Monday, December 21, 2009

Good book About the Art World

I'm reading a very interesting book: Seven Days in the Art World, by Sarah Thornton. It caught my eye as I was in Barnes & Noble the other day and I'm glad I picked it up.

The author is a sociologist with a background in art history. She provides an intriguing inside look into the various subcultures that make up the "art world."

Here are a few quotes from her introduction:

The contemporary art world is a loose network of overlapping subcultures held together by a belief in art (p. xi).
[C]ontemporary art has become a kind of alternative religion for atheists (p. xiv).
Although the art world reveres the unconventional, it is rife with conformity (p. xv).

The art world is not a "system" or smooth-functioning machine but rather a conflicted cluster of subcultures--each of which embraces different definitions of art (p. xix).
 The second quote above is especially provocative. I suspect it is a fairly accurate observation.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Selfishness and True Charity are Mutually Exclusive

Is it truly Christian to do a good thing for someone else because I am secretly looking forward to some sort of personal reward from God?

When Christians talk about performing a charitable service in the context of encouraging others to join them they often say, as an enticement, something like, "and you get back so much more than you give." While this may be true, I do not like how common this emphasis has become.

Sometimes such an exhortation primarily emphasizes the benefits to the charitable giver and the benefits to those in need only secondarily. The benefits to others are merely an afterthought. It's as though the person trying to encourage charitable behavior were saying, "If you want lots of spiritual benefits to come into your life, do good things for others. God likes this and will reward you for it. Oh, and by the way, other people benefit also."

This is not an appropriate attitude for anyone who genuinely seeks to imitate Jesus Christ. He did not seem to be the sort of person who said to Himself, "If I do this good thing for this person, yes he will benefit, but I will also get a big reward as well, so I think I'll do it." No. This sort of attitude is selfish and therefore far from the mind of Christ.

When we engage in doing something charitable for others, seeking benefits for ourselves should never be our primary motivation. The fact that we might experience personal spiritual fruits in the course of doing good deeds ought not be the foremost thing in our minds. If it is, our motivation for doing the good work is tainted. We have turned it into an act of selfishness.

When we do good things for others, we should not be thinking of ourselves. Rather, we should be thinking of the other person(s), and how much they, as a child of God, are worthy of our love and sacrifice. Our interior attitude as we perform charitable works should be other-centered, not self-centered. I should not care whether I will benefit when I do a good deed; I should care entirely about the others I am helping and how I can be of service to them.

In some Christian circles it is an all-too-common phenomenon to be mainly interested in the blessings we receive ourselves when we do good deeds for others. This is a perversion of the Christian faith, and is certainly not the example set for us by Christ. If we have to be enticed into loving others by the carrot of receiving a personal reward of whatever form, we have not even begun to comprehend what it means to imitate Christ. We should love because every human being is worthy of nothing less, no matter what happens to ourselves in the process, no matter the personal cost.

We Americans seem to be big on seeking rewards. But staying at this level, that of expecting a reward for everything we do, is ultimately childish. There comes a time when we must put childish things behind us, begin living more as adults and stop looking for rewards; and instead, seek to learn from Jesus how we might give more and more of ourselves away for the benefit of others.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Yo-Yo Ma on Artistic Collaboration

I discovered an interesting set of podcasts. Sony Music has something they call, "Sony Masterworks Podcasts." Included in this is a section on the recordings of cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
And in this section is a podcast titled,
"Musical Friends, Trust, & Collaboration."

In this particular podcast, Yo-Yo Ma talks about what is needed for a good musical collaboration. I transcribed a section of this. I think these remarks apply not only for music, but for any artistic collaboration.

Preconditions for great musical collaboration. Of course there's no formula for chemistry. If there were, there would be great chemistry all the time. But if you had to put approximations of what might be good chemistry between people, I think good chemistry can only occur when two people are ready for it, when people are actually open to it. If one person is closed off, and the other person is willing, you can't have a great musical collaboration. So it's a timely thing, because not everybody is open all the time; and not everybody is closed all the time, hopefully. . . But, there are certain moments when people can be open to each other and to something maybe similar or different; like-minded people--they're searching. . . Once people are open there is the willingness to share what they know--the willingness to not just own and say, "This is mine, you can't play with my toys." But, rather, "This is my toy. And you can play with it. Try this." Or, "Try that. Take it into your room. See what it does in your room." Then, there has to be enough mutual respect from both people to say, "Look, I don't really love your toy but I really like you. So maybe I'll play with your toy and then I discover that your toy is really interesting." So, you have to have some predisposition for respect, that you are willing to take a certain risk. . . [A great collaboration] has to honor the fact that two people are willing to take a certain risk, to trust each other, to be vulnerable to the other person, to have enough respect for each other as well as for yourself that you can be vulnerable and not feel that you are making a fool of yourself. . . All of those preconditions I think are important. . . . I think trust is an essential element in collaboration. . . You have to be willing to jump and have the other person catch you.

So, as pointed out by Yo-Yo Ma, these are especially important themes for a fruitful artistic collaboration (these all apply mutually to the collaborators):
  • openness
  • willingness to share
  • respect (for yourself as well as for each other)
  • willingness to take risks
  • trust
  • vulnerability
[images from the Internet Cello Society photo archive]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Wexford Carol; A Beautiful, Ancient Christmas Song Sung by Alison Krauss

Happy Advent to all! This is the first week of the Advent season--the season of waiting in quiet expectation for the coming of Jesus into the world.

I am not a fan of overdoing Christmas-themed celebrations before the actual day of Christmas. I think there is wisdom in following the Catholic Church's lead on this, of waiting for the big day and then celebrating for a period of days afterwords. Pre-Thanksgiving Christmas hoopla definitely strikes me as too early, and sadly, brought about primarily for commercial reasons, not reasons of faith.

But, making concession for reality, I want to post this video now instead of waiting for Christmas Day.

Here is a hauntingly beautiful Irish Christmas song, The Wexford Carol, in the style of a Celtic ballad, sung by Alison Krauss and accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma on Cello (Natalie MacMaster plays violin). It dates back to the 12th century.
[For the lyrics see here]

To hear Yo-Yo Ma comment on this song and Alison's singing, go to the podcast here.