Saturday, August 9, 2008

Controversial Religious Art

Dr. Christopher Allen of Sydney recently resigned from the judging panel for the Blake Prize for Religious Art (Australia's highest award for this kind of work) over his objections to a crucifixion painted by the artist Adam Cullen: Religious art prize judge quits in disgust

I happen to agree with Dr. Allen's assessment of Cullen's work: "It has a kind of deliberate ugliness which has been exploited as a gimmick." But I can't help but wonder whether he'd level the same attack against some of my work:
Similar words have been used to describe the above painting, which I painted in 2002. In 1998, some of my work was banned from an exhibition in a Wesleyan church because it was "frightening people." Like Cullen, I've "become used to strong reactions to [my] work."

There is a stylistic similarity between our works, but I believe there is a profound difference of intent. If I intend to shock, it is with the reality of the crucifixion. Cullen works with disrespectful flippancy, quipping, "It's just a Jew on the cross." My hope with this kind of work is to reawaken the viewer to the violent sacrifice of God's Son made Man. Pretty, pastel, stiff figures on the cross may have a place, but I try to express the pain and ugliness He endured in becoming our Paschal Lamb.

Update 12-2-2015: I have continued to paint like this now for many years. Examples of my work may be found here: The Artfinder Shop of John R.P. Russell

Friday, August 1, 2008

Many Rites

Among Catholics, I have often heard voiced the opinion that, if things were as they should be, the Church would have only one Eucharistic liturgy, ever the same, always and everywhere. The one true Church, it seems to many, ought to have one true liturgy.

The Holy Spirit, apparently, had something else in mind.

A friend and I were recently discussing the variety of liturgies used by the Church throughout the world and which of these could be said to be closest to the original liturgy. A mutual friend is of the opinion that the Classical Roman Rite, (a.k.a. the Tridentine Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, the “extraordinary form,” etc.) best preserves those traditions handed down to us from the apostles. Our Byzantine Catholic priest, on the other hand, is thoroughly convinced that it is the liturgies of the Byzantine tradition that most closely resemble those of the Apostolic Church. Neither of these opinions is provable or disprovable, though each is quite capable of stirring up a lot of anger and indignation from those who hold to the other. The purpose of such dispute, I imagine, is to settle the question once and for all of whose liturgy is the “best” and ought to be used always and everywhere.

Our conversation then moved to the original liturgy itself. I had supposed we were talking about the liturgies described by St. Justin Martyr (c. 160 A.D.) and the Didache (80 – 100 A.D.). My friend, on the other hand, was talking about the Last Supper as described in the Gospels. Even regarding what constitutes the original liturgy there is dispute.

Already in the first century we have two differing accounts of how the Eucharist is offered. The Didache (9: 1-5) instructs us to first give thanks for the cup and then for the bread. The Gospels describe Christ as first offering His body and then His blood (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25). There is difference from the first.

I see a parallel between the gift of tongues and the many rites of the Church. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost, he gave to them the gift of "divers tongues" (Acts 2:4) In so doing, He lifted the curse of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Just as the Holy Spirit did not remove the curse of Babel by restoring one language to all peoples, so He also did not give the Church one liturgy for all peoples. Rather, He gave the Apostles many tongues and through them established many liturgies. Just as there is one Spirit who gives the gift of many tongues, there is one Church who gives the gift of many liturgies.

Most Popular Posts this Month

Most Popular Posts of All Time