Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Pictures in times of trouble

In times of trouble, grappling with words is often beyond me - but pictures, and particularly the memory of pictures, is sometimes of help; sometimes sufficient to stop the descent and even reframe things in a positive way. I presume that this has always been the case for Christians (except those misguided iconoclasts who have always plagued the religion).

What 'works' seems to be a very personal matter - and certainly is is not correlative with artistic excellence as defined by secular aesthetic criteria (effective religious art often seem kitsch or sentimental or naive or over-obvious by such evaluations)... the point is what gets through to you in times of trouble. Perhaps this is why such art often is very direct.

Furthermore, evaluation of art is always influenced by non-visual, contextual factors - for example a portrait or landscape is affected by the beaty, or ugliness, of its subject matter; and religoous and spiritual art by that context - and how we feel about the particular painter and his intent, the time and place of its production, or the artistic tradition from which it arises.

(The inevitability of non-visual factors is, paradoxically, emphasised by the fact that 20th century attempts at abstraction led to the most literary and theorised art of all time! The result has been an art of near-zero self-explanatory power; where gallery visitors read the labels more than they look at the pictures or sculpures/ 'installations'; where modern art critics are more concerned about politics than aesthetics - and their catalogues are filled with words more than with illustrations.) 

For the past several years I have, again and again - most recently yesterday - found some of William Arkle's pictures valuable for this purpose or function. I offer a few of my proven-favourites, with explanations - on the understanding that this is a personal choice: the point being to inspire you to find some (presumably-different) pictures which might serve you as well as these ones have served me. 

This picture represents Jesus as Lord of this world, The Cosmic Christ; offering his gift to us in the form of a flower.

This next one is a simple but haunting picture of an archetypal businessman, about his business, but with an angelic being sustaining him - and again offering a gift of a larger, greater, truer perspective - to which he can turn and which he can accept at any moment he chooses.

This picture is one of many that Arkle did with a large face of divinity hovering above the mundane world - always present, but nearly-always ignored. The small human figure in the bottom-right is absorbed in reading a newspaper, oblivious of the fullness of what is possible.
Another figure hovering above the mundane world - this time a smoky industrial city; and this time the another favourite Arkle symbol/ reality of cupped hands and enfolding arms: this is a very real experience of many Christians with respect to God.

A similar theme, but this time God above an idyllic 'holiday' scene - almost paradisal.In such a situation we are more likely to be aware of the divine presence - but this may be unconscious, and rationally-denied; whereas it ought to be known, and accepted with joy and gratitude.

Here we see a pilgrim, alone, on the threshold and confronting a glorious landscape - which he needed to approach through a dark and sinister foreground.

The following picture of tea things (and several others like it) really stuck in my mind, as showing the divine immanence - God within the everyday objects of our lives - and that nothing real is dead, but is indeed alive, meaningful and part of purpose (even the supposedly inanimate).

And the same applies with landscape - although perhaps we are more inclined to recognise this. This shows a Tolkienian theme of the special quality of distant mountains, and how in heaven we can visit the distant mountains without them losing this 'distant' quality - so that our poignant yearning for their mystery (Sehnsucht) becomes a part of actual, current, conscious experience.

And then Heaven itself - with the heavenly city is the distance; and in this case travelling there really-will be as good as arriving.

For more of Arkle's pictures; visit the recently made webpage, or the (larger) Facebook compendium.

Note: In 1977 William Arkle published The Great Gift - a book of pictures and explanations (and some other writings) which serves exactly this purpose I am talking about; and can still be obtained cheaply secondhand. However, the colour and sharpness of the pictorial reproductions in The Great Gift is far inferior to that of the recently scanned web versions.