In going through old blog posts, I realized that I never posted this on my blog. For those of you who missed it, last summer we published out inaugural edition of ‘Verge: a journal of the arts and Christian faith’. There are some great articles in it, and if you haven’t had a chance yet, take a look at it. The table of contents and downloadable pdf files of each article can be found here. Future issues are in the works, and we take submissions on an ongoing basis. All of that information is on the journal website. Below I’ve copied the text from my introduction to the journal and this issue.
Introduction: On the Verge
JEFF R. WARREN
Throughout history, Christianity and the arts have converged in many different ways. At times, the Christian church was the catalyst for artists that we remember today as some of the greatest in history, including J.S. Bach and Michelangelo. Yet in other times, artistic practice was considered suspicious by the church and stifled artistic expression, as witnessed in the iconoclasm of medieval times and the revival of iconoclasm in the radical Reformation that influences many Protestant churches to this day. The past fifty years have not seen any decline in examples of the complex relationships between the arts and the Christian faith. The meteoric rise of Gregorian chant on the popular music charts in the 1990s, the controversy surrounding Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ,’ the linkage of country music and conservative Christianity, and the development of ‘contemporary Christian music’ are just a few recent examples from popular culture that reveal the complex and sometimes fractured relationships of the arts and Christian faith.
This journal makes space for open discussion about the myriad issues at the convergence of the arts and Christian faith. This journal therefore participates in a discussion that has existed since the beginning of Christianity and continues in many forms and traditions. Within Protestantism alone, the past fifty years have seen a development of at least two major centres of theological exploration of the arts. In the mid-1950s, Francis Schaeffer began ‘L’Abri’ as a place to “develop a Christian perspective on the arts, politics and the social sciences” (http://www.labri.org/history.html). In the late 1990s, Jeremy Begbie began a ‘theology through the arts’ project under the premise that close investigation of the arts can reveal theological insights. These movements created much discussion and have rightly questioned some long held Christian assumptions and prejudices about the arts. Some artistic forms and approaches, however, have not found an easy relationship with these movements, and this journal grows from the conviction that there remains room for much discussion. In this journal, we are interested in exploring any and every connection of the arts and Christian faith, with the belief that placing divergent points of view into dialogue will illuminate more about the arts, Christian faith, and the human condition.
The inaugural edition of Verge: a journal of the arts and Christian faith sets the tone for the breadth and depth of inquiry this journal encourages. Different art forms, time periods, and views of the relationships between the arts and Christian faith are discussed. Bruce Ellis Benson’s article explores the relationship between views of artistic genesis and the genesis of the world. He finds a parallel between the Kantian idea of genius and the theological doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Benson explores the creative process by drawing on examples as diverse as Bach and contemporary animation, and makes the argument that art making is not characterized by spontaneous creation but by improvisation; that is, responding to someone else with what is at hand. A call and response structure is prominent within jazz improvisation, but Benson argues that all artists respond to something, even if it is a response to artists who have come before them. He concludes with the implications this exploration of creation might have for interpreting the biblical creation account.
Mark Sprinkle’s article explores the ecologies of meaning of visual artworks in domestic contexts. Most often, artistic meaning is discussed in terms of formal and subject matter analysis, or the ways that meanings change when a piece is removed from an original context such as an altarpiece and placed in a context such as a gallery. The role of visual art in domestic spaces has been explored far less often. Sprinkle explores many case studies of the roles images play in connecting domestic contexts to other places, people, and faith. He also discusses the different ways people experience visual art in a domestic context as com- pared to a gallery. Sprinkle writes as a visual artist whose research into domestic spaces has altered his own approach to the ways he distributes and shows his art.
Thomas Merton’s life and work intersected with many disciplines. Ron Dart traces the life of Merton from a self-indulgent Cambridge student to his life as a Roman Catholic monk and his eventual influence on Pope John XXIII. Dart explores Merton’s relation to peacemaking and how these interests placed him into relationship with the likes of the beat poets, the Pope, and Dorothy Day. Merton is known for prose writing on various topics including the thought of Gandhi, but he also published over ten volumes of poetry. Merton provides a striking example of someone whose faith was integral both to his social views and his artistic creation.
Metaphor is important to meaning making in the arts. Poetry, visual art, music and theatre are among the arts where aesthetic experience often depends on metaphor; that is, on the comparison of two dissimilar things. Poetry has the most known examples of metaphor, but even hearing a melody rise is an example of a deeply engrained metaphor. Jamin Pelkey explores the role of metaphor in the aesthetics of two thinkers who are not usually compared to one another: Jonathan Edwards and Friedrich Nietzsche. Pelkey argues that despite their differences and individual shortcomings, the central place of aesthetics and metaphor within each thinker is complementary in that it corrects errors of the other’s thought. Pelkey also argues that the aesthetics of both Edwards and Nietzsche should be seen as forerunners of the various contemporary approaches – including phenomenology, pragmatism, semiotics and cognitive science – that attempt to grasp the ways that we understand as embodied human beings.
In 2009, a posthumous collection of poems was released from one of Canada’s fore- most poets, Margaret Avison. D.S. Martin reviews the collection of poems entitled Listening: Last Poems, exploring the ways the poems relate to her career and to her faith. Martin draws upon his own encounters with Avison and other elements of her life in the discussion of this volume, providing an introduction to the life and work of Avison in addition to a review of Listening.
Discussions about launching this journal have taken place over a number of years. For the past five years, Trinity Western University has hosted interdisciplinary arts conferences on a number of topics under the moniker ‘The Verge,’ and every year there has been some discussion of getting this journal up and running (for more on the conferences, see http://www.twu.ca/academics/samc/interdisciplinary/conferences/). The excellent discussion at these annual conferences provided confirmation that there is a need and desire for a forum of this sort. Many thanks are in order to the people who helped get this journal under- way. There is not space here to thank everyone, but a special thanks to Ron Dart and Jamin Pelkey, whose continued work and encouragement have been greatly appreciated. Thanks also to Linda Schwartz and David Squires, past and current deans of the School of the Arts, Media + Culture at TWU for their continued support of interdisciplinary inquiry into the arts through hosting conferences and this journal. Thanks to Trinity Western University for setting up and hosting the Open Journal System server. Finally, a huge thanks to Shayna Leenstra for all of her excellent work on the journal layout, as well as in the administration of the journal. On the verge of this journal, I hope you enjoy the inaugural edition, and I hope it opens a space for continued dialogue on the arts and Christian faith.