Sunday, October 11, 2015

Reading on Christian Art of the Early Kind

Reading on Christian Art of the Early Kind

In the days when I'd left Racine, the teaching was still old school. Our academic culture was English culture. Things from Africa were put in the bin of 'primitive.'

Historical progress took a lapse between Greece and Venice. But there was this dark time in between that seemed the font of Poe, my buddy, and therein I delved. I think Iris DeMenthe sang "I'll just let the mystery be."

At a friend's yesterday, on way to watch Cubs and Cards, I picked out of a discard brown bag a text, and I opened it, and all of this came back as if on a plate.

This history is certainly not a song I have thoroughly learned, tho I knew a lot of the words, but after the game, picking the bones, of the book I took some notes.

My reading in general of Early Christian and Byzantine Art by John Beckwith: It’s from the early 1970s and somewhat spans the spectrum that has Western Art as more of an Ideal than Asian (Farther East). It's accompanied by narrative showing some objective understanding that includes consideration of social forces.  People come and go, not speaking of Michelangelo. The words were the thing, and the art came later for the early Christians in the Middle East

My Reading in its specifics starts here: The early Christians had their ways and they were kind of a mix of Hebraic and Greek cultures.  Some hybridization. Being buried, for example, is a Jewish thing they brought to the pagan Roman Empire. On the Greek side, there was a lot of Platonic interpretation going on that saw the original Christian ethos in the favorable light of complementary Greek philosophic notions… There was significant intermarrying between pagans and Christians, but sometimes the girls of those families were brought up Christian, and the boys, Pagan. The book from the start is very aware of the conflux of the church and the state that contributed to the spread of Christianity, and in turn an increasing lean toward orthodoxy and again in turn to damage and loss of mysticism. We have 500 more years to go. Never would one style dominate.

The reading ends here : Christ on something like a chariot arriving in a mosaic in a mausoleum near St Peters was a threat to the Sun King du Jour. He held triumph over death in an orb in his left hand. Life after death was a theme of early Christian art - that found in what is now Italy.  But Old Testament stories appear too. Shepherds show up, as they do in bucolic nostalgia paintings of the pagans whose kids went to the same schools and played on the same soccer teams. Finally, a teaching Christ emerges (see above) not much distinguished from his followers save a Chi-Rho monogram. The Eastern Provinces of the Empire show a divergent exposition. Byzantine art comes later. And it represents a totality of experience and effect that has few objective correlatives in other stations in the history of art and culture.Still, it introduces the dubious notion of secret knowledge - of art for the adept. Good for Yeats, T.S. Elliot - but mostly bleccch.

Throughout, the art is the thing, tho figures of historical reality enter exit and enter and exit gain such as Clemens. Of Alexendria, he'd travelled many a road. Clemens twining Plato and Christ wrote:

"Let your speech be gentle towards those you meet, and your greetings kind; be modest towards women, and let your glance be turned to the ground. Be thoughtful in all your talk, and give back a useful answer, adapting the utterance to the hearer's need, just so loud that it may be distinctly audible, neither escaping the ears of the company by reason of feebleness nor going to excess with too much noise. Take care never to speak what you have not weighed and pondered beforehand; nor interject your own words on the spur of the moment and in the midst of another's; for you must listen and converse in turn, with set times for speech and for silence."

The Catechumen - Clement's Poem

I Clement
who waltzed my Matilda the known world over studying
recall
the 'churches' were simple
often, someone's apartment
and the décor was no décor.
You, the prayerful pilgrim brought
your emptiness to the voide
and it became full.

Brevity became the catacombs -
Vessel consciousness became
the catechumen.
- My name is John and this came to me in a dream.

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