Friday, February 17, 2012

The Conditions for the "Successful" Formation of Worship Art: Part II

Three things before I write part two of this entry (see part one here).

One, I love this photograph of Boris Karloff on the set of Son of Frankenstein (1939). It's so perfect. As a lover of tea and toast and of the craft of acting, it makes my heart happy to see them integrated here.

Two, I'm in Kansas City at the moment, participating in an arts festival that my friend Brian Williams along with a fabulous team has concocted. I'm excited to be here and to see what God is up to in Jayhawk country. Or is that Wildcat country? Hm, I best stay neutral and call it Wizard of Oz country.

Three, our wonderful Laity Lodge retreat is only two weeks away and there is still room to sign up if you want to join a very special gathering of folks who love artists and want to shepherd them well. Check it out here. And here. And here to register and to find out all about Laity Lodge.

NB: I use the terms "liturgical art" and "worship art" in this entry in an interchangeable fashion and mean exactly the same thing by them.

The Conditions: Part II

5. Repetition. How often does a work of art occur during a service? This question is more relevant to occasional art than to permanent art. In churches that make use of the liturgical calendar, this might include the repetition of certain kinds of art at the same times of the year, as with, for example, art that depicts the Advent of Christ. How often might dance or drama happen in the service? Weekly? Monthly? Randomly? And how much of the service does it occupy? How often do un-familiar art media get used by the congregation—media that stretches their understanding and experience of art and of its many-faceted service to corporate worship?

6. Its relation to the rest of the worship service. In what way is the liturgical art related to the other parts of the liturgy? An Iconostasis’ purpose, for example, might be perfectly obvious to a congregation, while the dance-like procession and recession of priests may be clear to another congregation. If they are not clear, the risk is a thoughtless routinizing of worship.

Is it theologically clear in a Pentecostal church why dancers with ribbon sticks dance off to the side of the stage? Is the architectural shape of a “meeting house” or of a Byzantine cathedral clearly understood? Is it clear to Baptists why they sing hymns here, here and here in the service, but not here? Is the art perceived in an isolated way, as simply something that is done at X point in the service but whose relation to the rest of the service is undefined or “inconsequential”?

7. Explication. Does the pastor offer any kind of commentary about the art that is done throughout the liturgy? How often does the pastor offer such commentary? Do other church leaders play a role here? Often? Seldom? Never? Do they seek to help the congregation make meaningful connections between the visual art that surrounds them—architecture, paintings, stained glass, banners, furniture arrangement—and the logic of the liturgy as a whole? Do church leaders help make connections between this art and the rest of their lives?

8. Its culture. Does the art that occurs regularly in the service reinforce the existing culture of the church? Does it in any way stretch the church’s culture? Does it stretch them not simply artistically but spiritually, ethically, missionally? Does it challenge or subvert the culture? Or is this a role that more occasional art performs, say in the form of a photographic exhibit of global Christians or the “poor and needy”? In what ways does the art reform or refresh elements of the worship service?

This is a long list of questions, I recognize. Yet they are the kinds of question that are needed to discern the way in which a given practice of liturgical art actually habituates a congregation. The positive point is this: the more intentionally, intensively and integratively a given piece of liturgical art is used by a congregation, the more chance it has to shape that congregation—spiritually, morally, theologically, relationally, etc.

Put otherwise: while a single experience of worship art might be negligible, what is not negligible is a continuous experience of the same kind of worship art over a long period of time.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

My award-winning photograph

Movement 1: Amen de la Création, "Luz Ascendente"

"If I knew how to take a good photograph, I'd do it every time."

-- Robert Doisneau

Not since 8th grade when I played the lead role in the musical Androcles and the Lion have I been this excited about an outcome of work I created. Maybe I should include a few arts festival, film festivals, conferences and plays that I either directed or wrote while in Austin. But still. None of these won me an "award." And while it wasn't National Geographic or Annie Leibovitz jurying the work (tho' we didn't win easily), I'm psyched. My photograph won Olivier Messiaen's sixth movement, "Amen du Jugement," from his work for two pianos, Visions de l’Amen, in Duke Divinity School's photography contest.

Messiaen's work is comprised of seven movements, beginning with "Amen of Creation" and ending with "Amen of the Consummation." Seven winning photographs were chosen corresponding to each movement. One of these was chosen as grand prize winner. (That person, Kate Roberts, gets a round trip to the UK for Holy Week 2012, with a total value of $1900--tre cool.) All seven photographs will be professionally printed and mounted for exhibition both in the Great Hall at King’s College, Cambridge and in the Corpus Playroom theater on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week at Cambridge this coming April.

Movement 5: Amen des anges, des saints, du chant des oiseaux, "Avian flight"

The contest is part of a really cool collaboration between Duke and Cambridge. As Jeremy Begbie explains:

"The Duke-Cambridge Collaboration began in Holy Week 2010, when a group of scholars from Duke met with a group from Cambridge at King’s College, Cambridge, to collaborate on a research project centering on artistic engagements with the Passion story. The Consultation ran alongside King’s College’s Easter Festival of Music and Services, and a Duke-led concert was incorporated into the week’s events. A similar collaboration will take place during Holy Week 2012, including the Maundy Thursday performance of Visions de l’Amen that will provide the context for the Illuminating Messiaen exhibition."

Since the competition was open to all current students, alumni, faculty and staff at DDS, potentially, I figure, this would have involved 6,000 people (excluding the dead of course). So I didn't get my award that easily. And because it was an award, I received $100 worth of Amazon glory. Totally killer.

You can read the details here, including the jury process. That's also where you'll find all winning photographs as well as the batch that earned honorary mention. They're all quite beautiful, so I feel pretty lucky to have won, especially because I only was able to devote two afternoons to the project--a Sunday afternoon outing with Erik Newby as jedi friend and one hour at dusk the following day. I don't normally take photographs at their highest resolution possible, so nothing I'd taken previously was suitable.

So in the immemorial words of Tim Gunn, I had to make my two all-too-brief days work.  I've included a few of the other photographs I submitted. At the bottom of this entry is the winner. If you click on a photograph, you can see it in near-full screen size.

Movement 3: Amen de l’agonie de Jésus, "Solitary Figure"

Because my strongest artistic skill is playwriting and because I've done nothing with it over the past six years, I guess you can say that I've been a little bummed out in the artmaking department. On the encouragement of my wife, the lovely Phaedra Jean, I've adopted photography as my new outlet.

The 20th-century American photographer Edward Weston once said:

"If I have any 'message' worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no short cuts in photography." 

It's good advice for all the arts, of course. In my case it encourages me to keep at it, to keep looking, to keep shooting, to keep asking questions from those who know more than I, to keep taking risks and to keep enjoying the experience. Many thanks to the good people who made this all possible (JSB et al).

Movement 6: Amen du jugement, "Fruit on the wire, 125-foot smokestack"

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Conditions for the "Successful" Formation of Worship Art

Ever wonder whether a particular work of worship art, whether musical or visual or poetic or otherwise, is forming a congregation in the way "that it's supposed to"? Ever wonder what it is forming in them? Is it forming them theologically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally or missionally--or in a combination of these and more besides? How would you determine whether it formed the people rightly or fully? What conditions would need to be considered in order to determine an answer to these questions?

Over the past year I've created a handout in order to explore these questions. I've handed it out at various conference in which I've spoken. I thought I'd go ahead and share it here. This will be part one of two entries. Feel free to use it in your own church setting. Whether it's as a pastoral staff or worship team or arts committee, these are the kinds of questions that are useful to ask in order to assess the complex fashion in which the worship arts form a given congregation.

For what it's worth I use the terms "worship" and "liturgy" to mean exactly the same thing in this entry.

A diagnostic to discern how the worship arts form us 
While the arts in the context of corporate worship form us “in their own way,” they should not form us “on their own terms.” They should always form us on the terms of the worship service; or to use Wolterstorff's language, they should always serve the particular purposes and activities of the liturgy. The logic of art must always be seen to serve the logic of the liturgy.

Beyond this, we can say that the worship arts do not rightly form us in any kind of isolated or automatic way. For right formation to take place, the worship arts need to be intentionally integrated into the larger parts of the church's life, and they must be allowed to form dispositions in the congregation over time.

How would we discern whether any given work of liturgical art formed a congregation rightly, that is, according to the purposes for which it was created and to the context in which it is employed? Bearing in mind that we can never fully quantify the work of the Spirit and that our formation often happens unevenly, eight factors can be considered significant here.

 1. Its context. I have in mind here two kinds of context: spatial and chronological. Spatially: Where in the sanctuary does, for instance, visual art occur? Does it occur on all sides? Is it concentrated in any one space? Do different kinds of visual art occur in different spaces, and are these different spaces invested with different meanings?

Chronologically: At what point in the order of service might the visual art become especially useful? Do banners process? Does an ornate wooden cross recess? Is an icon paraded around the congregation for worshipers to kiss? Does a stained glass window or a group of photographs await the congregants as they leave the building? Is the space left “artistically bare” on purpose?

 2. Its use. I can imagine, for starters, four kinds of uses for liturgical art: didactic, performative, “service” and contemplative. If the stained glass windows along the nave of the church are intended to instruct the congregation, what kind of instruction is intended? If a dance is performed prior to the Eucharist, what performative value is sought here—as a celebrative act or a prayerful one or an act intended to symbolize the movement of the people before God?

Some kinds of music are called “service music,” whose purpose is musically to enhance different parts of the service. In an Anglican church I once attended in Vancouver, the music director ended the evening service with around five minutes of music, played either on the piano or the organ. The congregation was expected to sit and listen. The purpose was not to attend to the music as such but rather to create a contemplative space within which a person might prayerfully absorb the contents of the entire service.

 3. Its content. Is the art traditional or contemporary? Is it, say, a William Cowper hymn or a Chris Tomlin psalm? Is it a familiar song or an unfamiliar one, and how often is the congregation exposed to unfamiliar content? Is the song sung in the indigenous tongue or a foreign tongue—English, Latin, Swahili, Spanish? Is the music aesthetically difficult, as with the compositions of Orlando Gibbons, or is it aesthetically simple, as with the modern hymns of Keith and Kristyn Getty?

 4. The participants. Who is doing the art and how is the congregation intended to perceive those who do the art? In the case of a choir, is the choir adult, of one or both genders, of children, or of a combination of these? Is the choir perceived as “doing the work of worship” on behalf of the congregation? Are they perceived as “servants” or “leaders” of the worship? How do they dress? What symbolic meaning is vested in that dress? Is that meaning clearly understood by the congregation? Are artists the performers and the congregation the spectators? Is the congregation perceived to be a constant participant in the worship, as might be the case in certain African-American churches where dancing and clapping are seen as integral to proper worship?