>For a long time, whenever I discussed art history I basically skipped from the earliest known records (like the Venus of Willendorf…woof.) right past the Middle Ages and straight to the Renaissance. The Renaissance harnessed the Classical power of the human form noted in amazing Greek and Roman sculpture with a new-found respect and love of color: vibrant, rich, passionate hues that give life to those lucky enough to be captured by them. From then on, it was always Renaissance, Baroque, Romantics, Impressionists, etc., etc., until the Fauvists and Modernists made me aesthetically unhappy.
Upon further reflection, however, the art of the Middle Ages possesses more than I ever wanted to give it credit for revealing. There is something to be said for the passion and love of showing a rudimentary, yet loving, Christ. The Middle Ages produced art that was flat, fairly monotone in color, and completely lacking of dazzling depth or style. Even the composition was a bit stunted. And yes, it’s 2-D, something James Cameron would surely scoff at and mock. Yes, the colors leave something (or everything) to be desired. But in those simplistic drawings and paintings, there is love. There is the pain of a Savior in anguish, compassion of a Lord who loves the unloveable. I’m not sure Jesus would be comfortable with his powerful radiance in Raphael’s Ascension or even being the center of attention in The Last Supper.
There’s something to be said about a King who preferred peasants over worldly royalty, who picked poverty over wealth, who chose death over what the world sees as power. I think the various artists of the Middle Ages got that message–Christ was someone who preferred to be in the background, loving, serving, and giving. His message wasn’t contained in the show, the color, or the presentation, but in the emotion and devotion behind the scenes. I think He would have been drawn to the flat, colorless, almost cartoonish pieces of art because they came from the heart.
In the same way, we need to get back to the heart of the matter in our service of God. Whether songs like Heart of Worship or the story of the Pharisees in Luke 11:
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
Jesus is calling the Pharisees out because they care more about the show than the action; more about appearances than the heart. We have that problem today, the same problem I suffer in Art History: we care more about the outside than the inside, more about the pretty colors than the meaning. Jesus rages against that machine more than once, but its a message we let slip through our fingers all the time.
So here’s to a flat, bland, disproportionate Savior, willing to do the dirty work and die so that I might live a deep, colorful, full life in His service. Amen!
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:21-24