Bags of Bran

Sacred Art and Humility
January 19, 2016, 10:25 am
Filed under: Biography

Roland Bainton comments appropriately on the narrow path that the Christian artist (in this case a painter) traverses between an ostentatious display of his skill and a fashionable renunciation of it.

In a religious painting, skill in craftsmanship must never call attention to itself. This is the area in which the artists of the Renaissance were severely tempted to flaunt their skills, whereas icon painters of the East worked only with stereotypical forms and fixed media. The western artists experimented with perspective, contrasts of light and shade, juxtaposition of colors, oil versus tempera. The artist, experimenting with a new technique, was sometimes carried so far away as to allow the technique to obtrude itself above the central intent. That same artist might, however, through a deepening religious experience arrive at a point of making his craftsmanship unobtrusive. There are examples….in the cases of Dürer and Carvaggio.

Thus, wile the artist should not be obsessed with the display of his skill, he should not renounce it, as Picasso did in drawing the left hand of Christ upon the cross. The drawing befits the kindergarten. That an artist able to equal the ancient masters should revert to childhood is a part of the renunciation of culture. The way to escape from sophistication lies not in the renunciation of skills, but rather the consecration of the highest skills to lofty ends. When I was a child, I drew as a child, but now that I have become a man, I do not scribble.

Roland H. Bainton and Sumathi Devasahayam, Behold the Christ (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 31.

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