Saturday, April 24, 2010

More on the Trinity

Many artists are inarticulate, really. Emotionally raw. They can't explain very well what they do. They just do it, albeit sometimes magnificently.

We have a little revolving art gallery here, so I read a fair number of artists' statements. Most tend to be vague, vapid, or sententious. Some have only the most tenuous of connections to the objects on the wall, making the reader/viewer feel stupid for "not getting it." Some are so bizarre one fears for the poor fellow's sanity.

The artist's statement here at the current exhibit is perfectly balanced, I think, between specificity and abstraction, intellect and emotion. It actually helped me in looking at the paintings!

I'll let the artist, Vincent McLoughlin, tell you what he does in his own words: "The with three. Red. Yellow. Blue. Applied opaquely, translucently, and transparently in layers of three." Then he starts to intrigue me: the three colors make him think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Plato's three-fold division of human psychology, the appetitive, the spirited, the rational; Darwin (variation, heredity, struggle for existence), Lincoln (government of, by, and for the people). A structured analysis, yet opening out to endless possibilities.

I found the paintings to look like kaleidoscope images. Crystals. No wait, they look like growing microorganisms. And look, there's an evolving eye! No, wait-- a city, a parliament, a cluster of berries! Love, growth, communion! And I liked thinking of the Trinity as the origin of it all.

In spite of the old adage to view from the distance, I found the paintings were even more intriguing close-up, once I understood the artist's technique.

Sometimes the artist is his own best critic. Certainly he should be his own best advocate.

Friday, April 16, 2010


This a stool in steady use here at the college. Sturdy and serviceable. I turned it over today and saw this:

I don't know if you can read that, but it says "1966." Forty-four years, an impressive record of service. You can look at the old college catalogs around here and see that the tables and chairs in the photos are still in use today.

Some people like that, admiring human-made articles that last and last. Richard Wilbur wrote a poem to that effect, and decried the gimcrackery of so much modern manufacture. (I just ran across it the other day; sorry, I can't remember where. But once I heard him read it!-- that was a fine afternoon.) I'm more an Ozymandias man myself. Not much of our stuff lasts.

I have an indelible image in my mind, from a newscast during the Yugoslav wars. It is of a Soviet-era tank blasting holes in the facade of a 50's or 60's style apartment building. A modern building, with clean, low lines and spare ornament. Above all, a modern building! For me, such architecture encapsulated all sorts of romantic notions about the twentieth-century world. Universal peace, world cultural exchange, scientific advancement, sophisticated art-- all just over the horizon. Jet planes, dams, reactors, rockets, the monorail--and those apartment buildings--all artifacts of a grand new civilization. And now they were being blown up!

"The end of history," they said. No, actually the beginning, or the re-beginning. "What rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"

None of our stuff will last.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hail to the Guru

What with Easter and all, I forgot to mark the anniversary of the passing of Trungpa Rinpoche. April 4 was the day. I rested under the white umbrella of his buddha-activity for many years. Chokyi Gyatso, the Eleventh Trungpa-- hail to the guru! Hail to the root guru!

He once said, "This is the great odyssey I have never feared." He was speaking of bringing Buddhism to the West, but the line was used at his funeral, appropriately. It was never really true for me, till now, with Dad's passing. The last two months have been bracing, yet comforting in a larger sense. Welcome, Sister Death, St. Francis said. Each of us must make his peace with death. As one gets older one is privileged to see, and quite often too, ordinary people exhibiting wisdom and heroism, grace and peace at their end.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and The Abyss of Light

I will lamely conflate Hans Urs von Balthasar: on Good Friday, Jesus the Son of Man suffered his Passion. Since He is divine as well, his suffering was infinite. His isolation from the Father was absolute. Into that dark abyss comes the Holy Spirit, who fills it with light. Balthasar goes on: "When what is required seems too burdensome...and our fate simply meaningless, then we have become very close to the man nailed on the Cross; all we can do is wait and endure, quite still, like the Crucified, not seeing anything, facing the dark abyss of death. Beyond this abyss there waits for us-- an abyss of light."

(Good Friday sermon from You Crown the Year with Your Goodness, Ignatius Press, 1989.)