Sunday, July 26, 2020

Romans 10.5-15: Beautiful?

Approximately one in a thousand people would disagree with Paul as he wrote to the Romans. In the section for this week, Paul declares that the feet of those who bring good news are beautiful (Romans 10:15). But approximately one in a thousand people are affected by podophobia, and those people probably wouldn't find any feet beautiful.

Podophobia is defined as a persistent, irrational fear of feet (podos "feet" + phobia "fear). For some, their podophobia means they will not touch their own feet. For some, the sight of any feet is disturbing. Some do not want anyone else to look at their feet. Bringing good news or not, those feet would not be appreciated.

My day job is teaching high school art. In the classroom next to mine, my colleague has beginning art students do a graphite drawing either of their hands or of their feet. The year when "feet" are in the syllabus results in many more comments by students. The students are "creeped out" by feet as they (or the photography students in my class) take photos of their feet to serve as reference photos (left above). One family has had multiple children in that beginning art class during "foot year". We've suggested they should frame and hang all the feet drawings as some kind of weird family portrait.

My teaching colleague knows what Albrecht Durer knew: hands and feet are demanding subjects for students, but they are also subjects that are very helpful as students are learning to draw. While podophobes (and beginning art students) may be "creeped out" by feet, Leonardo da Vinci is credited with describing the human foot as a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.

Durer's study of two feet (left bottom) is a study for a now-missing altarpiece. In an interesting intersection, these feet will become the feet of Paul. Durer has made the feet of Paul into a work of art. Perhaps Paul's math would say that engineering + art + good news = beautiful.

(Bottom) Albrecht Durer. Study of Two Feet For the Apostle Paul in the Heller Altarpiece. c. 1508. Brush and grey ink, grey wash, heightened with white, on green prepared paper, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Matthew 14.13-21: Ways with Leftovers

Jesus fed the thousands of people who had gathered to hear him teach. With one child's lunch as the starting point, Jesus was able to feed all those people and have leftovers (Matthew 14:13-21). So now Jesus is faced with a problem of the ages...what to do with the leftovers.

Those baskets of leftovers have been assigned different meanings. They may symbolize the abundant life promised by Jesus. Perhaps the leftovers held food that would now provide for the people who had served. The contents of the baskets may be distributed to those in the community who are hungry. The fact that there were leftovers demonstrates Jesus' desire and ability to be generous and lavish, not to barely sustain life. In Mark's gospel, these miraculous feedings were a source of reflection after the fact for the disciples (Mark 8:14-21). Jesus called the disciples to remember the feedings and the leftovers, and then he asked them, "Do you not yet understand?" What do you believe the baskets of leftovers mean?

A quick internet search for "recipes leftovers" yields more than 35,000,000 results. Searching "cookbook leftovers" gives thousands of options to purchase. You can purchase books according to food type (Christmas ham, scraps/peels/stems, chicken, zucchini), purpose (to be thrifty, to be good to the earth, better meal-planning, creativity) or emotional promise (love your leftovers). You may have seen this commercial, currently running. The commercial focuses on food that is wasted every day - less-than-perfect fruit and ugly vegetables, for example. Food that is leftover but not used. What did Jesus do with the baskets of leftovers?

Contemporary artist Aliza Eliazarov crafted the photograph above. In the style of 17th-century Dutch still life painters, she arranged bread and fruits and greenery. If it is true that we eat first with our eyes, then Eliazarov's visually appealing composition is quite satisfying. The white fabric and the vibrant colors of the food (and the blue butterfly at the right), glow against the dark background. The rougher textures of the bread contrast with the smooth surfaces of the cherries. The simple background keeps the focus on the food. But this photo tells us more than the beauty of food. The photograph is from Eliazarov's series called "Waste Not." All the food in this photo was "rescued from curbside garbage in front of Caputo's Bakery and Union Market on Court Street - Cobble Hill, Brooklyn." Take another look at the photo and think about the fact that all of that food had been thrown away. These "leftovers" were thrown away.

What do leftovers mean in Matthew's gospel? What do leftovers mean in our world today?

For Aliza Eliazarov's "Waste Not" series, click here.
For thoughts on Dutch still life painters and Isaiah 55:1-9, click here.

This week on the Art&Faith Matters Facebook page, a look at a new painting of Jacob's wrestling match.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Romams 8.26-39: All Things

Paul wrote to the church in Rome reminding them of something they apparently already knew: that all things worked together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28). Note that Paul didn't say that all things were good. Rather, in God's hands all things can be made to work together for good. Joseph knew the truth as well. After he revealed his presence to his brothers in Egypt, he told them that though they intended Joseph's sale to the passing caravan to be detrimental to him (Joseph), God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20)

How you perceive something has to do with context.

Josef Albers understood that color worked the same way. Albers was first a student and then a professor at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, in the early part of the 20th century. Albers and his wife Anni (a textile artist and Bauhaus graduate) were invited to America in 1933 to develop the visual art curriculum at Black Mountain College (NC).

In 1963 Albers published Interaction of Color, a limited edition book with silkscreen illustrations demonstrating the truth of color: the same color will be perceived differently depending on the colors it is next to.

In the example top left, the purple circles appear to the be same color as they sit on black and grey backgrounds. The two circles are actually two different colors, as demonstrated by the bars of color beneath the circles-in-squares. Context. Perception. 

What about the grid pattern on the yellow and blue backgrounds? Are the grids the same color or different colors? Do you perceive the grid color differently because of the two colors that are the background...because of the context in which the grids are placed?

It's worth remembering that God doesn't see things as humans do. God's view is longer and broader than ours. What we perceive as good, God may perceive as detrimental. What we see as disaster, God may see as preparation. What we believe is the end may be a beginning. What you meant for evil, God meant for good.

Scripture tells us that good things, detrimental things, disasters, preparation, ends, and beginnings are all in God's hand. And God can use all those things for good.

For Josef and Anni Albers, see the Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation.
For the 50th Anniversary Edition of Interaction of Color, see Yale University Press.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Romans 8.12-25: Now and Later

Paul speaks to Christians in Rome about dualities: flesh and spirit, a spirit of fear and a spirit of adoption, sufferings of this time and the glory to be revealed, what is seen and hope for what is not seen. (Romans 8:12-25) There are dualities of time and matter and emotion and more. Paul contrasts a sense of now and later as he talks about what it means to be a child of God. He doesn't deny the existence of either option. Instead he seems to lift up the fact that they co-exist (though their co-existence is not always the rightest thing for children of God).

Lee Krasner was one of the first women in American to embrace Abstract Expressionism. She experimented with forms and colors. She cut up and recycled her old paintings. She refused to show in the 1943 art show titled Women, wanting to be known as an artist rather than a woman artist. Despite all this, Krasner may be best known beyond the art world for being Mrs. Jackson Pollock. Krasner met Pollock when both artists had work in a show in 1941. Married in 1945, the couple was estranged when Pollock died in 1956 from an alcohol-related car accident.
Lee Krasner. Charred Landscape. 1960. Private Collection.
Following Pollock's death, Krasner moved her work into Pollock's former studio at the couple's home. Between 1959 (the year her mother died) and 1962 Krasner created large-scale paintings dubbed "Night Journeys," because they were created as Krasner dealt with insomnia. The paintings hold elements of both the loss of Pollock and the freedom that Krasner was granted at his death. No longer was she in his shadow. No longer was their volatile relationship causing her pain. And yet there was pain in the loss of the artist and husband who was also colleague and critic. The paintings are both-and rather than either-or.

Paul (interestingly) calls attention to labor pains (I'd be curious to know Paul's experience with labor pains) as a parallel. There is the now of labor pains but also the later of what those pains produce. That's how life is. The reality of now and for us as Christians, the later that is promised. I can't promise that we all wait patiently, but it is true that we do have to wait for the later..