June 2013

A Cabinet of Vanities

Among liturgically concerned responses to the previous post, one of them gave me a start:
On Corpus Christi, at a Manhattan parish, we had to sing an entrance song which begins, “We are here to tell our story, We are here to break the bread, we are here to know our rising from the dead . . . ”
Here to tell our story . The Gospel of Me. The all-encompassing Cosmic Me. The lyrics lend new meaning to the adjective catholic , do they not? Continue Reading
Chords and Discord

Today we hear conga drums, trap sets, bongos, and other drums played not in the style of Monteverdi processions, or Masses by Haydn or Mozart. Instead we hear them just as we would hear them in a bar or dance hall. They are used just as they are in the secular world: to keep a beat, to make the music groovy, to inspire us to kind of do a bit of a dance. That’s the association of percussion we have in our culture.
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More Fragments on a Motif

Belief in the congruity of aesthetics and morality is widely shared. The conviction presupposes that a developed aesthetic sense points, by some means, to the Good. Or, at least, to an expansive analogy to it. But on the ground, aesthetic impulses exist independently of goodness—which is as close as quotidian reality gets to the Good. They know nothing of simple kindness or decency. That was the implicit reason for my earlier post on Hilter’s aestheticism. Elizabeth Powers, a Goethe scholar and previous contributor to FT , wrote to remind me that Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg had written a ground-breaking text on the history of the sublime in England. Continue Reading
Time Out for the Ugly

I promised to get back on the subject of beauty. And I will keep the promise, but not today. This is just a demi-post to get us through the weekend. Herewith, a contrarian thought to consider from France’s wildly popular pop singer Serge Gainsbourg: “Ugliness is superior to beauty because it last longer.” Dutch School. Temptation of St. Anthony (c. 1500), detail. Prado, Madrid. We cannot talk about beauty unless we have an appreciation—if that is the word—for ugliness. And what, precisely, is it? Continue Reading
Beauty: Fragment on a Theme

I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher. I am simply a painter whose faith takes color, tone, and bearing from the Catholicism into which I was born. But even a cat can look at a king. From my place—well beneath the box seats of beauty-minded theologians and theological esthetes—I wonder if Hans Urs von Balthasar’s legacy is as wholly salutary as it has become fashionable to believe. This is a risky confession, my brothers and my sisters. I know that. Continue Reading