Sunday, July 31, 2016

Of Astronauts and Doughnuts

Oil and gold leaf on panel

The second year of my MFA is done, in fact I'm weeks away from beginning my third and final year. After two years, I've realized that it takes half of the summer or more for the sting of the school year to pass enough for me to look at the work I created in that time with even a modicum of objectivity.

 Out of the twenty or so paintings I made, these are the only two that I am remotely happy with. Both paintings deal with notions of perfection and the pursuit there of. My own struggles with who I am by nature and who I feel I should be.  Both paintings are influenced by Byzantine icons, but question the format of "holiness" presented by today's society. They are both meant to be quietly contemplative, and a more than a little bit funny.

"The artist as an Astronaut"
Oil and Gold leaf on panel

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Defining Beauty from a Theological Perspective: Part 2

Big Beauty and little beauty

Last week we began by placing ourselves in a position that will define our relationship to and understanding of beauty. The position we marked out is based on an understanding that God created the world as an expression of his glory, and he is glorified when his creatures delight in him. John Piper writes, paraphrasing Jonathan Edwards, “God’s aim in creating the world was to display the value of his own glory, and that aim is no other than the endless, ever-increasing joy of his people in that Glory” (Piper, God’s passion for his Glory p.32). So what does the glory of God have to do with beauty? We began by looking at creation and the integral part that beauty plays in the created world. Today we are going to build on that, to attempt to define beauty from the standpoint of the glory of God.

The first question to ask, of course, is what is beauty? And what does beauty have to do with the glory of God? While we aren’t going to come up with an easy answer, my hope is that we can gain a deeper understanding and broader perspective of how the two ideas are related, and why beauty is important.

To define beauty we are going to do more philosophy than theology, but it is a philosophy that is built on that spot that we earlier staked out. Jonathan Edwards in his essay “On the Nature of True Virtue” defines two types of beauty which strikes me as a really good way of looking at things. The first beauty he defines is a spiritual as well as physical beauty, one that is synonymous with virtue, a beauty that is apparent when something or someone is seen comprehensively, inside and out, and here is the kicker: in relation to God and his glory. This idea of beauty is an old one, equating beauty with truth, love, courage etc. Virtues and virtuous acts are considered beautiful, and this is, for the most part, universal. Cultures may disagree on the ordering of virtues, which is more important than the other, but all agree on the basic virtues of love, of truthfulness, of courage, etc. This is Big Beauty, objective beauty. True virtue consists primarily of love (of God and others) and then acts that come from it. This is why you can stare at your child and marvel at his beauty. To others he is a cute kid more or less, but nothing special, but to you he is staggeringly beautiful. The love creates the beauty.

But not everything that is beautiful is virtuous and that is where the second definition of beauty comes in.

Little beauty is what we most often think of as beauty. It is the aesthetic and harmonious arrangement of features or elements that when viewed together create pleasure in the viewer. For example: the symmetrical arrangement of features on a face creates little beauty. The arrangement of textures and colors and shapes in a landscape, the arrangement of notes in a song, the arrangement of graceful movements in a dance. This is why we collect random objects and arrange them on our coffee tables and mantels. Little beauty is subject to personal taste and cultural norms and as such is primarily experiential and subjective. Jonathan Edwards links Big Beauty and little beauty through the concept of harmony: “Beauty consists not in discord or dissent, but in consent or agreement”, in little beauty the consent and agreement is in the relationship of parts to the whole and to the viewer, in Big Beauty the consent and agreement he is referring to is a harmonious relationship between our will and God’s will, which results in true virtue. In this linking Edwards claims that the harmony that defines little beauty is a picture of the harmony that defines Big Beauty, and was given to man as an instinct by God.

In establishing this law of nature God seems to want the natural agreement ·that causes the pleased sense of secondary beauty· to resemble the spiritual, heartfelt agreement that original beauty consists in. But men’s pleased sense of secondary beauty doesn’t come from any reflection on or perception of such a resemblance. Their sensation of pleasure when they encounter secondary beauty is an immediate upshot of the law God has established, i.e. the instinct he has given (Jonathan Edwards "On the Nature of True Virtue", Chapter 3).

In other words, when we encounter something beautiful we don’t stop to think: my but those pleasing relationships between objects reminds me of the relationship between God and the Son and the Holy Spirit… We enjoy it instinctively and leave it at that. In that way little beauty, secondary beauty is for us, for our pleasure, but also for God’s pleasure, because he sees all of the connections and interrelations and enjoys them as a reflection of his Glory.

This is the relationship between God’s Glory and beauty, and here I am paraphrasing renowned theologian, Richelle Howard: Beauty, both Big and little, can be seen as the transposition of God’s glory. When God, who is spirit, decided to create a world out of matter, he decided to translate what was experienced only by him, and shift it to form and matter so his creation could experience it in a similar way.

Little beauty, in form and matter, is part of God’s creation, part of the expression of his glory. However, because it is part of God’s creation it has been affected by sin and the fall, which we will get into in depth next week, but for the moment, this fallen aspect of little beauty needs to be noted because it warps the way in which we experience beauty, the link between Big Beauty and little beauty has been disrupted.

John Calvin in book one of the Institutes of the Christian Religion wrote concerning the link between Big and little beauty and man’s ability to perceive it, he wrote that people rarely direct their minds to God when they see the structure and organization of the world. Instead they content themselves to view his work, and do not think of him.  “but, notwithstanding the clear representations given by God in the mirror of his works, both of himself and of his everlasting dominion, such is our stupidity, that, always inattentive to these obvious testimonies, we derive no advantage from them”. Calvin is writing specifically in relation to the ongoing debate of the nature and value of images and church decoration, the other side was focused on the ability of imagery and beauty to direct the mind of the worshiper to higher, heavenly things.

 I’m going to go out on a limb a little here, I don’t have any theologians in my pocket to back me up, but I think, that given our understanding that God created the world for himself, and that beauty and the experience of beauty by his creatures is a part of it, that when we experience little beauty we are echoing God’s pleasure in himself. When we fully understand the link between little beauty and big beauty, the link between beauty and God’s glory we experience it how it is meant to be experienced and that glorifies God in a very real way. But when we experience beauty, even without that understanding, we are still participating in the system that God set up for his glory, therefor still bringing God glory whether we know it or not. It’s like the change in designation from B.C./A.D to B.C.E/C.E , the name f the eras have changed, but the foundation of them hasn’t. The world is still counting time from the birth of Christ no matter what they name it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Defining Beauty from a Theological Perspective: Part 1

Creation Still Life
 We are drawn to beauty, we fill our houses with things we find beautiful, and we arrange and rearrange them on tables and shelves to find the most pleasing combination of items. We look at pictures of beautiful things, at museums, on Pinterest. As a culture we spend millions of dollars each year to decorate our bodies and faces, altering ourselves to meet what we feel is an objective standard of beauty. As humans we have spent thousands of years combining and recombining sounds into melodies and songs that our ears enjoy. We desire not just function out of our architecture, four walls and a roof, but a pleasing arrangement of those elements and the addition of superfluous features that add beauty but not purpose.

Yet Beauty is not a simple concept. If I asked you to define beauty right now, what would you say? Philosophers since Plato have filled tomes with their ideas, but have failed to nail down specifics (so just to warn you, we aren’t going to come up with a definition of beauty here!) Even if I asked you to describe something beautiful the answers would be varied because we each experience beauty in different ways, beauty is experiential. Beauty draws us in, attracts us, but we are also deeply suspicious of it. We know appearances to be deceiving and we dislike vanity.

So our goal in the next few weeks isn’t to come up with a definitive understanding of beauty, or to decide if beauty is positive or negative thing, but rather to embrace the complexity of the subject, to think about it thoroughly and see if we can begin to understand some of the variances from a theological perspective.

I am a visual artist, more specifically I am a representational painter. One of the techniques of a representational artist, when an exact likeness is sought is called “sight-size” the point of the technique is to try to create an exact replica of what you see, exactly to size. To do this you can’t stand right next to your easel, and you can’t move around. You have to mark off a spot, usually around five feet behind your easel, were you can see both your subject and the easel clearly. This spot is the spot from which you make all of your decisions. It gives you a clear and unwavering vantage point and all you have to do is glance back and forth from your object to your painting to see mistakes or problems.

This is what we are going to do today, we are going to mark off our spot, the spot that will define what we see and how we understand it, and from this point we can make our decisions about beauty. We are going to start in the beginning, with creation and the creator. 

Why did God create the world?

Jonathan Edwards, 18th century theologian wrote a theses “The End for Which God Created the World” In which he tackles this question. For Edwards, this question was of primary concern, without its proper answer, we couldn’t know anything about our creator, and about ourselves or our purpose. 

He writes that:
“…we must suppose that God, before he created the world, had some good in view, as a consequence of the world’s existence, that was originally agreeable to him in and of itself considered, that inclined him to bring the universe into existence, in such manner as he created it” (J.E. Piper, 132).

The creation of the universe, of us, was not an accident, or a byproduct of another act, it wasn’t the result of God being bored, or lonely. The way the universe was created, the form it took, how it was stitched together, all of these elements are particular and done for a purpose.

The objective that God had when he created the world, was that his glory, his person, would be manifest and magnified in his creation.  God himself is the reason that God created the world. God delights in himself and makes himself his purpose, his objective, his end. God also delights in his excellencies being seen, esteemed, and delighted in. This is where we come in. The Westminster catechism asks: What is the chief end of man? The answer to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Our joy and happiness is of concern to God, it is part of why he created the world the way he did, he made it beautiful and pleasurable so that his creatures could delight in him.

Beauty is an integral part of creation. God did not make a completely utilitarian creation, one that fit the bill for sustaining life with the right levels of carbon and hydrogen and oxygen. He created each part of the universe and proclaimed each good. A comprehensive statement of value.

In Genesis 2 God creates Adam and plants a garden for him:

 8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

It is noted that the trees that were planted were not just good for food, but pleasing to the eye, beautiful! Additionally the descriptors of the land are that there are gold and onyx there, precious metals known for beauty more than practicality. The picture painted is that the land is valuable and beautiful and it was set aside for God’s special creatures.

The final thing that I want to note is that human beings, created in the image of God, were created with the capacity to see and appreciate beauty. IN chapter three it says: 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. No other creature that God made appreciates, values and seeks after beauty. This a particular facet of being made in the image of God.

If we accept that God created the world as an expression of his glory, that he created it in a particular manner as an expression of his glory, and that beauty was a part of this from the beginning. If we accept that an ability to appreciate beauty, a longing for beauty is part of what makes humanity unique as image bearers, then we also accept that God is the source of Beauty, that beauty is one of the ways that he has chosen to express his person and his glory. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Portrait of David

Recent Portrait: It has been a while since I've had a model to work with for an extended period of time. While I feel like there are some areas on the portrait that could have used a day or two more to resolve, overall I'm happy with it and it was such fun to work from life again! The portrait is 16x20, oil on linen painted over 12 hours.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Catching Up

Well...It's been a while, more than a year in fact, luckily not much happened in the past year.
In my last post I was about to leave for my two person art show in Butler PA, right outside Pittsburgh. The show went great, looked beautiful, got a couple of nice write ups in the papers and over all was a great experience!
The show 

The opening

A couple of my models showed up!

And a nice belly shot

I got home from that trip and had a baby two weeks later. I can't believe that she will be 1 next week!
There she was then..

Here she is now!
And all my little monsters
 The winter was the polar vortex, and I spent the 40 below zero days cuddling the baby and resting. Somewhere in that time I got it in my head that the next step for my career should be a master's degree. I blame the drugs they put me on after the c-section. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea at the time. I filled out forms, wrote essays, and put together my portfolio, and before February was over I was accepted to the the graduate school at Northern Illinois University, with an assistantship to boot.
take my picture here!
The summer saw my work off to two different shows. One at The Wright Museum of Art in Beloit WI, and the other at Women Painting Women at Principle Gallery, Charlseton SC.
"Serenity" Went to Women painting Women at the Principle Gallery

And "Interlude" went to the Wright Museum of Art
And this fall has been the beginning of a new adventure in the academic art world. Balancing the family and school is a challenge, but a worthwhile one. So far, I've only made one painting, but I've read a ton and written about 40 pages for art history classes! I have however gotten to do plenty of figure drawing (see the last post) Hopefully next semester, will see a lot more art being made in art school!
Day of the Dead painting for Graduates first year show


Weekly Figure Sketching

Although I have spent more time this semester writing papers than making art, I have been able to get back into the habit of drawing the figure from life. These are all short poses, most about 30-45 minutes. (There is one in the middle that I got to work longer)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two Person Show at The Art Center in Butler PA

It's an exciting week, I have my first major show opening on friday, November 1. 42 paintings and drawings framed and ready to hang at The Art Center in Butler PA.  I will be showing with another artist named David Todd and the show runs through November 16. I sent the artwork out at the end of last week and I will be driving out for the opening. If you live in the Pittsburgh area, be sure to stop by and see the show. If you don't, stay tuned to the blog and I'll post lots of pictures!