Sunday, 22 February 2009

Modern Art

On my day off I went to London to the Tate Modern and a number of things struck me. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that art is no different to anything else - the excellent stands head and shoulders above the good. I had assumed - not being an art afficionado - that good artists painted good pictures - and for all I know the experts might agree - but my observation was that even good artists paint lesser pieces. I would perhaps compare it to sport where there are certain performers who can raise their sport to a different level. So for example I enjoy watching good quality rugby (shame I'm an England supporter right now) but even Premiership games leave me unmoved. And sometimes there are performers who will take a sport that no one watches and make it unmissable, Torvill and Dean perhaps?
Then there was the appearance of some of these lesser pieces. Some looked to me no better than things that I have seen in schools. That set me thinking about the difference between modern art and older art. Some of the modern art had little physical skill in its production - anyone could have produced it (one of the pieces was reproduced each installation by staff following the artists instructions) whereas the Old Masters appear to me to require considerable techincal ability to produce. So what is it that makes something art? Is it the technical ability required to produce it, or is it the emotional reaction that it generates? What I found interesting was that there were some pieces which generated an emotional reaction without looking like "art".
And that made me think about how that relates to religion. Worship is about giving praise to God, and prayer about communicating with God - but these can happen in a variety of ways - the important thing is that they happen - not the format in which they happen.

Oh, and the picture... One of the surprises of the day. Although no art afficionado I know that Jackson Pollock dripped paint onto canvas, what I didn't know was that he also painted pictures!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Funeral Thoughts

My dad died 4 weeks ago today - the first close bereavement that I have suffered. The time since has been one of conflicting emotions and experiences, and it seemed good to reflect on them here.

I wrote the tribute, with the help of my brothers and an old CV we found, and read it at his funeral. This is something that I know many clergy encourage - and I don't believe just for selfish reasons. Indeed I was going to follow suit as I thought it seemed a good idea. However, having done it I am less certain. There is a lot to be said for the writing of it, after all who better to get the facts right and to say what they want to say than the family, although we can also be blinkered in how we see those close to us (the vicar encouraged short vignettes from others as well as the tribute and it was amazing what we learnt about dad). It was also helpful in thinking through what we felt and thought about dad. But... when it came to the funeral itself I found it a distraction - knowing that I had the tribute to deliver meant that for a good deal of time I was focussed on that - and hence on suppressing emotions that would otherwise have been released - emotions which then took another 10 days to finally break out. I can't be sure that I wouldn't have suppressed them anyway - but it has given me serious cause for thought.

The other thing which hit me was the power of music. Four days after my dad's funeral I attended the funeral of a member of the congregation. I sat in the pews, having agreed that this was the most sensible thing for me to do. As the service progressed I thought I was OK - no real flashbacks - and then it hit me - we sang "Thine be the Glory", the final hymn at dad's funeral - the repressed emotions broke through - though not completely - that took another week and the help of a good friend. This is a well known occurrence - whilst training we had a weekend on death and dying and various pieces of music were played and someone had to run out when a particular piece - which had been played at a recent funeral - was heard. An explanation of this can be found here - after all what stronger emotion can there be than grief at a death - and music can be evocative at the best of times. This opens up for me a question to which I don't have the answer! Does that make it sensible or not to have treasured music played at a funeral?

  • Pros
  • It works in reverse and the music brings back happy memories
  • The linking of the music to the feelings of grief will facilitate the grieving process after the funeral

  • Con
  • A good piece of music spoilt!

  • Question
  • Will the linkage work for ever, or will the impact be lessened as the process of grieving progresses?

Do let me know your thoughts - after all, I shall be helping others through this for a few years yet, and the more information I have the better I shall be able to do it.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Celebrity Lives - Know and be known?

It may not be an original thought - but the other day I caught sight of the front page of the Sun detailing Jade Goody's cancer. This set me thinking about the role of celebrities and celebrity gossip. Village life, even today as my friends in villages tell me, is a place where everyone knows everybody else, and no one can have any secrets, yet in big towns and cities this is not the case. There are theories about why this is (why can you never Google something when you want it?) - noting that in large towns people avoid looking at others - you only need to travel on the tube to see this in action - and yet perhaps there is something there - we long to know and be known - and yet we are also drawn towards anonymity.

Celebrities - particularly those who are primarily famous for being famous - sacrifice their anonymity in return for money - and yet there is nothing mutual about it - for although they are known they do not know.

Is this good? At least people will know someone. Or is it bad because it allows us to know without being known? I will opt for bad - I think that it is actually the being known - and accepted for what we are - that matters. If celebrities and soap operas allow us to get our "fix" of "knowing" without having to be known then we are the poorer for it.

St Benedict saidsomething similar (far more concisely) "The fifth step of humility is that we do not conceal from the abbot or prioress any sinful thoughts entering our hearts, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confess them humbly." Joan Chittister in her commentary on this says "The struggles we hide, psychologists tell us, are the struggles that consume us. Benedict's instruction, centuries before an entire body of research arose to confirm it, is that we must cease to wear our masks, stop pretending to be perfect and accept the graces of growth that can come to us from the wise and gentle hearts of people of quality around us." (The book is serialised here over 4 months and the passage above can be seen in roughly February, June and October).
If we avoid being known then we are free to maitain those masks - both to others and to ourselves - which prevent us from growing.


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