Monday, 16 May 2011

Why modern art isn't

Rome 1508:  Pope Julius II meets Leonardo da Vinci.
Pope Julius II:  Master Leonardo, what would you suggest for redecorating the Sistine Chapel?
Leonardo da Vinci:  I dunno, pouring 1100 litres of rancid peanut butter on the floor?
Pope Julius II:  I think I'll go see Michelangelo.


eon said...

If it's been there since 1962, it must be getting a bit high by now.

Of course, they probably have to redo it on a regular basis, as the local mice undoubtedly regard it as a fast-food outlet.

Which leads to the question, if it's constantly being redone by the museum staff, how can the original artist claim credit for it?

(He probably didn't. Just took the money and ran. All the way to the bank.)



Sergej said...

And he got a Last Supper with a kangaroo, 28 disciples and three Christs. You can't win, it seems.

Ironmistress said...

At least the peanut butter proposal does not violate against the Second Commandment...

David said...

Taking the Lord's name in vain? I shouldn't think so.

Sergej said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ironmistress said...

David, making an image of God. Michelangelo committed idolatry when he pained the image of God on the ceiling of the chapel. He should have painted a symbol.

David said...

No, idolatry is the worship of the image, not the image itself. Church doctrine is very clear on that point. Images of God tend to be rare merely because they are, by definition, hopelessly inadequate. It says much for Michelangelo that he was able to produce such a marvelously allegorical scene that captures and foreshadows so much of the moment of Creation's complexity and awe.

Yes, I gave a LOT of lectures at university about this topic.

Ironmistress said...

David, the Second Commandment prohibits making ANY image of God. Any. Full stop. No matter whether that is an object or art or an idol. This is quite thoroughly discussed over in Talmud in the Avoda Zara, and mere making such an image is an act of idolatry in itself.

That is also the reason why the Lutherans smashed all the Catholic saint statues and painted over any similar anthropomorphic representations of God as Michelangelo did during the Reformation. The very act of making such a depiction is idolatry and prohibited as such.

Wesley said...

IM, if my source is correct, the Commandment is similar to this (God speaking):
You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

This being the case, David is correct. God said idol, and David's definition is correct. An idol is anything that a person uses to replace God (it could be a motorcycle, even!). God mentions this caveat as well. True that we don't have a physical description of Jesus - beyond Him being male - but that is another aspect of God's brilliance, because if we did have an image, people would worship that. (Apparently the shroud of Turin came to naught? I haven't heard anything about that for years). We were created to worship. It's very easy to worship what is useless to worship, and that includes other people.

David said...

Wesely: Or the worship of one's self, which is far worse.

Ironmistress: Second Commandment is taking the Lords name in vain. Re: Idolatry. I know of whence I speak, having bored my students to tears on the subject. Some protestant sects at some times have taken something like (but not quite) the version you portray, but that is, to be accurate about it, heresy. It is the act or intent of worship that is idolatry. Mere representation does not constitute such. Though periodically debated, the doctrine is long settled.

Wesley said...

David, too true. It's the worship of the creature that creates mindless and destructive pseudo-philosophies, whether that creature be self or other. Look at the Gaia crowd whom you lampoon and call out so effectively!

Wesley said...

David - Forgive me if you have this on another page I haven't stumbled upon - but what did you teach at university? I'd bet you got the students to actually think, which seems to be something that's not much encouraged these days.

David said...

I taught university level history and archaeology.

David said...

Wesley: Re self-worship. Pseudo-philosophies don't need to be in it. If one's god is in the mirror, that's the surest path to damnation possible because it stops the ears against any hope of redemption. Just as courage is the greatest virtue, pride is the greatest sin.

Wesley said...

David, as a history teacher you know how often we ignore our past and doom ourselves to repeat it. In the US our current political class and dominant media want us to ignore the past - even the recent past of a few years ago - and focus on words that are not given meaning (hope and change), in the hopes that the meanings discovered to apply are ignored or said to be misunderstood, because we plebes are just too dumb to understand our enlightened leader. Why do actors and politicians so often fall prey to the sin of self-worship? Your point is valid; self-worship leads to destruction - another truth; pride goes before it. Self-worship makes one unable to appreciate thoughts of those who are outside himself, which leads to dogmatism and the formation of an idealogue. Of course, self-worship also alienates one from those who might otherwise become his friends, but can unite him with other self-worshippers who "see" the world the same way in what is commonly called an "intellectual elite" by its members. Then we have the danger of fads (even long-term fads, like environmentalism, which is really just a subset of ancient pantheism) that the self-worshipper promotes, because the self-worshipper loves for others to admire, adopt, and imitate his "intelligence", "clear thinking", and "expertise". Worse, actors and politicians have their followers who may never be aware of the indulger's tendency because they do not know the self-worshipper as what he is, only what they are told by his promoters. Therefore followers of the self-worshipper may adopt his false belief system, so again, it is destructive to others, and the circle goes 'round...

Ironmistress said...

David, the Talmud is pretty straightforward in this issue: making any images of God is committing an idolatry. No matter whether they are works of art, representation or actual idols (bosethim), there is no difference - it is all idolatry.

The rationale is that God made human being as his image. God, as the creator, is above humankind. Therefore it is prohibited for men to make any images of God. By making an image of God, man violates this set of hierarchy, putting himself on the same level as God himself.

In his The Guide to the Perplexed, I:36, Moses Maimonides holds that in the original form of idolatry, no one actually believed that their idols were gods; he states that idol-worshippers understood that their idols were only representations of a god, or God. Idols are "worshipped in respect of its being an image of a thing that is an intermediary between ourselves and God."

Maimonides, however, goes further in defining idolatry than other Jewish thinkers before or since; he states that it is idolatry to hold that God is subject to any affections at all. Not only believing that God has a body, but merely believing "that one of the states of the body belong to Him, you provoke His jealousy and anger, kindle the fire of his wrath, and are a hater, an enemy and an adversary of God, much more so than an idolator."

What you insist - mere representation does not constitute such - is an abomination in the Jewish point of view; it shows disrespect towards God and impudence on attempting to be His peer.

Ironmistress said...

Wesley, the exact Hebrew wording is Lo ta’aseh-lekha phesel v’khol-temunah asher bashamayim mima’al
va’asher ba’aretz mitachat va’asher bamayim mitachat la’aretz.

The word "phesel" means "image" or rather "sculpture". The wording is not "boseth", an idol The point is not idol, but image or likeness. Making any depictions of God is putting intermediaries between God and man - and as God made man his image, man making an image of God is an attempt to rebel against the divine order and hierarchy.

Ergo, no matter what is the artistic value of the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, making an image of God is still an abomination.

David said...


All well and good, but I am talking Christian doctrine, not Talmudic scholarship.

Ironmistress said...

David, like I said, I am more into Judaism than Christianity, and more biased to follow the Talmudic rather than Christian interpretation.

Christianity doesn't make sense. It is a set of mistakes patched up with even bigger mistakes. A concept of a loving, merciful ans a little bit schizophrenic God simply doesn't make any sense. Not to say about the forced conversion of Finland and enslavement of our nation centuries ago. The Finno-Ugric nations were the staunchest enemies of Christianity and the last Pagans - they knew wery well that the new religion was followed by slavery of a foreign conqueror.

I am in this respect much more likely to approve the Jewish interpretation than the Christian. After all, isn't the Hebrew Bible a Jewish book and as such written in Hebrew, not in English?

You call my interpretation as a heresy. If I was a Jew (which I am not), I would call the Christian doctrine as an abomination.

It also seems that Jews and Christians have different numbering of the ten commandments.

Wesley said...

As Jesus said, "If you have seen me you have seen the Father." He could not have said that unless, as He also said, He and the Father are One.

Seeing applies to more than the disciples and other people who actually met Jesus in the flesh. A blind man cannot see, but all who do not know Jesus are spiritually blind. There is so much more involved than physical sight.

We, humankind, struggle to understand what lies beyond us. We can choose to divide over single issues or unite over our condition. Since all of us sin, we are all separated from God. However, we can all be thankful that He provided a way for us to know and be with Him, through Christ, that does not depend on what we have done, but rather on accepting what He has done, His Gift of Life, and for our part, repenting for our inadequacies - our sins. So more pertinent than the fact we sin is the fact that there is redemption available. Personally, I'm very thankful for that, since there's no way I can reach God - God through Christ has reached down to me.

Wesley said...

IM, no amount of logic can make something make sense to someone who is unwilling to investigate and leave himself open to, if evidence warrants, believe it. If you believed the earth is flat, no amount of satellite imagery or explanations of the horizon or even traveling into orbit in a spacecraft and looking at the curvature of the earth could convince you it's spherical. However, if you open your mind to other possibilities than those you cling to, I can recommend some helpful resources for you.

First is the Bible. Read it, cover to cover, for yourself. The New King James has more of a contemporary feel (without all the "thees" and "thous"), is quite accurate to the original texts, and still maintains the lovely lyrical flow of the KJV, so reading it is pleasurable.

Next, listen to Lon Solomon at He is a Messianic Jew, and his story is quite interesting. He is also a very thoughtful man, and he presents Biblical truth in a most engaging way.

Another thought-provoking individual you may want to check into is Ravi Zacharias, an Indian descendant of Hindu priests. You can find out more about him at

Let me know what you think after you have availed yourself of those resources. I and many others are praying for you.

David said...

"Abomination"? That's a bit strong. "Wrong" or "misguided", but "abomination"?

Re heresy: Jews are not heretics and have never been regarded as such not did I refer to them so. You cannot be a heretic of a religion you do not subscribe to.

Forced conversions: These, regrettably, have happened, but they are, and always have been, against doctrine and punishable by excommunication. Please do not condemn a religion for the actions of those who violate its laws.

Talmudic tradition and interpretation: Christianity does not deal in the Talmud. Christianity is a new doctrine built on the old. The Bible is, to put it very simply, is a series of covenants starting with the Adamite to that of Christ. Each of these redefines the relationship of God and man as His plan unfolds. Under Christianity and the final covenant, natural law is followed. The laws of the Old Testament only apply in so far as they promulgate natural law. This is why things such as dietary restrictions and the prohibitions on graven images do not apply, but those against stealing, adultery, and idolatry do.

As to God being contradictory and schizophrenic, it sounds very familiar. In fact, it sounds like me once upon a time. The answer is there in front of you, if you are willing to accept it.