"We have art in order not to die from the truth." Nietzsche
I'm currently teaching a class on Art, Cinema and Theology. It's built around nine boigraphic films about artists and is focused on exploring the various ways in which representation plays out--how cinema represents artists, how artsists represent themselves and the world and how theology intersects, critiques and learns form these other meaning-making systems.
It's not an art history class, but there is something of a linear schema, largely defined by the films available. Some of the fims are not great--The Agony and The Ecstasy being one, but Love is the Devil a bio-pic about Francis Bacon is one of my favourite films all the way around.
It is fairly easy to identify the way cinema presents artists--anti-establishment, isolated, people not bothered by contemporary morals or ideals, driven by a something-calling, vocation, muse that sets them apart from the rest of society. Film has created an amazingly solid icon of the artist has a certain type of person-its a reductionist stereotype that sits firmly in the Western psyche and seems to be the 'go-to' figure we often appeal to when we discuss what 'artists are like.'
The interesting stuff is at all the intersections, when we discuss an artists work, quote from their writings and consider their lives in terms of its historicity and context, their influences and the socio-cultural and sometimes religio-cultural dynamics that shaped their world.
Picasso said that art involves the 'elimination of the unnecessary,' something I think is needful in theology, people carry a lot of unnecessary theological baggage around and I personally think a more stripped-down way of thinking theologically is a far better way to go.
So far we have explored Michelangelo and the reconfiguring of human form, particulalry the male,and how the Humanist movement and the subsequent Mannerist school that developed out of that thinking gave rise to new interpreations of representations of the body...nothing to discuss theologically there of course!!:) And then we've considered the development of genre painting in the post-Reformation era-the rise of landscape, portraiture, still life etc. that was borne out of that era. We looked at the Dutch Golden Age via Vermeer and Girl with a Pearl Earring, and notions of light and darkness, technologies of painting and everyday life and spirituality in Protestant circles of the 17th century---it's been good so far, we'll see how things shake out as we keep going.