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THE FUTURE OF THE ARTS, PART II

Better get rid of your old ideas about "sacred" arts. Everything is up for grabs. And wonderfully so, for this is the most exciting moment in the history of both art and the Church.

(A full article follows the brief summary below.)

A NEW ART:

Art is leaping outside itself as it scrambles for new roles and new meanings.

We’ve known the metaphoric tensions within art, but the postmodern world is revealing strange new metaphoric tensions between the arts and things outside the arts.

We are learning that the arts are not sequestered studies (where, for example, music schools study only music). And, we are learning that the arts are not sensory specific (where, for example, we assume to "hear" music only with our ear).

NEW METAPHORS OF ART:

Artists are boldly risking new metaphoric tensions between past traditions and postmodern transitions, "high" art and "low" art, professional art and popular art . . . between the "local" and the "global," the significant and the insignificant, the essential and the trivial . . . between reality and unreality, truth and fiction, sacred and secular. . . .

TECHNOLOGY AND ART:

Information-space holds the great metaphoric tension of our era. Digital technology, for example, runs exact parallels with art. Both the "infosphere" and art are intuitive systems ruled by invisible forces—forces made sensuous. Indeed, tech/art may prove the primary symbol of the coming age.

ART AND LIFE:

We are breaking the barriers between art and life itself. What we once called "art" is showing up incognito in life itself—anywhere, any time, and in any form. In these powerfully mysterious tensions between real life and hidden art, we are learning that art does not take place in a vacuum.

THE NEW RULES OF ART:

In the wildness of these new metaphors and the desperate need for a new credibility, Scripture provides the radical orthodoxy for our time. Contrary to our Greek culture, the ancient Hebrews may be the only ones who understood the true role and purpose of art.

(Read the complete article below for further information.)

Turning Inside Out

Art is leaping outside itself. Like a molting animal, it is jumping out of its own skin.

We’ve long known the metaphoric tensions within art. We’ve heard a melody, for instance, that goes against its own direction . . . or a harmony that goes against its own tonality. And we’ve even heard the metaphoric tensions between melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, and timbre.

These rules offer the necessary proofs within art. But breakthroughs in great art always birth from breaking rules. So, once again—in a bold response to divine inspiration—the metaphors in art are breaking their own rules. And—in a driven need to understand—the definitions of art are scrambling for new meanings.

Other than utter mystery, art always emerges from metaphor. That is, it is nothing more than the inspired tension between the "known" and the "unknown," and the transcendent events that birth from that tension. The metaphors in art, of course, occur on several levels at once. Yet, shockingly, history now reveals strange new levels of metaphor. Or, more to the point, it reveals strange new metaphoric tensions between art and things outside art.

So, we could say art is turning "inside out." Though the "immutable" in art remains the same, the "mutable" is leaping free of old skins. Here are examples:

Strange Tensions

In this "new age" . . . in this "postmodern" world . . . in this refusal of the past, we see—at the same time!—a strange metaphoric tension between the old and the new, between past traditions and postmodern transitions, between ancient styles and future trends.

Contrary to opinion, today’s youth, for example, hold no aversion to old things: Ancient Celtic music has become "cool" among New Agers. Medieval chant has gone "platinum" on the Billboard Charts.1 And Johann Sebastian Bach has achieved cult status in Japan.2 The youth love these things. But they detest dead metaphors. In other words, they dislike the missing tensions between the "known" and the "unknown"—that is, between the old and the new.

So we hear youthful believers singing old hymns with new words, or performing sacred art in New Age settings. We see them stylishly dressed in the mismated garb of former decades. And we see their Internet sites adopting freely from preceding traditions—art and architecture, the cinema and the novel. In fact, "The interplay between past and future forms drives (their) creative process more than it impedes it."3

In this interplay, popular culture also sees a coming together of "high" and "low" art, elite and universal art, professional and popular art. In other words, we see a coming together of objective "distance" and personal immediacy. In fact, the refusal to place "high" art above "popular" art actually defines postmodern culture.

Finally, then, we see the interplay of the "local" and the "global." As example, the success of "screens"—TV screens, movie screens, computer screens—offers totally new spatial metaphors. On these screens, "here" and "there" challenge each other in ongoing dialogues, leading to juxtapositions of the local and the distant, the myopic and the ethnic.

In further examples, we hear strange mixtures of musical instruments—bagpipes with dulcimers, dulcimers with accordions, accordions with sitars. . . . We hear odd comparisons of musical styles—"reggae" music, with blues, calypso, rock-n-roll, and protest vying for their own voice in the same art form.

Like Alice in Wonderland, these far-out metaphors are getting "curiouser and curiouser."

Slurred Realities

Perhaps, modern minds can accept the tensions between old and new, high and low, global and local. After all, these opposites reflect routine realities. But few old-school minds are ready to blur the lines between life and death, the significant and the insignificant, the essential and the trivial. Yet, today’s media—whether reporting reality or unreality—regularly blur the lines between murder and amusement, global annihilation and video games, the risk of everything and the risk of nothing.

After all, reporting one death or 500 deaths differs little to newscasters. Both figures roll off the tongue equally easily.

In the same slurred reality, the sacred and the secular lie side by side like Siamese twins. You can’t tell one from the other.

So the arts, too, are drawing a metaphoric likeness between truth and fiction, and these images are proving more real than reality itself. Indeed, the distinctions between truth and fiction have almost disappeared. It’s as if we’re living in flight simulators, and we can’t tell the difference between "virtual" and "real." As a result, spy novels and science fiction stories pass more than the time of day. Who can tell truth from fiction anymore? And films capture us in totally rigged worlds. But whose credulity can stand such tests these days?

In short, the arts are giving their epic illusions something they’re not. And in this created reality, seraph and snake live side by side. So art becomes either our salvation or our destruction. Either way, but little between.

Jamming in Cyberspace

Art also leaves the cozy confines of its past in a new interface with technology. This interface, though, is not mere "tech support"—the handy volume control on your remote, as example. Instead, the tension in tech/art births entirely new metaphors, entirely new arts.

Already, most pop music is "machine" music. It totally entangles itself in technology. Synthesizers and sequencers boldly replace natural sounds, as example. And often, their other world atmospheres make mere moods where traditional music once made manners. Of course, today’s computer enhanced multimedia already holds the creative tensions between technical and artistic skills.

Even church artists peek through this door. Those with bolder visions have graduated from over-the-hill sound support to become audio technicians and graphic artists with synthesizers, video displays, and computerized lighting. And, though now an anomaly, we will soon acclaim these pioneers as Christian techno stars.

Already, virtual reality remains the domain of tech-artists—sensitive cybergeeks who create novel artistic metaphors with their digital videos, graphics, holographs, and games. Indeed, "Videogames and computer games bring music, art, and narrative together into one of the highest aesthetic forms of postmodern culture."4

This interface between technology and art should not surprise us. Like all the arts, the "infosphere" holds the tension between the "known" and the "unknown." It is a half unveiling, half vanishing act. Like all arts, rituals, and symbols, it represents something "not there," something beyond itself, something unseen. In short, both technology and art are intuitive systems ruled by invisible forces—forces made sensuous.

So digital technology runs exact parallels with art. And no wonder. The term "technology" derives from the Greek which means "the study of art."5 And, today, digital technology has finally fulfilled that prophecy. It has become an art form in itself.6 Indeed, tech/art may prove the primary symbol of the coming age.

Still, we glimpse this new medium in only its infant years. The future will hold an entirely different story. On its quickened superhighways, the digital world will increasingly immerse us in simultaneous senses. In so doing, it will blur the borderlines between our senses, our arts, and all the metaphors beyond our arts.

And it will burn with the deepest of beauties.

Though we’re unready, computers will soon become virtual artists. Then, human musicians will routinely jam with computers. But, finally, these same computers will bypass humans to seek their own fame.7

Through this new interface between technology and art, everything will change. The harmonic overtones produced by these astonishing new metaphors will alter our arts, our appetites, our senses, and our society.

"Information-space is the great symbolic accomplishment of our era."8

Sweet Melodies

Another metaphor growing "outside" the arts proves those pedagogues "inside" the arts forever wrong. Doctrinaire dogmatists restrict their arts to "inside" disciplines—"Music is for music schools," "Visual art is for art schools," and so on. In the same way, they limit "music to the ear," "visual art to the eye". . . .

On the contrary, we are learning that the arts are not sequestered studies. And, they are not sensory specific.

Metaphor not only proves the primary model within each art. It also proves the basic model between the arts. All the arts, in other words, speak one language—whether within or between. And that language is metaphor. Someday, advanced skills in metaphor will surely replace the turned-in disciplines of the traditional arts.

We need only remember when the texture of music felt "thin" to our intuitive "touch." Or, we need only recall when music’s tone color appeared "dark" to our inner eyes. And, we need only recollect when its melody savored "sweet" to our innate taste. This crossing from one sense to another is "synesthesia." And, its conveyance may prove our most vital metaphoric link.

So the power in music is not music at all! For in the final analysis, the message is not the medium. Instead, the message is something beyond the medium—something common to all the arts, yet beyond the arts.

Just consider, that the well-schooled "medium of music"—or "theory of music"—has nothing to do with the other arts. As a result, our music faculties have little to do with other faculties. And, our music schools have little reason to engage other schools. History will have the last laugh, though. Someday, for example, a degree in music may seem rather quaint.

We have long searched for the powerful interface between the arts. First, we called it "opera," then "musical theater," then "motion pictures," then "multimedia." Soon, we will call it "virtual reality," or maybe even "prophetic metaphor."

Incognito Arts

"All art, I firmly believe, will one day disappear. But the artist will remain, and life itself will become not ‘an art,’ but art."9

Again, art moves beyond "art." In a stunning, yet defining, moment, we are breaking the barriers between art and life itself. And, in this new known/unknown tension, we may find the most profound metaphor of our time. What we once called "art" is showing up incognito in life itself—anywhere, any time, and in any form.

There was a time when art was essential to all of life. Inseparable from all of life, it bestowed meaning on all of life. It was not something we did in order to be religious, cultured, or "elevated." Today, for example, we call prehistoric cave paintings "art," but the artists would have called them "life."

Our "sophistication," in other words, carries the burden of mistaken ideas. We have limited art to one area of our existence. Like good curators, we have locked music, art, dance, drama, and poetry in their own "museums." John Cage was right: "When we separate music from life what we get is art."10

Or, just the reverse, "‘Walking in Jesus’ footsteps’ excludes the arts."

As a result, "great art" occurs only in auditoriums, museums, or books . . . only at time-appointed moments . . . only among the talented . . . only with accepted rules . . . and only with suitable divisions of race, culture, and class. And here’s the upshot for the arts: We separate the skilled from the unskilled, the "significant" from the "insignificant," the refined from the unrefined, the "beautiful" from the "ugly," and all the other "likes" from the "dislikes" of the disreputable Gnostics and stoic Greeks.

But, restricting all the imposing "masterpieces" to their own, zoned corner of greatness will never make up for our separating them from life.

After all, art is life! "Metaphor sets up a model for existence in its entirety."11 Indeed, the sensations, signs, and signals of metaphor flood all of our realities. Everything "points." Everything "speaks." The simple, common, humble, familiar, and unadorned harbor epiphanies that can catch on fire at any moment. Ordinary events, dreams, nature, and intuitions speak wonders that can serve as an address in any instant.

If we see things "trivial," the triviality is in us. Existence, after all, implies feelings, and feelings imply significance.

So "Let’s investigate the possibility that life imitates art rather than the other way around."12 Let’s consider that "The artist is not a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist."13 Let’s look into the powerfully mysterious tensions between real life and hidden art.

Though brushed aside by the cultural elite, we see early signs of these possibilities in the life styles of rap, break dancing, and graffiti. We see glimpses of the future in those popular arts which boldly dialogue over current morality and living issues. And we see a warning shot across our bow as film makers become the new preachers.

When will we learn? Art does not take place in a vacuum.

We, too, must be living examples of this new art, this new metaphor. Of course, there is no transcendence, no art, without risk. So we must risk the "unknown" with the "known," the awe with the ordinary, the mystery with the mundane, the numinous with the natural, the intuitive with the intellect. For everything "known" that glides across God’s face must take on the qualities of the "unknowable."

A New Orthodoxy

Now that the arts have been "let out of school," what credibility can we give to their new metaphors? In the wildness of all these "unknowns," what have we to stand on?

Strangely enough, Scripture provides the new orthodoxy—the new credibility.

Yet, many doubt Scripture has anything to say about the arts. Even believers admit the ancient Hebrews showed little interest in the arts. After all, "Israel left no monumental works of sculpture, art, or architecture to be placed alongside the cultural remains of other ancient civilizations."14

In short, the Greeks had it, the Hebrews didn’t.

Some critics go further: "The Hebrew God doesn’t want any arts!" "Scripture warns," they say, "not to make a ‘likeness of anything’." Of course, this command refers only to worshiping ‘graven images’.15 In the same instant God made this command, He also demanded a tabernacle requiring all the arts.

Contrary to our Greek culture, the ancient Hebrews were the only ones who really understood the true role and purpose of art. And we’ve missed it: "It amazes me that no attempt has ever been made to draw out the esthetic verity (the artistic truth) of the Gospel."16 If we really believe Scripture reveals all truth, shouldn’t Scripture reveal artistic truth among other truths?

And that truth begins with God as an artist—"the first author of beauty."17 His aesthetic beauty and His power are one.18 Even Creation, itself, expressed the joy of an artist.19 In turn, God created man in His image20 and "wrought great glory by (artists) through his great power from the beginning."21

In other words, we were created to create.

No one questions the literary beauty of the Bible. And informed students should admit the architectural splendor of Solomon’s temple, though ruined later by the Romans. We must also allow that much of the Old Testament was sung, and that frequent mention of drama, dance, and visual art confirms an active artistic culture.22

But that’s not the main point.

Hebrew "art" was not just "art." And Hebrew "words" were not just "words." To them, the "Word" was a living, aesthetic experience. They even talked of "dancing" with it! And, discovering wisdom, they would claim, "She (wisdom) came to me in her beauty."23 Or at gatherings, they reminded, "Pour not out words where there is a musician!"24

In other words, all of their life was inspired metaphor. Secular art, in fact, was even part of worship . . . and even part of Scripture! (The Song of Solomon remains a striking instance.) And, their daily meditations moved through the arts—through a "tale," a "riddle," a "song," a "lute," a "lyre". . . .

. . . because God spoke to them through damah or prophetic metaphor.25 Damah, in truth, was their art! And it remains a perfect model of art today. More important, it reflects the form art should take when it jumps out of the box we’ve put it in. They believed anything born of the Spirit, then shared with others, was damah. So music, dance, drama, poetry, and visual art were all the same. And prophecy, metaphor, art, meditation, faith, and inspiration were all the same as well.

We may not always recognize these inspirations as "art," but they represent ultimate models of art. And, in Hebrew culture, they happened any way, any moment, and in any space. They occurred in endless multiples of form, time, and place.

We have found the radical orthodoxy for our time!

Poets and Prophets

Do we need role models?

If so, damah was also the language of the Hebrew prophets.26 In other words, prophecy was also Hebrew art. When Jehoshaphat asked Elisha to prophesy, he said, "First bring me a musician."27 When David appointed prophets, he ordained musicians (288 of them!).28 In fact, prophecy and art were so closely linked that Ezekiel complained when his listeners considered him "just another performer."29

This dual role did not surprise early cultures. "Poet" and "prophet," for example, were the same word in Latin. And, in the New Testament, Paul even called a pagan poet a "prophet."30 The early Hebrews would say, "If you achieve something in art beyond the reach of mere human invention, then surely it comes from God."31

So, in damah, prophets were artists of analogy and affinity, creators of comparison and contrast, virtuosos of similarity and similitude. They held the tensions between images, gestures, stories, puns, songs, sounds, and senses. In short, they spoke the language of prophetic metaphor.

The majority of the prophetic books in the Bible are lyric oracles or poetic songs. The Psalms, for example, were originally sung. And Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea all had ministries of drama.32 This marriage of spirit and art continued in the New Testament, as well. Paul, for example, encouraged "spiritual songs" which were spontaneous and divinely inspired.

Of course, Jesus’ entire ministry was metaphor. Spirit became flesh and pointed out of the power to which it pointed. This God/man said, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father." And His redemptive analogy took common, ordinary things—good seed . . . sour dough . . . something buried in a field . . . a dealer of pearls . . . a fishnet . . . the owner of an estate . . . a wedding banquet—and infused them with power and grace.

He was seldom far from street theater.

<<<>>>

The rediscovery of these ancient truths brings incredible revelations for today. No doubt, insular art is moving outside itself and inside our self. No doubt, inspired art is turning into the most powerful single force creating the future. And no doubt, bold artists are becoming the unspoken prophets of our time.

So if we recapture the damah of prophetic metaphor, we will finally understand the intended role of the arts . . . the language of the postmodern world . . . and maybe our only hope for the future.

Then, we will finally understand what it means to be created in the image of a Creator God. We will finally know the imperative to "call those things that be not as though they were."33 And we will finally bring deserved honor to the ancient Hebrews where even the simplest act of breaking bread released eternal cosmic power.

"The artists of our era are not so much describing the world as creating a new one." (William Irwin Thompson)

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

(See also "The Future of the Arts," Part I.)

ENDNOTES

1. In 1994, the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos released an album called Chant. The entire recording is chanting. The album went platinum on the Billboard Charts.

2. Uwe Siemon-Netto, "The Gospel According to J.S. Bach." Civilization: The Magazine of the Library of Congress (Feb/Mar 2000) pp. 45-49.

3. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New York: Basic Books, 1997) pp. 18, 19 (my parentheses).

4. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in the New Millennium Culture," (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999) p. 219.

5. Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (New York: Viking, 1999) p. 16.

6. Johnson, pp. 238-242.

7. Kurzweil, pp. 223, 278, 279.

8. Johnson, pp. 212-215.

9. Brewster Ghiselin, The Creative Process (New York: Mentor Books, 1955) pp. 181, 182.

10. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980) p. 55.

11. Louis Dupré, Symbols of the Sacred (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) p. 99.

12. Robert Burdette Sweet, "Creatures of the Metaphor," The Humanist, Vol 55, p. 26, Nov. 1995.

13. Ananda Coomaraswamy, quoted in Roger Hazelton, Theology of Art (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967) p. 41.

14. Richard C. Leonard, "The Literary Arts" The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, Editor, Vol 1, p. 222.

15. Exodus 20:4, 5; Leviticus 26:1.

16. Andre’ Gide, quoted in Hazelton, p. 113.

17. Wisdom XIII.3, the Apocrypha.

18. Biblical "glory," for example, means both power and beauty. See also Psalm 32:7, 118:14, 90:17; AMP.

19. Proverbs 8:27-30, Job 38:7; Ge 1:1, SEP; Eph 2:10, AMP.

20. Genesis 1:27, AMP.

21. Ecclesiasticus XLIV.1-7, Apocrypha.

22. Exodus 15:20 and Ezekiel 4:1-3 serve as examples.

23. Sirach 51:13, 14 The New American Bible.

24. Ecclesiasticus XXXV.4, Apocrypha.

25. Hosea 12:10.

26. Hosea 12:10.

27. II Kings 3:11-16, AMP.

28. I Chronicles 25:1, 7; II Chronicles 29:30.

29. Ezekiel 32:33, AMP.

30. Titus 1:12.

31. C. H. Peisker, "Prophet," The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 1986 ed., III, 76.

32. I Kings II:29-32, Jeremiah 13:1-9, 27:1-7; Ezekial 4:1-3, 5:1-4.

33. Romans 4:17, KJ.



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