Sunday, April 30, 2006

Aquinas and his Effect on Art

I have started reading Francis Schaeffer's "Escape from Reason." In this book, he seeks to analyze modern culture (208). He believes, and argues, that to effectively communicate to the non-Christian in modern culture, Christians must be able to do more than just "learn the language," but instead must "learn another language - that of the thought-forms of the people to whom he speaks" (207).

Many in modern culture, in large part because of the very thought patterns that Schaeffer scrutinizes, disregard the significant impact that the roots of a movement or organization has on its current form. Of course, as more time elapses, the influence becomes diluted, but it still remains a vital clue to understanding the ideology and nature of the movement.

Understanding the gravity of analyzing an ideology's roots, Schaeffer initiates his examination of modern thought with Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas (1225) led the way for the discussion of the apparent dichotomy between grace and nature. Grace was considered the higher (i.e. God the Creator, heaven and heavenly things, the unseen and its influence on the earth, man's soul, unity), and nature the lower (i.e. the created, earth and earthly things, the visible and what nature and man do on earth, man's body, diversity).

Before this point, Byzantinian thought ruled, in which heavenly things were all-important and were so holy that they were not pictured realistically. Nature, on the other hand, was of no interest, particularly regarding art.

Aquinas bridged the gap between the two, placing a more Biblical emphasis on nature. Since nature is God's creation, the Byzantine disdain for creation ultimately was a disdain for God.

Unfortunately, Aquinas exceeded the Biblical view of nature by creating an "autonomous" area of the intellect that is unaffected by the fall. In Aquinas's view "the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not." From this view, natural theology was born, the belief that theology could be pursued independently from the scriptures.

Also serving as an example of the falsity of the departmentalization of subject matters, this theological viewpoint quickly influenced the arts.

The first artist to be influenced was Cimabue (1240-1302), the teacher of Giotto (1267-1337). Instead of all the subjects of art remaining in the upper realm of heavenly matters, the line between the two subject matters is bridged through painting the lesser things naturalistically. They still painted heavenly things (i.e. Mary) as symbols, but this started the trend toward naturalization.

Dante (1265-1321) marked the introduction of this belief into literature by writing the way Cimabue and Giotto painted. Petrarch (1304-1374) and Boccaccio (1313-1375) show the same development. Petrarch was the first person that we hear of who ever climbed a mountain for the sake of climbing a mountain. His ideology pervaded his mind and became evident in his actions.

This belief and the actions were not in any way wrong, but do show the influence of natural theology in the various fields. Eventually, though, "nature began to 'eat up' grace" (212). From Dante to Leonardo da Vinci, nature gradually became more and more autonomous. By the time Renaissance reached its peak, nature had eaten up grace.

This trend is most noticeable in art. The miniature Grandes Heures de Rohan, painted in 1415, shows Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing Egypt, passing by a man sowing seed, and a miracle happens--grain is sown in the field, it grows in an hour, soldiers come and ask the sower how long the three passed by, and he told the soldiers they passed when he sowed the seed, and the soldiers returned. Mary, Joseph, the baby, a servant, and the donkey are at the top of the picture and were large, whereas the sower and the soldiers were small. This is the older concept, with grace overwhelmingly important.

In Northern Europe, Van Eyck (1370-1441) was one who opened the door for nature in a new way. He painted nature as it is seen. His 1410 painting was of Jesus' baptism, but the baptism is only a small section, with an emphasis on the detailed landscape. After this, landscape emphases spread rapidly from north to south Europe.

In 1435, Van Eyck painted Madonna of the Chancellor Rolin, in which Rolin is facing Mary and is the same size as the virgin mother. His hands are folded in paryer, but is still seen as an equal to Mary.

The next big step comes from Masaccio (1410-1428) who introduces true perspective and true space. For the first time, light is shown correctly and with perspective, with the full effects of shadowing.

Filippo Lippi (1406-1469) was the first to have arguably crossed the line. He painted Mary in 1465 as a very beautiful girl holding a baby in her arms with a landscape obviously influenced by Van Eyck. Mary, though, is no longer a symbol, but is a pretty girl with a baby--in fact, she was his mistress, and all Florence knew it was his mistress.

In 1450 in France, Fouquet (1416-1480) painted the king's mistress as Mary, scandolously painting Mary feeding Jesus with one breast exposed. Schaeffer uses this progression to illustrate that as soon as one accepts the autonomous realm, the lower element begins eating up the higher element.

Cosimo the Elder of Florence (died 1464) was one of the first to emphasize Platonic philosophy. Aquinas had emphasized Aristotelian thinking. Ficino (1433-1499) was the greatest Neoplatonist, and he taught Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492). By the time of da Vinci, Neoplatonism was a dominant force in Florence. This belief helped find something to put in the "upper story" while Aristotelianism remained in the lower realm: universals/grace on the top, partiuclars/nature on the bottom.

Leonardo grappled with how you hold the particulars together (unity) once they are set free. He was claimed to be the first mathematician. He saw that if you begin with an autonomous rationality you come to mathematics (what can be measured), and it only deals with particulars, not universals. Thus, you never get beyond the mechanics. He understood this would not do, so he tried to paint the soul. The soul is not the Christian soul, but the universal, such as the soul of the sea or of the tree.

Soul = unity
Mathematics - particulars - mechanics

Leonardo never painted much mainly because he tried primarily to paint the universal, and never succeeded. Italian modern writer and philosopher Giovanni Gentile said that Leonardo died in despondency because he would not abandon the hope of a rational unity between the particulars and the universal.

This is evidenced in modern thought today. The relativism of the day assumes a basic individual intellectual ability to discern for the self. Now, liberalism emphasizes nature, base pleasures, and completely disregards the upper realm. Universals are universally disregarded for the particulars, of which no common link is perported to even exist.

Monday, March 27, 2006

External Motivation

Rob Edwards brought up an interesting point at lunch today. He described the difference in external and internal motivation. Reflecting on my unproductive spring break and tendency to work best and most efficiently under pressure, I have realized that I am primarily externally motivated. If I was internally motivated, my workload and proximity of completion date would be mildly irrelevant and would not serve to demotivate. So, it would appear I am externally motivated. I guess I am not quite as motivated as I thought I was.

Rob also helped me understand thy why of my work in addition to the what. One of the reasons I started this blog is that I tend to be shallow and avoid contemplating difficult, personal, and convicting matters. Instead, I choose action and busyness--just keep chugging along. I must admit that I am nervous to try to work primarily for God's glory because whenever I do I am less productive. It shouldn't be that way!!! If anything, I should be as productive or more productive. I guess that means I should spend more time in prayer. I want to develop the same work ethic, character, and discipline of the Reformers and Puritans, being internally motivated and working for the glory of God. I think I am still trying to figure out what it means to work for the glory of God, expanding my narrow view from an emotional security to a conscious action to glorify God.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Good song

Thought I'd post the song that I got the title of my blog from.

Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the Holy Land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this waliking man?

Well, the leaves have come to turning
And the goose has gone to fly
And bridges are for buning
So don't you let that yearning
Pass you by
Walking man, walking man walks
Well, any other man stops and talks
But the walking man walks

Well the frost is on the pumpkin
And the hay is in the barn
An Pappy's come to rambling on
Stumbling around drunk
Down on the farm

And the walking man walks
Doesn't know nothing at all
Any other man stops and talks
But the walking man walks on by
Walk on by

Most everybody's got seed to sow
It ain't always easy for a weed to grow, oh no
So he don't hoe the row for no one
Oh for sure he's always missing
And something is never quite right
Ah, but who would want to listen to you
Kissing his existence good night

Walking man walk on by my door
Well, any other man stops and talks
But not the walking man
He's the walking man
Born to walk
Walk on walking man
Well now, would he have wings to fly
Would he be free
Golden wings against the sky
Walking man, walk on by
So long, walking man, so long

The Walking Man

I titled my blog "The Walking Man" because I think it describes me in two rather unique, and revealing, ways. I see myself as the walking man in the sense of Psalm 1, walking in the path of sinners. I was raised in the church and know what is right and wrong, but I still find myself flirting with a whorish attraction of a sinful life. The attraction is there, the gratification, the acknowledgment, that only serves to bloat and arrogantize my self image. I am not so much like a prostitute, who willingly sells myself to sin, but like a slut flirting with sin, occassionally slipping into it, but resting assured that I am not a prostitute. At least.

The walking man also adequately reveals another characteristic of mine. I am remarkably shallow. I avoid pain and difficulty through ignoring its existence. If you don't believe me, I am going to bed instead of explaining what I mean. Why? Because it hurts. Good night.