HOME ARTICLES SEARCH ARTICLES BOOKS SUBSCRIBE NEWSLETTER ABOUT US COMMENTS

 

THE FUTURE OF THE ARTS, PART I

Do you consider yourself an artist? Whether you do or not, future church leaders will be artists. For art is destined to become the next "incarnation" of our faith. Here is this article’s summary:

A NEW PROOF OF TRUTH

A new art supersedes old apologetics and brings new proofs of Truth. It will involve a different excellence and a new credibility. It will point to a different way of meaning what we mean and a new way of signifying what is significant.

Allowed and disallowed knowledge are crossing in ways that excite artists and upset academics. But the artists are winning!

A future theology will be painted, sculpted, danced, performed, crafted. . . .

ART AND METAPHOR

Metaphor is the seed of all art. Metaphor is a tiny work of art, a "poem in miniature." No matter its images—sounds, objects, gestures, stories, or words—metaphor supports the very structure of all the arts.

We live in a metaphoric world more than a "real" world.

The postmodern world will prove a perfect haven for powerful prophetic metaphors.

RADICAL METAPHORS

The widest gap between past and future bears witness to a new and fearless push toward increasingly radical metaphors.

We are stumbling blindly and boldly toward evermore bizarre sources of meaning.

Science will create sensual images that today’s arts can only begin to suggest. A new "tech-art" will even extend our senses, like quickened prostheses.

CONCLUSION

The art forms of the future will alter most of what we’ve known about the art forms of the past.

Though most "religious" artists are thirty years behind, art is destined to become the new "incarnation" of our faith.

For more, read further:

The Coin of the Realm

The most significant moment in art is upon us. With astounding new forms, the arts are becoming the coin of the realm, the lingua franca of the future. Of course, art—and language—constantly change. But today’s change proves a singular watershed event.

What are the forces driving this change?

Any historic shift—like the present shift from the modern to the postmodern world—stirs new visions and rids old obstacles. And, such daring constantly breaks barriers. Then, these broken barriers nurture new arts.

But metaphor mainly drives today’s change. Metaphor is the prophetic power in the future of language, and the future of language is the prophetic promise in the future of art. For, finally, metaphor is the seed of all art.

Of course, our rush toward an oral culture (where vision exceeds logic) feeds this promise, as well. For art is endemic to an oral culture.

These are the forces, but what do they mean? What will we do when we don’t do what we’re doing now? The church must answer! Most "religious" artists, for example, are already thirty years behind. What they are doing now is what the secular world was doing at least thirty years ago.

Useless Arts

No wonder!

Old cultural leaders with both feet firmly fixed in an old cultural world claim "art has nothing to do with meaning"1. . . that it "asserts nothing"2 . . . that it is finally "useless."3 Even in the church! "For much of Christian history, educators and theologians have expressed a deep suspicion of the arts."4 St. Augustine insisted that truth is always "disembodied and purely intellectual."5 And the modern theologian Karl Barth agreed, "Beauty is a risky concept." Its pleasure "should not, therefore, be associated with the serious business of religion."6

Of course, we pay lip service to the "sacred" arts.

We have allowed the popular arts to cook the moods in market-driven churches. We have valued art as decor in the same way we value wall-to-wall carpeting. And, we have even admired the "fine arts," though we refuse any notion of their carrying final meanings. No matter the contrary beliefs, seldom has the modern world known art as an instrument of Truth.

And with good reason. Art has been forced to serve the "reality"—the logic and science—of the modern world. And, beyond a useless, abstract beauty, no other means to "truth" has been allowed. So, in the absence of sacred aesthetics or a theology of art, church leaders have long surmised that the arts share a bed with cheap and empty "sentiment."

As a result, meaning in the arts has long been lost to logical "sophistication" and artless commercialization.

A New Apologetic

Not anymore. A new art supersedes old apologetics and brings new proofs of Truth.

In a world where the doctrines of truth and goodness struggle to survive, beauty and art still connect with culture. While visionary youth refuse the limited language and pious paraphrases of the past, they still yearn to know the message of beauty . . . the meaning in art. And, where modern minds seek reality through scientific analysis, other minds seek ultimate reality through sensuous art.

In short, allowed and disallowed knowledge are crossing in ways that excite artists and upset academics. But the artists are winning!

Cutting edge scientists, for example, appeal to poetry. Itzhak Bentov describes the universe as "a vibrating, dancing organism." He says, in fact, "the universe as a whole and we in particular are not matter, but music."7

And scholars join these forces, when

the novelist becomes a prophet, the composer a magician, and the historian a bard, a voice recalling ancient identities.8

Even theologians leave their libraries to mix with musicians, actors, artists, poets and dancers. Indeed, a future theology may never appear in text books. It may, instead, be painted, sculpted, danced, performed, crafted. . . .

Of course, the notion of art "arguing truth" doesn’t make sense in any excellence of logic. And the "apologetics of art" shows a silliness beyond all rules of credibility. But we’re talking about a different excellence and a new credibility. We’re pointing to a different way of meaning what we mean and a new way of signifying what is significant.

After all, art delivers meaning in an entirely different way from logical discourse. The disciplines achieving perfection in one will not attain results in the other.

Let’s get beyond this silliness.

Instead of fixed ideas or precise points of view, art requires a nonrational sense for its power—a sense that lies deeper than "exact" thought. Instead of locking down final "truth," art moves with cryptic poignancy, rich ambiguity, and puzzling paradox. And, instead of one literal answer, art yields meaning from multiple views and endless patterns.

Instead of cold, objective "truth," art explores privately felt meanings. Instead of predictable arguments, art surprises us with the unpredictable. And, instead of step-by-step conclusions (like lawyers before a jury), art transports us suddenly to new perspectives.

The Otherwise Unknown

Art proves many vantages in its "knowing."

For art reveals the otherwise unknown. It works beyond the edge of easy knowing. Indeed, it is the only way we find God’s creative presence in history.9 For art breaks through the crust of formal thinking. It sets aside the world of untrue believing.

It is a music you never would have known to listen for.

In the art of virtual reality, for example, we see still another "real" world. For in art we confront the "ultimately real."10 We see beyond the limits of a psychological world, for art looks past both subjectivity and objectivity. And, we see beyond man’s boxed-in isms, for true art is not the private property of any man’s creed.

We see beyond the warmed-over truth and reinvented "wheels" of the past, for art reveals the totally new. We see beyond the illness of culture, for art transcends culture. And we even see beyond art itself, for art points beyond itself.

Seeing beyond such things, "personal" vision proves another advantage of "knowing" in the arts. After all, all we do, we do in order to "feel" its significance. And art serves a valid vision of this significance. It is both intimate and ultimate. As it penetrates, permeates and impresses us, it illuminates, seizes, and motivates us.

It is the reality of "truth felt."

More important, art is a "transforming" knowing. Far stronger than mere data, it recreates us . . . changes us . . . and transforms us. Bach, for example, believed music "recreates the human spirit." Beethoven wrote, "Anyone who understands my music is saved." The author Doestoevsky insisted, "Beauty will save the world." And the theologian Tillich claimed a Botticelli painting changed his whole life.

As the arts drop their old "decor" roles, they will form the new apologetic, the new proof of Truth. Then, preachers will become artists—masters of the story. And artists will become preachers—masters of the prophetic "Word."

A Degenerate Priesthood

Of course, I’m talking about true art, art that surpasses art—not the abuse or misuse of art.

Art meant only to entertain—seductive, popular, and indulgent—feeds the flesh more than it feeds the faith. And its products and producers, with profit margins in mind, exert power over its customers rather than giving power. On a less harmful level, the same vendors sell mere "decor" arts—art we can do with or without. The music in malls and dairy farms, for example, flows languidly with a passive and timeless reverie. But its manipulated moods merely "milk" the shoppers as well as the dairy cows.

More "cultured" arts dwell in refined schools where privileged status and prevailing standards pay homage to the great heros and triumphs of culture. At these altars, art usually exists for the sake of art—it points only to itself. We may be ravished by its beauty, but we remain the same. Or, with more pride, we say, "Art is about the artist." Art, in other words, glorifies the artist. Yet, we can’t differ between a craftsman and an anointed artist, or dazzling skill and a moment of true power.

These arts, pulled lose from deeper and truer origins, wander the moral landscape with no conviction. And—sooner or later—they prove helpless against the demonic. Much of today’s art, for example, flaunts a stylish pessimism or an angry cynicism. Some say, "In our postmodern era, the artists have become a degenerate priesthood."11

Woe unto those who . . . have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute . . . but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord.12

Referential Power

Still, art can speak Truth.

To begin, we live in a symbolic world. Always, "The fundamental gestures of existence bear a symbolic potential."13 And in that potential, all events "surpass their appearance."14 In other words, we live in a metaphoric world more than a "real" world.

Our metaphoric world is a linguistic world of "unspoken" realities and nonverbal modes. Hidden under supposedly arbitrary words lurk the stories of our culture in all their glory and vainglory. And, concealed behind the lie of modern "objectivity" hide the events of Truth in all their closure and disclosure.

In this hidden world, language is possible only with metaphor. If we lose the referential power of metaphor—the ability to represent hidden realities—we have lost truth, culture, and life itself. We have also lost art, for metaphor and art are identical twins. Metaphor is a tiny work of art, a "poem in miniature."15 No matter its images—sounds, objects, gestures, stories, or words—metaphor supports the very structure of all the arts.

So we can say, then, art also "speaks." It reveals, discloses, testifies. The early church knew this. The whole drama of salvation was played out in visual images. Pope Gregory the Great said, "Images are for unlettered beholders what scripture is for the reader." And a later church council affirmed, "What the gospel tells us by words, the icon proclaims by colors."16

In the same way, a future proof of truth increases the role of our senses, emotions, and feelings, for you cannot have metaphor without them. So a new credibility will demand new standards of honesty and excellence in perceiving truth through the body.

Art, then, destines to become a new "incarnation" of our faith. The great poet Goethe warned that art is "no mere amusement to charm the idle or relax the careworn." Instead, it is the "sister of religion."17 And Albert Schweitzer echoed, "All true and deeply felt music, whether sacred or profane, journeys to heights where art and religion can always meet."18

So life, language, metaphor, art, and emotion . . . they all speak Truth. And the language of the future will know their sisterhood.

Starting a "Clean Slate"

But the promises of the past require radically different arts for the future. And the art forms of the future alter most of what we’ve known about the art forms of the past. True, postmodern trends may resemble passing fads, but we hear a rumbling in these trends that echos historic changes. Indeed, it presages the shaking of a whole new paradigm for the arts.

Surprisingly, this should not surprise. Art simply resonates to deep changes in our culture . . . to the way we think . . . to our grasp of reality. And, as we move away from a white, European, "enlightened," male-dominated culture, we also discover wrong ideas about the arts.

As a result, we feel a growing unease with the old definitions, strict recipes, and logical limits of art. We sense a widening distance with a one-size-fits-all, "thinking-man’s" musing. And, we question the produced, programmed, and professional arts of an out-of-step elderly elite.

Even arts for the masses catch our questions. More and more we distrust the canned, commercial arts neutered of all that prevents sales to the widest possible market. So we are, indeed, redefining the "mass" in "mass markets."

In this new decade of a new century, the arts are starting with a "clean slate."

Radical Metaphors

Again, metaphor has always been basic to art. And the paradox between the "unknown" and the "known" has always been basic to metaphor. But now, the widest gap between past and future bears witness to a new and fearless push toward paradox . . . toward a radical metaphor.

Today, for example, we show a voracious appetite for juxtaposition, enigma, collage, and just plain hodgepodge. We have suddenly redoubled our ability to combine diverse things in impossible ways. And we have brazenly inflated our affinity for comparing the incomparable . . . for placing side by side the incompatible.

We all take part in this "extreme" game. And, in doing so, all of us question the old orders of veracity while stumbling blindly and boldly toward evermore bizarre sources of meaning.

And, as we could expect, bizarre metaphors show up in a world of "multi-everything" arts. Multimedia, multimodal, multicultural, multisensory, multifaceted, multilayered. . . . Meanings on top of meanings, moods on top of moods, modes on top of modes. . . .

Like a hall of mirrors, they demand our attention on several levels at once.

"Techno worship," for example, blurs the borders between music, poetry, dance, drama, visual art, the event itself, and all the senses . . . all at the same time! Given enough bandwidth, digital science can simultaneously engage all of our senses. And it can do this in ways to which the older arts can only hint. As example, crossing quickly from one sense to the other, we move beyond the old notion that the arts are sensory specific—that "music is for the ear," "visual art is for the eye," and so on.

This "multi-everything" world—this ambiguity of polyphony—will only increase the depth of the message. It will prove a perfect haven for powerful prophetic metaphors.

Losing Our Timeline

As if it were possible, future arts will also bow before a new time and space.

The "timeline" arts—arts that take place over time (like music)—were heavily shaped by the linear, serial logic of the Enlightenment. Classical symphonies, for example, took a musical "idea," then developed it over a timeline. That idea had to "go somewhere." It had to "do something." It had to show a logical exposition, development, and conclusion. And, the dramatic interplay between carefully sequenced moods birthed the musical classics of our culture.

Yet today, many listeners want more than clock-like events hooked together like "beads on a string." Their druthers should be obvious: As thoughts lose their logical sequence, the performing arts lose their "timeline." These arts begin to work more in "realtime," focusing on the moment itself. They become, in other words, more "vertical" and less "horizontal."

Today’s pop culture reflects these transient, "realtime" moments. Recent books, for example, present endless incoherent and isolated episodes. Leading theaters stage random streams of consciousness. And, even the illusion of films merely pastes together fragments of filed-away film clips.

In music, these event-character "moments" more and more take on the quality of immobile "paintings." These moments differ from the music of the past where moods followed each other like ducks in a row. Today, for example, a whole gamut of moods—like struggle, assurance, and celebration—can pile onto each instant, the way paintings present complete pictures at each glance.

Or, listen to the realtime, "ambient" music of today’s youth. Their "chilling out" music presents contemplative "soundscapes," the way an older painting presents romantic "landscapes." These soundscapes, however, "stand still" more by endlessly repeated patterns than by simultaneous moods. Such contemplation surfaces from a going-nowhere, mood music made of short, cyclical, and simple, chantlike phrases.

Similar examples include Taize music19 and New Age music.

By classical standards, many label this music a poverty-stricken creativity. Yet, those who contemplate these sounds say the sheer simplicity never gets boring. Instead, it grows ever deeper, forming something within that was not there before. These endlessly recurring sounds give listeners the chance to become completely "lost" in the music.

Yes, these sounds open the door to something. The question is what? We should recall that the spiritual realm has a fork in the road.

In summary, we are moving toward a new time and space in the arts. But, between now and then, the performing arts will hold the metaphoric tensions between both minutes and moments, form and freedom, progress and pattern, going somewhere and going nowhere. . . .

Where all this ends? Nobody knows.

Personal Art

History boldly rejects still another idea about the arts. We have ended the notion that art exists only for itself . . . that it parades excellence only for its own sake. Recent history, for example, reveals less regard for the restricted arts of the cultural elite—the "educated" arts . . . the "mind" arts.

We are savoring a distaste for mere "good taste."

So we move, at the same time, toward a more "personal" art—toward the importance of all participants, their secret pleasure, their firsthand experience. After all, art was never meant to be separated from life. In addition, today’s need for ratings and sales in the marketplace demands an inclusive audience rather than an elite few.

Music for a larger audience, however, doesn’t require a loss of depth or profundity. It simply demands a revivified directness . . . a specific message to a specific person at a specific time.

We see this in-your-face directness in the "alternative worship" arts of today’s youth. Intimate and honest, these arts exude a risk-taking, freewheeling worship. Their "hip-hop" ecstasies grow from a life style of rap, break dancing, and graffiti. And their "rave" raptures grow into a euphoric marathon of all-night dancing.

This is the art of our earliest origins.

No wonder. The agelong quest for the secret intimacy between beauty and meaning has turned suddenly into a headlong rush toward senses and emotions. As a result, pop culture citizens are now ardent collectors of felt meanings and emotional kicks.

And, we haven’t yet seen the final fruit! For science will revision our senses. It will create sensual images that today’s arts can only begin to suggest. The freedom to probe a "biological" art—grounded in feelings and emotions—will find new and amazing sensory expressions. In fact, a new "tech-art" will even extend our senses, like quickened prostheses.20

And it will provide more depth than any previous art.

Interactive Art

Another seismic change in the arts bursts from the new "interface culture." It brings a tidal wave shift from passive spectators in the arts to active players in the arts. And it reveals itself to us through Cyberspace, which, again, "reveals itself to us only through . . . interface design."21

This interface design "is the great symbolic accomplishment of our era."22 Cyberspace, after all, is an immensely disordered realm ruled by invisible forces. It requires the sensuous gestures—the "interface"—of icons, links, and metaphors to imagine this infinity and to restore a feeling of order. And these symbols run exactly parallel to the sense-making interface in both religion and art.

In short, the Internet "interface" is art:

(The Internet) is now emerging—chrysalis-style—as a genuine art form . . . as complex and vital as the novel or the cathedral or the cinema . . . (it is) perhaps the art form of (this) century.23

That’s the reason digital gurus often resemble priests and prophets. For they are the "artisans" of an interface culture. And that’s the reason all postmodern citizens are born to prophesy. For the new world of interface requires indigenous, interactive, Internet arts—warts and all.

When I think about the gap between raw information and its numinous life on the screen . . . the whole sensation has a strangely religious feel to it.24

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. The British philosopher Harold Osborne, editor of the British Journal of Aesthetics, quoted in Religious Aesthetics: A Theological Study of Making and Meaning by Frank Burch Brown (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989) p. 26.

2. R. G. Collingwood, quoted in Louis Dupré, Symbols of the Sacred (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) pp. 72, 73.

3. Paul Valery, quoted in Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980) p. 3.

4. Frank Burch Brown, "Characteristics of Art and the Character of Theological Education," Theological Education, Volume XXXI, Number 1, Autumn 1994, p. 7.

5. Brown.

6. Patrick Sherry, Spirit and Beauty: An Introduction to Theological Aesthetics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, l992)p. 21.

7. Itzhak Bentov, in his book Stalking the Wild Pendulum, http://bit.ly/ct1ZpX

8. William Irwin Thompson, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981) p. 4.

9. We find this idea in Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Spenser, Handel, Haydn, Kant, Jaspers, Ricoeur, Whitehead, Dewey, Heidegger, and countless other artists and thinkers.

10. Louis Dupré, Symbols of the Sacred (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) p. 71.

11. Thompson, p. 248.

12. Isaiah 5:11, 12; AMP.

13. Dupré, pp. 122, 123.

14. Dupré.

15. Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 281.

16. The Eighth Ecumenical Council, discussed at the above web site.

17. Arianna Stassinopoulos. After Reason (New York: Stein and Day, 1978), p. 157.

18. http://bit.ly/9sDSLY

19. Taize is a village in France with an ecumenical community gathering. Their simple, chant-like meditative music, mostly written by the monk Jacques Berthier, appeals especially to international youth.

20. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture (Toronto: Somerville House Publishing, 1995) p. 86.

21. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New York: Basic Books, 1997) p 19.

22. Johnson, pp 212-215.

23. Johnson, pp 212-215, 238-242.

24. Johnson, pp 212-215.



Future Church Administrator