Sunday, May 3, 2020

John 14.15-21: Vertical and Horizontal

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:19) And what were those commandments? Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Or as a friend once paraphrased it, "Love for your neighbor what you love for yourself." The text pushes and pulls both vertically and horizontally. Love of God is often depicted on a vertical axis, while love of neighbor is more horizontal. There is tension in the need to respond to each axis (to use a math term...which I don't often do), but there is also balance in responding to both.

Though he might relate the work more to spirituality than theology, Piet Mondrian's art evolved into an exploration of those same concerns of balance and tension combining to create harmony. Mondrian's abstract art has been poached widely for decorative purposes. Everything from runway fashion to the Partridge Family Bus bears the familiar black, white, yellow, red, and blue grid.
Piet Mondrian.. Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow. 1937-1942. NY: Museum of Modern Art. 
That grid is the end result of the artist's exploration. His early work is filled with recognizable objects, but gradually Mondrian became less interested in reproducing reality and more interested in theoretical relationships like opposites and pure color. Mondrian isn't interested in implying depth or space on the canvas by putting objects in front of  one another. Instead, he pares his paints and compositional elements down to a minimum.

What he is left with is the grid-like pattern of dark lines (black and slightly varying shades of dark gray) in opposition to spaces of light color (varying shades of white) along with red, blue, and yellow. The colors he chooses are primary colors. From those three colors all other colors can be mixed: red and yellow make orange, blue and yellow make green, red and blue make purple. White and black allow for mixing tints and tones of all those colors.

Mondrian's late work is painting pared down, yet containing all things. Sort of like Jesus' commandments. When a lawyer tried to trap Jesus about the greatest commandment, Jesus' answer was, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ All the law and the prophets...they hang on these two commandments. And all the colors can be made from three primaries.

Vertical and horizontal. Balanced but asymmetrical. Roots from which other things can grow. Jesus' commandments. If we only keep them.

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