Transposing 100 times over
As Jenn Craft mentioned in her post on Insider/Outsider Relationships in Theology and the Arts, this week marks the 100th post on Transpositions. Though in blogging terms this project is still in its relative infancy, we’re tentatively making our way through the toddler stage (and hoping to avoid the terrible twos and threes) with all the attendant spills and tumble as we dive headlong into what it means to approach theology and the arts with the kind of attentiveness, openness and generosity we truly think an interdisciplinary approach to theology and the arts needs, and upon which basis will and can yield fruit. We’ve covered a lot of ground since we started with six regular contributors in late July. Since then, we’ve seen Ben Guthrie finish his Masters and leave Transpositions and St Andrews, as well as welcome a whole raft of guest contributors for one off or series of posts. Most of all though, Transpositions has presented an opportunity for each of us to push outside of our own discrete fields and to explore different aspects of those fields where most of our individual academic research time is concentrated: literature, visual arts, creativity and kenosis, theatre, theological ethics, place and the environment, and church patronage of and participation in the arts. In short, we’ve had fun even as we’ve thought carefully about each topic, as varied as they have been and will continue to be.
Reflecting on the first 100 posts we’ve come to realise both the threads which have been weaved together and the sheer diversity of topics we’ve covered. The role of the artist, in and of themselves and in relation to the church, has been a theme oft visited. Jenn explored where service of the Christian artist lies in the context of the Church (Part 1 and Part 2) along with the place of artistic creation in the life of the church. We’ve asked questions about what constitutes “Christian Art”: Wes Vander Lugt asked the question “What is Christian Art?” and considered whether it has a particular “slant”, while Sara Schumacher explored whether Christian Art has a point. Anna Blanch wrote about the ethics of reviewing as a Christian and Wes wrote about what it means to learn to be critics with our hands and feet, while Jenn thought about the calling of Christian artistry. Sara wrote about what an artist can bring to theology and vice versa and about the burden of autonomy for artists, while Ben explored what it means to serve Clients with Bad Taste. As a specific example of how theology and the arts interact in the life of the contemporary church, Jim Watkins explored the phenomena of Spontaneous Performance Jesus Painting, which along with his post offering 5 cautionary statements towards describing the Worldview Behind the Work of Art and Sara’s review of Lauren Winner’s chapter on the role of the Art Patron are three of the most heavily discussed posts from the first 100.
We’ve explored topics and ideas outside anything we’d heard discussed in relation to theology and arts, or which are usually discussed more broadly within the discourse of culture. Sara asked whether the arts are only for a time of plenty while Jenn considered whether beauty should have a price tag at all. We’ve also made moves towards a theology of place, discussed “taste” and what it means to praise the unpopular. Another post that regular brings visitors from search engines is Anna’s post about Reg Mombassa’s iconic Australian Jesus sculptures.
Another thread that has been stitched in relief across our little tapestry has been that of the performative aspects of life, church, theology, and the arts. Wes discussed improvisation in a post about Deadly Theatre and what it means to perform life on a virtual stage, while Anna talked about online visual representations of self-image. In an attempt to learn from the experiences of innovative theatre spaces, Wes also asked what we might learn and apply to Church contexts. In an apt continuation of the metaphor, Jenn Craft reflected on quilting and the post was discussed as far afield as quilting circles and mothers’ groups. So too, Emily Watkins’ guest post on the Importance of Play garnered significant interest and discussion. In another post, Jim approached the Kingdom of God as a place in which to play and how we might think of Church as a consequence. In the midst of these discussions, Anna asked whether one’s home is The Most Important Production of Art many of us engage in. Indeed, Sport even got a guernsey (jersey for those who hail from a different part of the globe) and Ben discussed whether certain cable television shows depicting extreme cake decorating might not be an abuse of cake.
We’ve been surprised by the kind of communities that have embraced us and fed back to us how Transpositions is serving them, from Deans of Graduate institutions, pastors, artists, sculptors, designers, to missionaries in Africa. We’ve reviewed exhibitions, architecture, new public art installations, and written about individual works of art, including sculptures, paintings, poetry and films. We’ve explored everything from the street art of Banksy, the environmental concerns of Christo’s work, and Picasso. In fact, Jim Watkins’ post about Picasso’s Guernica is the post that yields the most search engine traffic – though we suspect that this has more to do with his choice of images rather than a spike in interest in the theological aspects of this masterwork.
We’ve featured contemporary artists through Jim’s Featured Artist post and our changing header. Some of the artists we’ve featured include: Joel Sheesley, David Robinson, Bruce Herman, Noonday Films, Tim Lowly, and Dayton Castleman. We’re seeking to build bridges between the church and artists and some of the comment threads have given rise to ways we can provide links to and introductions to opportunities for collaboration and participation between churches, scholars, and artists in thinking about and enacting theology in the arts. We’ve been really excited to get to know a number of artists who engage with the posts and graciously suggest when our suggestions or expressions of theory might not work in practice.
As part of seeking to connect with the research, writing, and discussions happening about all aspects of theology and the arts, we’ve tried to find ways to build relationships and genuinely and graciously discuss contemporary trends within recent publications, recent responses to seminal works, and the life of the artist in today’s church. We’ve explored the David Taylor edited For the Beauty of the Church through a week long series of posts exploring each chapter in turn. Book reviews will soon become a regular feature of Transpositions as Jenn Craft has officially taken on the role of book review editor. If you would like your book reviewed, you can arrange to send us a copy by contacting us. We are particularly interested in engaging in a dialogue with authors through the reviews on Transpositions.
We’ve shared papers from Theology, Culture and Aesthetics conference honouring Professor David Brown and have shared responses to some of those papers and plenary talks here over the last few weeks. Few posts on the blog have garnered as much debate and interest as Cole Matson’s “Is Tolkien Useless?” as he responded to a comment made by Prof. Richard Bauckham at the conference.
Not everything has worked. Each of us can identify posts we might write differently now. Your comments, and almost real-time nature of the dialogue this blog has presented has been one of the richest aspects of this project. Each of us has had our thoughts clarified, challenged, and (in part) shaped by the interactions we’ve enjoyed as a result of the responses to individual posts. We really enjoy the way in which the variety of perspectives – artists, practitioners, scholar-artists, clergy, missionaries, students, and designers – has enriched the discussion. As a new academic year begins here in (rarely) sunny St. Andrews, we hope you will continue to join us in discussion, dialogue, and enjoyment of the Arts, the imagination, and theology.
Image Credit : Illustration — James Yang