Beauty Breaking in to Normal Life

Arts and TheologyThe other day, Christina and I were able to visit the Morse Museum in Winter Park, the “world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany,” the artist whose main medium was working with glass. I confess I originally was not very excited about Tiffany’s work. Whenever I saw something Tiffany-related, I just put it in a 40s-60s-kind-a-vibe category of mere ornamentation. But then I interacted more with the artist and his purpose, and I was reallTiffanyy moved.

Tiffany’s work was designed for those who owned his art to interact with beauty on an everyday basis. Be it doors to a garden, or a window to a yard, his purpose was a necessary interface between the beautiful and the mundane.

TiffanyAfter thinking about this while perusing the space, I felt a kind of sadness. His work was now housed in a museum, where someone has to go out of their normal life to view. Tiffany’s aim was not in line with this. I know the necessity of preserving the art, but if some of the purpose is lost, can the art really be preserved? Or maybe a work of art’s meaning is supposed to change with time and place?

TiffanyAll the more it pointed to the fact that art is not made in a vacuum. It must interact with its surrounding, or maybe its community? And we are a part of that community. Especially with Tiffany, our working with the art is part of the meaning of the piece itself. Sometimes these lines get fuzzy.

TiffanyTiffany’s work really illuminates the idea of the transcendent breaking in to normal mundane life, pointing to the fact that the transcendent is all around us. And not in some pantheistic god is everything kind of deal. But the God is always speaking to us, His word is a constant echo in the ears of humanity. And bringing in that transcendent nature that comes with beauty, when put in front of your nose everyday, as a Tiffany piece should have been- be it lamp or window or something else, would probably change your view of the world and how we ought to live. Now beauty becomes something needed, not just a rich person’s commodity. Art becomes something to work hard for- in the sense of buying and placing in your own home’s space, or the sense of working hard to “get it.” There is more out there, and Louis Comfort Tiffany’s vision is an excellent reference.

Link Collection

As promised by the previous post, I’ve decided to bring up some noteworthy places I’ve found online.  These periodic posts will be have a range of categories, but mostly in the art, theology, art/theology vein.

Multiplicity Groove (featuring Dr. Mark Futato) – a portion of my most recent class (Judges to Poets) in music form.
Boone Oakley Design Company – entire site nicely on done on YouTube. Great way to embrace the medium.
Genevan Psalter – complete lyrics and MP3s of the Genevan Psalter.
Wedding Booklet – incredibly beautiful letterpress/typography/stitching work done by Studio on Fire.
The Books of the Bible – some cool Bible reading plans
Deadworld Film – in the making, where the protagonist is a human killing zombie. (for you, John)
Labaut Music Video – nicely done interactive music video-thing for their song, Soy Tu Aire.
Terrible Yellow Eyes – “
a collection of works inspired by the beloved classic, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.”
I Bring What I Love – interesting looking documentary about a Sufi musician.

These links come from my twitter account, and can also be subscribed to via RSS.

Everybody Hates Twitter.

Since I heard about Twitter around 2 years ago, it has been steadily gaining popularity.  These past few weeks there have been a few posts going around, mostly defending Twitter and its challenge to make something out of 140 characters. Twitter is a real easy thing to harass and hate on.  Sure there can be downsides (I mean, who cares about when I’m standing in line or buying groceries?), but there’s a downside to nearly everything.  When radio first came out (or any other new type of communication), I’m sure there were people having these same conversations.  The trick is to recognize the medium and use it to its advantage.  We don’t want to pretend that the medium doesn’t affect the message, and therefore, I don’t think we can say that Twitter is “just like having a conversation” because it’s not.  But there are advantages that Twitter has that our conversations won’t, such as searchability, or hyperlinks, or the strange interconnectedness the web offers.

Let’s skip over all those boring conversations where we try and convince ourselves that using Twitter is like any other type of conversation and see where it’s different.  That’s where the advantages are.

So how am I using Twitter’s medium to its advantage? Every day I come across music, articles, blogs, etc., that I think are important to this whole arts and theology thing, and that I enjoy partking of. Here are a couple recent examples:

1. Storied – site by Corbis that gives the stories behind interesting and important photographs.
2. Re:Sound – The Resurgence’s music stuff is underway, download the MP3 Sampler and chord charts.
3. Cucumber Riot – Download Gasoline Heart’s new album for free, via Paste Magazine.
4. Images of Faith CD – 100 images from many different artists used for illumination’s sake (not illustration) for corporate worship.  Also includes essays on the works and biographies of the artists.
5. Here’s an article from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship on the difference between illumination and illustration; and illumination’s importance in our lives and our worship.
6. Small’s Jazz Club Audio Archive – lots and lots of full sets from their impressive list of musicians, all free.

Now I don’t have the time or the will power to write a post for each of these things, but I enjoy sharing them.  So most of my Twitter use will be in the same vein as this site: the arts, theology, the arts and theology, with a little of my personal life thrown in every now and again.  This is pretty close to making a linkblog, something I’ve thought about doing since this site’s revision.

So how can you take advantage of this awesomeness? Glad you asked:

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me.

If you’re not on Twitter, but use a feed reader, here’s the feed and now there’s a subscription button up on the sidebar.

If you’re not on Twitter and don’t use a feed reader, that’s OK too, you can always just go to my Twitter page.  Plus, I plan on putting out a weekly post on what I’ve found over the past week.

Patrons and Paste

The Center for Faith & Work is a ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City (of Tim Keller fame), focused on the church becoming more engaged with its surrounding culture. The other day I came across their information on being a patron of the arts. The little article has this quote from Ted Scofield:

Christians cannot abdicate the arts to secular society. We must consume, study, and participate in the arts if we are to have a seat at the table. Whether it has a religious theme or strikes us as irreligious, we must be patrons if we are to have an impact on how the world interprets and responds to the arts. We cannot be wary, we cannot be afraid, we cannot be self-righteous. Christians must look, listen, read, and experience the arts if we are to lead our culture to renewal.

This is so true.  These conversations are going on in the art world, in music, visual arts, dance, etc.  If we are to engage culture, especially on a deep level, we must engage the arts.  And by not being involved in the arts community, we are abdicating our voice, our responsibility, to bring life to the world.

There is an easy way to apply this truth right now.  Paste magazine is one of my very favorite magazines on music, with an emphasis on independent music.  There are few other music-related publications that offer the depth of insight and critical interaction found in Paste.  But the current economy has its effect everywhere and this magazine is no exception.  In order to offset some of their advertising loss, they have set up a donation-system.  They have around 100 rare or live or unreleased tracks from artists wanting to help, and a donation of $25 or more will not only get you these tracks but will put you in a lottery for other merchandise, like a cruise or an autographed R.E.M. poster. I’ve already donated and got my tracks and there are some cool musics in there.

Here are some of the artists: The Decemberists, Neko Case, She & Him, Cowboy Junkies, Of Montreal, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Over the Rhine, Bob Mould, Arrested Development…to name a few. So read the article from Faith & Work and if you’re a music fan and don’t know about Paste, check them out. Here’s a donation link:

Stopping Time?

Arts and TheologySometimes our lives gets so busy and action-oriented that I don’t stop for a second to look at everything (replace “our lives” with “my life” and “everything” with “the mess”). Shinichi Maruyama, in his Kusho series, takes something that would normally be seen as action, and attempts to express a frozen moment. There are many artists who do this kind of abstraction, you could even make the case that all art abstracts time in some way. But there’s something more that got me interested in Maruyama’s work, though I’m still not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because he also does Nihonga and Makoto Fujimura, who I love, also does Nihonga and deals with time (though in a different fashion), or maybe it’s the high contrast of the photographs themselves (the stopped action is something so obviously completely other than its surroundings). Or maybe I just like looking at them, especially the Kusho movie, I think it really gets at his “writing in the sky” idea.

Shinichi Maruyamas Kusho series

Shinichi Maruyama’s Kusho series

One thing that I do know I like is his presentation of the preciousness of the moment. Sometimes the moments are serene, sometimes violent, each seem to be unique and each give a feel of significance. Spending the time he does gives the moment value, importance, something of worth.
This speaks to me, knowing that I don’t give time its due significance, which leads to a little obsession with the subject (but I’m a musician, so I should be obsessed a little with time).

It also brings up the idea that if God is infinite and outside of the constraint of time, then He can spend an infinite amount of time on one moment. He would be able to see our moments better than we can. These abstractions by Maruyama would not be abstraction for God. This is really comforting for me, knowing that not only is God my future hope, but He is here. With me. Right now. I overlook/disdain/take for granted this idea very often and my life is less for that. I hope that Shinichi Maruyama’s work will not just be something amusing for me to look at, but will show me another aspect of God’s Person.

On Vines and Time

A Vineyard in Sonoma

A Vineyard in Sonoma

I’ve been hovering around this idea of time recently, but lately I feel like I’ve more clearly understood this concept of redeeming time or taking our time. A few weeks ago, Christina and I took a trip out to Sonoma, California. It was incredibly beautiful, with vineyards everywhere, incredible weather, and a huge lack of responsibility. We both needed some kind of break from our uber-busy lives, and this trip did the trick. Among the many things we set out to do, the things that keep sticking with me were our trips to local vineyards and wineries.

The reason these vineyards stuck with me is because there was a completely different pace of life going on. It was a real world application of what I tried to accomplish in this musical piece on rest was being done in the real world. There is a patience that comes from resting that produces a satisfying tranquility. (This is resting in the real definition of the word, not a synonym for laziness.) The Sabbath was not just applied to people, but to the land. This tied-to-the-earth dynamic was present at all times. If our lives more closely mirrored the lives of these plants, we would be better off for it and, I believe, come to a more full view of what it means to rest.

We were able to drink Zinfandel from vineyards that were over 100 years old. I was able to taste the fruit of someone’s labor in the 1880s. To me, this has a lot to say about how we view the present. Or maybe, how I view the present. I tend to think if I’m not producing, if I’m not creating something good this moment, I’m not redeeming time as I ought. And that gets tiring.

A Vine

A Vine

I think the reason why I’ve been so obsessed with this whole time thing is that I recognize how much I need to have a proper view of time itself. Life is not meant to be a series of phrenetic jumps, one thing to another, but is meant to be enjoyed like a fine wine. To properly enjoy such a thing requires work and waiting. Labor and patience. It takes somewhere around three years before a new vineyard can produce grapes. In that three years there may seem to be nothing going on. It’s not producing anything. But to the owner and caretaker of the vineyard, there are many things happening below the surface.

And there are so many things that can go wrong with a vine, so many facets of how to care for the plant in order to produce the best possible fruit, it totally makes sense to me now why this is such a metaphorically rich subject, one that Jesus used many times in teaching about the kingdom and Christian life. If farming and keeping vineyards were the metaphors that our Lord chose to give us pictures of God’s kingdom, there is an inherent view of time that I am missing. Our culture, for the most part, misses this as well. And we are worse off for it.

So as I’m reflecting back on our vacation, my attempt will be to somehow to catch some of this idea of rest and incorporate it into our normal rhythm of life here, back in our real non-vacation world.

Recent Online Reading

I’ve come across a few good reads online recently, all with an art or culture angle to them. The first few are from painter Makoto Fujimura, who has a great interview here and here. Fujimura’s works are pretty unbelievable, he uses gold and other precious objects to paint with, creating dense, layered, abstract expressionistic beautiful paintings. He also has a few good mp3 messages online, and was a founding elder of The Village Church.

Fujimura also has started IAM, the International Arts Movement, which is a collection of artists from all types of fields “to wrestle with the deep questions of art, faith and humanity in order to inspire the creative community to engage the culture that is and create the world that ought to be.” Oh yeah, he also has written a book, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture. Busy guy.

Through IAM, I found The Curator, their online publication. There are some really great articles in here that critically engage the art our culture produces. Right now they have an interview with Pierce Pettis up.

In this same vein, I stumbled over The Gospel & Culture Project, developed by Dr. William Edgar, apologetics professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. There are some great reads here as well, especially the piece on Italian painter Morandi’s Still Lifes and in The Threat of Culture, on how we can positively view culture. There’s also a fascinating snippet of an upcoming documentary on physical perfection and religion. This 7 minute peek likens our manufacturing of mannequins to past culture’s creation of statues used in worship, like saints. Very interesting.

And not on any of these topics and in more shallow water, there’s a slightly old article from New York Times’ The Pour, on how big beer breweries act like their customers are stupid.

Woodworking and the Fall of Man

unfinished heelblocks

unfinished heelblocks

Arts and TheologyOver the Christmas break I was able to finish making an ashtray I started a while ago. It actually started as a guitar when I was a junior at UF. Myself and Steve, my roommate, were planning on making a guitar. I had access to the College of Art’s wood shop, so we had all sorts of cool tools at our disposal. Then we found out that making a guitar is really hard. And it takes a lot of time. So that ended up on the back burner for a bunch of years, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the fine pieces of wood that we bought in anticipation of our guitar masterpiece. One of those pieces that I’ve been carting around was a mahogany heel block, like the one in the pic. It’s basically a block of wood that you would finish and attach where the neck joins the body. It was a beautiful piece of wood, so I had to use it to do something. Not being a master wood worker and only having access to a Dremel tool, I chose something simple and functional: a cigar ashtray.

the finished ashtray

the finished ashtray

I routed out the tray (which took forever with a Dremel) and made a few spots to hold some stogies, sanded the beast and sealed it. The finished product doesn’t look too bad.

There was one thing that kept hitting me, though. I was always having to struggle with the material to get it to do what I wanted to do. This is a similar idea found in a book edited by Jeremy Begbie, Beholding the Glory: Incarnation through the Arts. The chapter on the use of sculpture is written by Lynn Aldrich, a sculptor living in L.A. (here’s some of her work). My material was just a block of wood and it was using every ounce of inertia to stay that block of wood. I feel like the process really spoke to me about the universal idea of struggle or frustration. I had an end in sight and it took hours of struggle to see that end. This is not what life was meant to be. Life was never meant to be a series of struggles where in the end everyone dies anyway. But I have become so accustomed to struggle and frustration that I don’t often give it a second thought.

…cursed is the ground because of you;

Begbie's book is a great introduction, looking at many areas of art and the incarnation.

Begbie’s book is a great introduction, looking at many areas of art and the incarnation.

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face

you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground,

for out of it you were taken;

for you are dust,

and to dust you shall return.”

(Gen 3:17b-19)

Maybe we should all get more frustrated or annoyed at the curse of the fall. We probably just accept it more often than not, and that might be a simple coping mechanism so that we don’t all end up in despair. But despair can be a good thing at times. It points to the great divide of where we are and where we want to be. A despairing person is definitely not alright with the way things are.

But we aren’t just left with despair, we do have a hope, a light that shines ever so faintly at the end of our dark tunnel. This is faith- believing that light does exist beyond our current circumstance.

Can a person be in despair and hope at the same time? I guess that’s kind of the Christian walk, figuring out how to live in both of those worlds.

Visualizing the Bible (again)

Visualizing the Bible

Visualizing the Bible

In an earlier post, I pointed to Chris Harrison’s graphic display on the Bible’s intertextuality- how the Bible is connected within itself.  Well, recently I received an email from Chris and he now has a poster size print available on History Shots. It’s 32 x 18.3 inches for $35…not too bad. There are a bunch of other great graphs in his project titled Visualizing the Bible. Definitely worth a look.

Living in our faith: moleskine theology

My moleskine notebook is a great metaphor for our lives. Its pages exist together in complete bounded harmony, though the pages inside might be varied.  It has grocery lists next to biblical exposition, driving directions next to songs in progress.  This juxtaposition is a helpful and healthy look at spiritual maturity.



When we become more mature in the faith, the faith should become more a part of us- so much so, where if one were to remove the faith from me, I would, in a sense, not be Greg Willson, but something else.  The Word should penetrate our lives to such a deep level that it is a fundamental part of who we are, and us of it.


Drawing Around

Drawing Around

When this happens, I believe we will not see such a stark divide between all things “spiritual” and “not spiritual” but, in may areas, we will see more things as “spiritual.” Christianity isn’t just praying and reading, but “living-in.”

Living-in is a comfortable, real and almost tangible authenticity.  There is a depth of maturity that exists where we assume (in all its positive connotations) its genuine truth.  This is not a leap of faith, in fact it’s the very opposite.  It seems to come from living and experiencing God’s grace day in and day out over a long period of time.  Understanding that we make mistakes and God is still a loving Father.  Understanding that we can have comfort in the tumult of life.

Living-in means that we don’t switch to Christian-mode when speaking on some subjects and some other mode when speaking on others.  When we make out grocery lists or try and write a worship song, we are living in our identity as believers united to Christ. We seek to be a part of the consistent worldview of all parts of life that God’s voice has to offer.

Notes and Lists

Notes and Lists

Now this illustration could also be seen as syncretism, embracing secular non-Christian ideas alongside Christian ideas, but doesn’t have to be that way.  Sure, we could see the moleskine metaphor as one that gives an OK to contradictions, and all that depends on what makes it on to the page.  All of this requires being self-aware, allowing the Spirit to lead us to truth.  But we don’t have to be contradictions- we can live side by side, comfortable in our own faith, and also not assuming our faith (in all its negative connotations).

Message Prep

Message Prep

The assumption I’m referring to is not us becoming more worldly, but the Word becoming more of us. I’m not advocating us to think less, but think more.  We all assume we are part of an earthly family, we don’t doubt its existence and effects on us, all the more, if we are believers, we should assume we are part of the Trinitarian Family and embrace its existence and effects on us.

I’m not in any way saying that I’m at a place like this, but am seeking God to bring me there.  It’s a funny thing, this thing called of sanctification. Just when I feel like I have hold of it, it slips away.  I guess that’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”