In Defense of Art

Category:  BloggERy
Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 at 10:23 PM
In Defense of Art by Jay Stevens

 In the latest issue of the Erie Reader, Luke Gehring had this to say about "Icons in Transformation," an exhibit of Ludmila Pawlowska's works of inspiration from traditional Orthodox Christian icons currently shown at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and an exhibit the critic never attended.

"Holy icons belong to the church alone, period." Gehring criticized the reception for the images as "inappropriate for holy things," claimed its choice of date was "insensitive" to the church schedule, said the cathedral's dean "has no credentials" to give remarks on the exhibit. Gehring questioned the venue's right to show icons to people who do not venerate them and questioned the artist's right to create her own work in reaction to them.

"Personal creativity as such is of no particular value," wrote Gehring. 

I do not know Mr. Gehring and do not intend to hurt or injure the man in any way. In some sense, his commentary on the icon exhibit is an admirable and passionate and, yes, a very personal expression of religious belief. Still, I suddenly find myself in the unenviable position of having to defend art from our own art critic.

First, it's a strange battle. "Icons in Transformation" has been exhibited in cathedrals across the world. It's been called "dramatic" and "must-see," but never has drawn any criticism. Perhaps that's because the intent of the show is celebretory, and not critical or controversial.

Or because most oppose the idea that certain art forms belong exclusively to certain groups. Yes, there is the danger of exploitation of certain art forms -- Gehring brought up the example of Hopi Kachinas in a Facebook comment -- but that's a danger of a large and predatory culture threatening to extinguish a minority group and tradition. But forbidding an artist from incorporating any influence or idea in an act of personal expression is...well...reactionary. And anti-art.

Art is an inherent act of personal self expression. It challenges institutions of religion, government, and social norms. It is regenative.

"It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, “invisibly”, inside us," wrote the poet, Rainer Marie Rilke. To Rilke, the task of the artist is to dive down into the depths of being and resurface with some beautiful and incomplete scrap of personal communication with the world.

"Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism," wrote Rilke. "Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them."

Any commentary on art, then, should start and end with love for the attempt.

[Editors note - Read Luke Gehring's review here. Also, read the Very Rev. John Paul Downey's reaction to Luke's review here. Then, let us know what you think by clicking here!]

Erie Reader: Vol. 5, No. 20
Now Available — Pick It Up Today


Lyons Den Productions shares the incredible news of their upcoming eco-horror film, Unearth.

Hip-hop meets cat sounds in the wonderfully weird Meow The Jewels.

High school football provides priceless entertainment. 

Rain barrels are reimagined into works of art for “Don’t Give Up the Drip.”


The human body is capable of amazing things.


High school football provides priceless entertainment. 

Rain barrels are reimagined into works of art for “Don’t Give Up the Drip.”


The human body is capable of amazing things.

The Rocky Horror Show is the most interactive musical in theatrical history — the audience is half the fun. 

The Martian, a film adapted from a sci-fi novel, is set to release on Oct. 3. 

More than 60 artists’ works will be on display at the Woman’s Club of Erie in their 3rd Annual Fine Art Gallery Show. 

Tyler Smilo and Max Garcia Conover put on a lesson in modern folk.

 Goat, Kyozin Yueni Dekai, and Johnny James and the Indeterminates will be bringing the noise to Erie Ale Works.

The emblematic relationship between EPS and the City of Erie.

Channel your aggression the right way by punching your ticket to see veteran rockers Godsmack and Rob Zombie play Erie Insurance Arena.