Sunday, March 31, 2019

Isaiah 43.16-21: Imperceivable

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? So God asks through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 43:16-21). And the answer is, "Sometimes."

Sometimes God's "new thing" is as obvious as the Armory Show of 1913. The Armory Show, officially the International Exhibition of Modern Art, shocked the country when it opened in New York at the 69th Regiment Armory. Designed to introduce American audiences - who were used to Rembrandts and Raphaels - to the most contemporary art, the Armory show indeed attracted many visitors. More than 200,000 ticket-holders were willing to stand in long lines to see the work. 

What those exhibition-goers saw was so unlike what had come before that everyone had an opinion. Harriet Monroe defended the show and the artists, writing, "In a profound sense these radical artists are right. They represent a search for new beauty, impatience with formulae, a reaching out toward the inexpressible, a longing for new versions of truth observed." By contrast, a critic for the New York Times described the Marcel Duchamp painting below as looking like "an explosion in a shingle factory." That this was a new thing was perceived, to be sure. 
Marcel Duchamp. Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. 1912. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Impressionism seems to have been a "thing" as new as the Armory Show was. Monet's painting below, Impression: Sunrise, was the work that gave the movement its name. And the name wasn't particularly flattering. A critic, upon seeing both Monet's painting and the show in which it was first exhibited, wrote that all the paintings were "just impressions." This oh-so-new thing was not well-received by the wider public.
Claude Monet. Impression: Sunrise. 1872. Paris: Musee Marmottan.
But what if this oh-so-new thing really wasn't as new as we think. The Impressionists were influenced by the work of English artist J.M.W. Turner. Turner's work uses the brightened palette and broken brushstrokes for which the Impressionists are known. The painting detail below is every bit as impressionistic as the French painters' work was, but Turner was painting decades before the Impressionists. Or what about the Spanish artist Goya? In his Milkmaid of Bordeaux, his technique is easily characterized as "Impressionistic." And look at when that painting was done.
J.M.W. Turner. Rain, Steam, and Speed (detail). 1844. London: National Gallery. 

Goya. The Milkmaid of Bordeaux (La Lechera de Burdeos). 1827. Madrid: Museo del Prado.
A new thing that springs you perceive it? Sometimes yes. Sometimes that new art thing is as big and bold as you please and you really couldn't miss it if you tried. But sometimes the changes can only be seen in retrospect. You think nothing is changing, but all of a sudden you look back and understand the change was coming all along.

It's true in art. And it's true with God. ones, old ones, God ones...take a look at Art&Faith Matters' Facebook page here.
For thoughts on John 12.1-9, click here.

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