An Insight into Art

One of the biggest gaps I have seen between what most call the “Christian subculture” and culture at large is its disengagement with the arts. Somehow that subculture has gotten into its collective head that if a piece of art isn’t explicitly christian or made by an artist that is, it isn’t something we should admire or spend any time trying to understand. Even in the general culture people have little patience for trying to grasp much of ”modern” art. Part of the challenge we all face is that we haven’t been educated in art or in art history in a way that gives us a perspective or framework to do so.

Several months ago I was introduced to a podcast whose mission is to take on this challenge, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. The Lonely Palette is a Boston-based podcast that uses selected pieces from the Boston Museum of Fine Art, where the host, Tamar Avashai, offers lectures that served as the genesis of the podcasts. She covers a wide range of periods and media, sprinkling in snippets of conversations with museum-goers and their reactions to what they are seeing. The host helps the listener understand the particular piece’s historical context and often information about the artist that helps us understand what the piece is trying to say. Will you like all the pieces having heard this background? I doubt it. But you will at least come closer to understanding why it is what it is.

As Christians, it’s important that we seek to appreciate art because it is one of the things in mankind that most reflects the image of God. It’s not necessarily the content of the pieces that do this, though it can be, but it is really the process of creating them that does this. I believe that when God created man in his image one of the key aspects of that image was creativity and the desire to create. Just like everything else about God’s creation, this was corrupted as a result of sin, but a glimmer of creativity still remains. Yes, it’s often used to create things that aren’t beautiful to us, in fact the very definition of beauty is up for debate as part of the corruption. But even if the things created are not beautiful and the people that create them are overtly fallen, the creative impulse reflects God’s image and we should seek to at least understand and appreciate that about those works. Avashai’s approach helps us do that, and I encourage you to listen, learn, and appreciate the pieces she highlights, and enjoy the engaging, entertaining presentation.

Reading Culture Rightly

How should we think about viewing, reading, and participating in the products of contemporary culture? This article by Alex Duke posted at The Gospel Coalition provides a very helpful guide to how we ought to think about and approach this issue. Though it is written with a focus on movies, using a recent documentary film on the life of British singer Amy Winehouse, the principles he outlines can be, and I think should be, applied to other forms as well.

I hope you will read the article and comment.

Review of “Mr. Holmes”

Imagine what it would be like for a man whose whole life had depended on the acuity of his mental faculties, his sharp reason, and his ability to recall minute details from his past to begin to experience the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. In the film, Mr. Holmes, we are presented with this scenario. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes is nearing the end of his life.

Based on Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind written in 2005, this film is set just after the end of World War II. Holmes has returned from a trip to post-war Japan in search of a remedy for his failing memory. He has become obsessed with remembering the details of his last case, and is desperately trying to recall its specifics. His interactions with Roger, the young son of his housekeeper, are the keys that begin to unlock his memory, which returns in spurts throughout the film.

Holmes is wonderfully played by award-winning actor Ian McKellen, recently known for playing Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. His is a different Holmes than the manic version recently interpreted by Benedict Cumberbatch, or the Jeremy Brett version of thirty years ago. McKellen gives us a picture of the decay of the massive intellect and sharp mind of Conan Doyle’s character. McKellen, 76 years old himself, brings this character to life in a way that is honest and completely believable. The nuances of expression give us a sense of the frustration of a man who knows that he once knew something, but is unable to call it to mind on command.

Laura Linney, as the housekeeper Mrs. Munro, brings a realism to a character who has lost a husband to the recent war and is wrestling with her future and that of her young son. While she recognizes the limitations of her lack of education, there is an underlying sense that she is trying to work out how to provide the best opportunities for Roger’s future. She sees Holmes’ decline and is making plans for the next stage in her life.

Roger is a prodigy. The interactions between this brilliant child, wonderfully played by Milo Parker, and Holmes are the best part of the film. The contrast between the two characters at opposite ends of their lives is dramatic, and yet their similarities create a bond between them that strengthens over the course of the story. Roger is the light that helps Holmes break through the fog of his failing memory.

As a long-time fan of the Sherlock Holmes character, I was curious about this film. While there is a detective story at the core of the plot, this is a film about a man wrestling with the value and meaning of his life’s work, with seeing the end of his life just over the horizon, and with coming to terms with the failing faculties on which he has depended. It is a beautiful film, masterfully acted, and well-written.

Although McKellen has been nominated, he has never won an Oscar. This may be the role that finally brings him that recognition. Linney’s performance is also worthy of consideration. Milo Parker’s performance as Roger rivals that of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense or Mary Badham in To Kill A Mockingbird in maturity and impact. It would not be a surprise to see him among the nominees for Best Supporting Actor.

While it may not be out much longer, it is worth seeing on the big screen if you can.