Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Monumental Judgment

Last month I posted on the interconnection of form and content. In that post I used a negative example, but now I'd like to provide a positive example of good judgment in artistic media. The most recent edition of Imprimis features a lecture by Michael J. Lewis on "The Decline of American Monuments and Memorials." Lewis understands the answer to two very basic questions that direct good judgment:

What is a monument?

What is a monument for?

Since he knows these answers, Lewis is also able to deal with what materials and styles express well what a monument is and what a monument is for. I love some of the quotes from his speech.

[The Eisenhower and King memorials] fail fundamentally as monuments, not because they misunderstand the nature of their subject, but because they misunderstand what a monument is, or should be.

I can't help thinking that Roosevelt himself was much more gifted in creating inspiring visual imagery than the makers of his monument.

Monuments and memorials today are discursive, sentimental, addicted to narrative literalism, and asking to be judged on good intentions rather than visual coherence.

...the conviction...became widespread in the 1960s, that we do not need formal conventions, but rather authenticity and sincerity - that we do not need etiquette, but rather honesty. 

Allegory requires an imaginative act, and is literary, whereas our culture is uncomfortable with figurative language. This began around 1977, the moment the language censors began to attack phrases like "Man does not live on bread alone," asking "What about women?" A painful literalism set in, which is hostile to figurative language in speech and to abstract allegory in art....It is not surprising that a culture ill at ease with the notion of absolute truth would find it very difficult to make monuments that show urgency and conviction.

[Read the whole thing here.]

I submit this to you because the best way to learn good judgment yourself is to carefully observe those who exercise it well. Good judgment can never be reduced to a packet of information. It is just as much an art form as the monuments which Lewis critiques. So, pay attention to those who are truly wise and are not snookered by the relativism all around us. This kind of judgment may seem monumental to those around you, but it is necessary for mature Christian living.

High Country Baptist Church of Colorado Springs

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