was so soul feeding. Liviu puts so much thought into his work, through his art he evokes deep and profound revelations. It was amazing to meet him and of course his brilliant wife, dr. habil. Rodica Mocan, and to share common interests with her in new technologies and new forms of art ( you can read her paper "FROM CO-CREATOR TO DEMIURGE A THEOLOGICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVE ON TRANSHUMANIST ART" online).
As I was writing this text it was raining outside. Most of the time I was writing in silence, or rather in the noise of rain, pleasant noise I would add. Later I discovered “How To Disappear Completely” album “Seraphim” (2019). HTDC is a live collective based in Poland. The name of the project is based on Doug Richmond's book, originally released in 1985. It accompanies the rain well. And my cat’s name is Seraphim. It’s all connected and "there are no accidents”, as I like to say. This project and its concept reminds me of another discussion, of how visible and outspoken the artists are or should/could be. It’s pretty common to have a case of laud personna going parallel with the work of art in the contemporary art scene, and yet it is so refreshing to discover “the silent masters”, who’s work operates through the layers of the soul without them doing much besides existing. One of them is Liviu Mocan, a sculptor from Romania, who works with bronze and other precious metals. I said to him, that these materials are very long lasting, they can survive better under ungrateful conditions, not like canvases. He looked at me and smiled, then asked me: “Do you know what happened to the sculptures during the war? They were melted, the sculptures, the church bells. They made tanks out of them. The most important thing is what is left here (he placed his palm on his chest)”. I was left a bit speechless. Indeed, what a great reminder.
Instead of striving to immortalize ourselves by leaving a grandeur artistic legacy, maybe we could aim to disappear completely, not focusing on leaving material traces, but a feeling in the chest, metaphysical imprints in the quicksand of space and time?
If you made it so far, congratulations, you just had a brush with some complex dilemmas the thinking-creative types are dealing with on a daily basis. To have an opportunity to exchange views, to listen and learn from each other in real life at ELF was rewarding and valuable indeed.
Maybe the only thing that is useful is my hat after all. It will decay as well. Just like my grandpa. Just like I will. Will we see some "useless art" in the afterlife?
I leave you with some quotes to ponder on: