Art Eternal

(Ran across these notes while searching for something else. Isn’t that the way. Meant for a Christian publication I was writing for, but evidently never submitted this…)

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The Gates in Central Park by Jeanne-Claude and Christo

David Wang writing in Mars Hill Review recently says God did not make us “time-bound orphans.” He created the world out of love and for beauty. Wang says God created art so that His children could play, could create, and could produce art and in the process we share in the Creator’s timelessness. Art is eternity. It stops time. Taft is a place of Art; Taft is one of those places Mircea Eliade said were thresholds of the sacred in an increasingly profane world. That is why I am here or rather that is why here I am. For all of us, inside Taft there is no time; and for us all, there was until we walked over its threshold, no Taft. Astrophysics expert Brian Greene might say the super strings of matter did not vibrate until we plucked the cord. God didn’t show us Taft, until we chose to step into eternity—a gesture, which begins with a memory so deep it requires faith and vulnerability: an open heart.

Taft is this space, this openness to fellowship. This is the story of friendship and family. It is a narrative written in our hearts, penned by God. We are saved and save one another. “[W]hen you are weak and vulnerable and paralyzed in body and spirit, having friends can save your life; and that even when you can’t or don’t believe, having friends who do can give you your life back” (Buchanan 3). Time and time again, my friends and family have given me my life back—the original gift. I only needed to seek, to ask, to knock.

Recently, I sought out this faith initiative and have met a new circle of friends. It was completely by accident—or so I thought—that we should cross paths. The pole of this ostensibly relative inaccessibility was a church cooperative (its mandate unknown to me at the time) far from my home. I had traveled there with Dyan to see a play—we were supporting a friend. While there I came across a bookstore, a café, an art gallery and a space where I felt a need; I don’t think I heard a single still, small voice. The air was susurrant. All was imprinted onto my heart. I investigated this small and vibrant community and found that it was run by individuals interested in reaching out, in bringing Christian culture to those yearning for it. Just like me. I signed up and have been with them every since. We work together in Christian fellowship, to promote literacy; to support one another and all who walk through the door. Although for the most part we spend our Sundays apart at myriad places of worship, our cooperation in this arts facility is a shared space found in brick and mortar, and yet stronger still in our hearts. It is intercessional; it is prayer. It is an extension of family and friends. “When we pray together, we are always praying on behalf of those among us who, for whatever reason, are not able to pray. …[W]e are believing for those who today have no belief left. When we give, we give also for those who cannot. Friendship heals” (Buchanan 3).

Friendship heals what anomie puts asunder. We Christians know this. It is in the secular culture that friendship is reduced to a medicinal cure or pyramid scheme. In the secular story the redemptive source remains individualistic and enigmatic. It is Jean-Paul Satre. It is Albert Camus. It is Judith in an Oates novel. It is a computer catalyst.

To those in the tribe of David, Jesus and Thomas: Over time we come to understand the might of blood, of propinquity: family and friends; we come to read clearly the story being uttered now as it has for thousands of years. We clearly deduce a hand at work on these jars of clay. It begins with the shaping of an open heart.

Here the clay pots are tattooed and pierced with metal bits. Here there are dreg locks and bald heads; here there are parents, friends, and there are lovers. Spoken word and the pages of our testimonies commingle here. Music swirls amongst our thoughts. Art of the times line our walls. We are facts of art. We are God’s artifacts.

This must be the space. This must be the space that I came searching for; a break in time; to touch God’s face, to stand in awe of an eternal beauty. This place is sensus communis and forever an expression of love and timelessness. Here there are no clocks. Walk through this portal and remain in the light.

We are super string and K lines. We are electrical spark and blinding faith. We are now and ciphered with God’s infinity. Here we erect the church built without hands. We are and will be broken clay vessels mattering not of time—that comes later—but yearning for space, in the heart, pierced by time’s arrow, where God returns to the center of our lives and the center holds.

An Andy Goldsworthy production
An Andy Goldsworthy production

A weighing of our souls: Is this the battle spoken of wherein the hearts of you and me, God and the Devil clash? Is this the “awful thing,” that is beauty, as Fyodor Dostoevsky sees it. Beauty is as “mysterious as well as terrible.” What could be terrible about beauty, other than its trance-like hold on us? In this trance is there but a tug-o-war? Is the human heart but a battlefield?

Is it played out in this place, this arts space cooperative of grunge kids and emerging church folk? I know very little about the origins of Taft, other than its loose affiliation of groups headed by a hip church—Ecclesia. The building itself sits in a neighborhood of eclectic homes of dodgy repute. Its immediate neighbor is a self-proclaimed junk store. A house behind Taft sports a church steeple in the yard to serve as a children’s play structure. The roads and sidewalks heave and pitch like undulating waves. The city din is constant and near.

Langer suggests that art, a painting, does not have meaning beyond its own presence. “In a work of art we have the direct presentation of a feeling, not a sign that points to it.” Art is rather than suggests. To put it another way: Timelessness is, it’s not suggested. God is; the art doesn’t suggest the possibility. “It formulates and objectifies experience from direct intellectual perception, or intuition, but it does not abstract a concept for discursive thought.” She goes on to say that the painting is a single entity, composed of materials that contribute, but do not in and of themselves constitute still more symbolism. It’s true that artists may use symbols in their art, but it is believed that these symbols lie on a different “semantic level,” (Langer) and that they are not a part of the larger works importance. In the end, a painting once nothing more than canvas, frame and paint is a new space, a “created apparition.”

“Music is time made audible.”

Poetry is not the result of words, but how the poet uses the words. What is being created is an appearance—of what? Langer and others say poets are attempting to have readers share an experience, recreate that experience if you will. First poetry gives us the words for the experience, perhaps words for the “unsayable said,” (Donald Hall); or simply the words for the actual experience. The tone and quality of those words is in their use in the poem itself through tension enjambments, rhyme and asymmetry. But we should be cautious in placing too much importance on the ability of the words to communicate. “…use of words is not essentially communicative” (Langer 148). “Poetic statements are no more actual statements that the peaches visible in a still life are actual dessert,” Langer said. In this way the words are not signaling, as words do as abstractions of the concrete, they are creating in time and space an image composed primarily of sound. What is created, the sensory image, is that of a shaped apparition of a new experience—shared between poet and reader. The medium is the message; nearby black holes simmer. What effect does the human extension have on us?

It is winter as I write this and in New York’s Central Park 7,500 gates have been installed with free-hanging saffron-colored fabric panels. The installation is called The Gates and it is the art work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude—individuals who were born in the same hour on the same day June 13, 1935. Christo was born Vladimirov Javacheff in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, of a Bulgarian industrialist family. Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was born in Casablanca, Morocco, of a French military family. They would first meet one another in Paris, in 1958, while Christo was working on Packages and Wrapped Objects. Their only child, the poet Cyril Christo, was born May 11, 1960. In 1964, the artists moved to New York City. Since the sixties they have been producing art outside the walls of museums and frames. They have been very busy with the world at large.

For decades, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have inspired the world with their art, which has been displayed on four continents and seen by millions. Other works by the artists include Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95; The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975-85; Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83; Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76; and Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle, Colorado, 1970-72.

What is striking about this art latest installation, in a public place, is that it exists for only a short period of time, as did most, if not all, of the artist’s work. By the end of a few weeks The Gates will be gone. What remains? What exists now outside the installation itself that we could point to and say that is art? Is the art also the problems and hurdles placed before the artists in their attempt to have the installation come to fruition? They began their quest to have The Gates installed in the park in 1979. Is the art also the public discourse over the validity of The Gates as art? What does it say when a public place is infused with a private moment—the realization one gets looking at the art, going through The Gates that they are partaking in something that has been created and that they are part of it? Is not in a park in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, 7,500 thresholds through which sojourners may enter the sacred? Since they are temporary erections, I wonder if years from now contemporaries will have to convince generations that The Gates were even there; or that Jeanne-Claude’s wispy bouffant was bottle-saffron; will we have to convince people that there was among us a man named Christo?

What of two paintings recently discovered beneath two paintings by Picasso. One was found beneath Rue de Montmartre and another was found beneath La Gommeuse. It is called underpainting, when an artist too poor to purchase a canvas will paint over an earlier, perhaps inferior work. The underpainting isn’t discovered until a collector or curator x-rays the painting or when a painting is rematted—on the reverse side of La Gommeuse a new Picasso was discovered.

Alexander The Great is buried there. In Siwa, Egypt the ephemeral nature of art is explored. Recently, in late November, for five days the desert surrounding this oasis was abloom with color—in the sky. Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang had children fly 300 kites he produced, which while in the sky ignited in an explosive blaze. This place is for this kind of exploration: Desert, temporary, wandering. Richard Long, another artist, fulfills this rather nicely recently when he walked into the desert alone to install his work: the wind blew the piece away before anyone else could see it.