Wednesday, August 1

Jacob Collins

Over the course of the past year or so, I have been following the work of the artist Jacob Collins. He is one of the leading practitioners of Classical Realism and the dean of two art schools that, like his paintings, harken back to a bygone era of apprenticeship, craftsmanship, and beauty. His work is extraordinary. His commitment to raise up a whole new generation of fine artists is even more extraordinary. And this from a very young man!

I first became aware of Collins when he staged a spectacular one-man show at the prestigious John Pence Gallery.

Then I read a fascinating interview in the New Criterion.

My interest was further peaked when I read a profile of the artist and his wife, author Ann Brashares, in the New York Times.

Then, this past week as I read a MSNBC piece on the impact of Evangelical Christians on the arts--featuring the inscrutable abstract work of Makoto Fujimura--I was struck by the strange paradox of the loud and garish publicity of Modernity standing over and against the quiet substantiveness of Christendom.

15 comments:

Scott Head said...

Dr. Grant,

In your opinion, how do we as Christians handle art that holds dear the Platonic/Greek ideals of the human form as the standard of beauty as opposed to a more orthodox aesthetic as outlined by some Christians. I mean that what is good, beautiful and true seems like it would conform to all scripture in terms of modesty and what we hold as ideal.

Looking for your thoughts on this issue, since I respect your opinion but am a little surprised by the artist you highlight. I don't pretend to not endorse academic art, and am indeed a fan of artists who attempt to embrace the traditional academy and atelier model, but where does the nude figure figure into a Christian art appreciation if we do not hold a Greek ideal of form?

George said...

Scott: I think you're right. When we look at artists in the past who had a more thorough and consistent Biblical worldview, both the Platonic and the Aristotelian tendencies of classicism diminish dramatically. Take for instance the work of the Dutch Masters or the Hudson River School. The human form poses particular difficulties because it is itself a remarkable and glorious aspect of Creation. Alas, our own thinking has been skewed so grotesquely by both Modernity's Bacchanalian Aesthetic and Antiquity's Apollonarian Aesthetic that we are often left us with only a pornographic context for the nude form. And of course, neither of these Nietzschean categories are in the least bit Biblical. The bottom line is that artists like Collins struggle, often without clear moral guidelines from a church too long divorced from the arts, to find their way alone.

Johnny! said...

My struggle is not necessarily with the nude figure in a painting, but with trying to find a place for the acceptability of the Christian artist uncovering the nakedness of a person to whom he isn't married, or uncovering his spouse's nakedness to the rest of us. And then I wonder if there's a weirder issue of him coming up with a nude figure out of his own head. At the same time I don't want to embrace a "Victorian sensibilities" prudishness, to use Wilson's term. Any thoughts there, Dr. Grant?

Brian said...

Good question Johnny! I've been struggling with this as well. Is there any room or reason for the nude figure in the art of a Christian? My particular medium is photography. I've seen some really great nude photos. Then I've seen photos that I don't consider nudes but photos of naked people. I don't know if I can concretely define the difference. Painting, to some extent, might well be quite different as the image can come from the mind rather than the literal. However I don't know that there is a difference there for the Christian.

I'm very interested in your thoughts!

Scott Head said...

Thanks for addressing it Dr. Grant, I struggle with understanding the bounds that God has established within which we are to enjoy his revelation in his created order and the beauty inherent therein. Being saturated in a culture that has perverted that order and made that perversion normative, it is difficult to grasp a Biblical view of the arts in regard to the human form while still surrounded by so many influences. I tend to err on the side of caution, knowing that, personally, my 'cultural' saturation of the past has tainted my perception. While God restores, sanctifies and heals the mind, scars seem to be permanent. How does God-honoring art re-capture all that is good in creating after our Creator, when we have demolished our perception of His creation so drastically? That rhetorical question may not have clean answer.

George said...

Scott, Johnny, and Brian: I think erring on the side of caution is the better part of holiness in this poor fallen world. Where things get tricky is when we want those around us to do as we do in that regard--that's when we start imposing extra-Biblical standards and become little better than Pharisees or Philistines.

Jason Parolini said...

Dr. Grant,
Well said. Thank you for tackling that difficult topic.As a female painter I personally don't have a problem painting the nude form and think it's the only way for a painter to get better accuracy at caputuring a realistic rendering of the human form. During the time of the Renaissance and later Flemish painters actually studied cadavers. I guess there's always that option. I say no thanks. I like my models living they're more beautiful that way.

Mamalini

Kurt said...

"Where things get tricky is when we want those around us to do as we do in that regard--that's when we start imposing extra-Biblical standards and become little better than Pharisees or Philistines."

Dr. Grant,

Are you saying that since God does not definitively give us direction one way or another by Scriptural precept, principle, or pattern, the Church can not teach or come to a conclusion on this matter, and therefore, God leaves it up to us as a personal preference? In other words, you are saying that God does not speak to this moral issue?

George said...

Kurt: God speaks clearly on all moral issues. There are times when a culture's mores impede us from seeing Biblical directives more clearly. Thus, my remark was in reference to my first comment that, "Our own thinking has been skewed so grotesquely by both Modernity's Bacchanalian Aesthetic and Antiquity's Apollonarian Aesthetic that we are often left us with only a pornographic context for the nude form. And of course, neither of these Nietzschean categories are in the least bit Biblical. The bottom line is that artists like Collins struggle, often without clear moral guidelines from a church too long divorced from the arts, to find their way alone."

Kurt said...

Dr. Grant,

Please forgive me if I sound "pharisaical"...but given that we Christians are still a work in progress toward perfect righteous thinking, is it wise for us to be providing links to artists' websites where realistic nude paintings are posted? And would it make any difference if these artists also post realistic paintings of a husband and wife engaged in the joyous, the glorious, and the ultimate of God's procreative act?

George said...

Kurt: I don't think you meant to say "us." You're asking "me" if I think it is wise to link to this artist--whose works consist of far more than the objectionable material you're focusing in on. And then you further complicate your very pointed non-hypothetical question with a very pointed hypothetical question that is not suggested by the work of the artist or by the ensuing discussion. This only reiterates my assertion that "our own thinking has been skewed so grotesquely by both Modernity's Bacchanalian Aesthetic and Antiquity's Apollonarian Aesthetic that we are often left us with only a pornographic context for the nude form."

Kurt said...

Dr. Grant,

Once again, please forgive me. I must be one of those whose "thinking has been skewed so grotesquely" that it would be better for the likes of me to best stay away from such "enlightened" avenues. God bless.

Jenni said...

Dr. Grant, I love Jacob Collins's art - it is stunning. Do you happen to know if he's a Christian or not?

George said...

Jenni: I do not have first-hand knowledge of Collins' faith. But, I have a friend in NYC who tells me that he has seen the family--Jacob, his wife Ann, and their three children--at Redeemer Presbyterian Church there in midtown Manhattan. On another note, I too love the trailer for the new Sigur Ros filmHeima. What a remarkable group of artists those guys are!

kalepa ta kala said...

Thank you for bringing out some awareness for this artist! I hope to learn much from studying his works in the future. His work is wonderful, gracious, and thought-provoking.
God bless!
Kala