In my last post on the divided existence of the religious artist (which you can read here), I began discussing the struggle that many artists face between their religious and artistic lives. I found a lovely passage in Wolterstorff’s Art in Action today that further clarifies the issue.
“The work of the high-art artist may be an expression and affirmation of the convictions of some religious community – Rouault, Messiaen, Penderecki, Eliot, are examples. But that is fundamentally irrelevant to his acceptance and position as artist. What counts is simply his contribution to the community of his fellow artists. In that way the institution of high art, for all its residual mysticism, is a profoundly secular institution – with the result that the artist who identifies himself deeply with some religious community will constantly have the experience of being a divided self living in two worlds. The institution of high art is a jealous god!”
Wolterstorff is a wonderful thinker from the Reformed tradition who has helped me to clarify many of my own thoughts. I think that he very accurately describes the problem here. I still wonder if this has to be the only paradigm. That is, there was a time when the Church was the institution of high art.
If I safely assume that the world has always been a “profoundly secular institution” and the Church as the “institution of high art” was sending it’s message out through art objects, was the artist still “a divided self living in two worlds”? Maybe. Maybe we are also coming into some of the underlying paradigms of the Reform tradition where there is a very clear delineation between the sacred and the secular. I’m sure my Reformed friends will take me to task and clarify my thinking.