I painted the above to express in simpler terms the many words I was chewing through. Of course Bob Dylan would completely disown me for explaining a work of art, but sometimes growing up means going against our mentors : ) .
Consider the right panel: the work starts with strict boundaries on the left – everything is clearly defined and of a solid color. As we move across – like a timeline – we see what was once neat becoming blurred, less defined, messy. Life still goes along, rich(er) with color, but no longer categorized as it once was.
If it’s no surprise to us in the present day that this piece is titled, “Deconstruction”, neither would it have surprised our ancestors. It’s nothing new to discover the world is not as it seemed. I’ve been finding friends through history, each of them deserving a more in depth look, but as a start:
Picasso had the skill of a realist painter but questioned whether realism was all that real. Maybe the paintings that accurately described the world around us, didn’t. Stripping away all but a few grotesquely exaggerated elements, cubism was born.
He wasn’t alone – Monet in his impressionism, Cezanne in his post-impressionism, Stein in her purposely broken grammar, all became disillusioned with contemporary art’s expression of the world, and used their creativity to shine a light on it.¹ Critics saying these artists had a skewed view of the world missed their point: even the mainstream view of the world has a skew.
Moving back in history, think of the deconstruction Galileo caused when his evidence pointed, against all odds, that the universe did not revolve around humans and their planet. It’s probably hard for us to understand how much identity and theology had been built around this mis-information. This simple scientific observation triggered de-construction for many and potential de-capitation for one.
Among authors through history, how many have taken to the pen to describe their movement out of or into faith (To name a motley few: Augustine, Christian Wiman, Bob Dylan)? Without too much analysis, this includes many biblical writers as well, though some like St. Paul were writing during a time of surety, reflecting back on ‘where they once were’, almost as if their painting would read from right to left. But then we are gifted with Job and David too, left to right, from answers to questions, from delineated to deconstructed.
Like the artwork above, faith and life look different as time moves by. But still we see the same colors on both sides, mixed or pure, calling from the canvas. Asking us to consider if some of the lines we thought un-crossable, might serve our faith better with a little leeway. And when some of the blurry lines are tightened up, we then hold it in the humility of understanding they will be questioned again.
Newport Folk Festival
With Dylan on my mind, I’m thinking about the legend of the Newport Folk Festival in
1965. Breaking with folk music tradition by playing an electric guitar, he was booed by the purists, left the stage and didn’t come back to Newport for 37 years.² “No acoustic, no folk; know acoustic, know folk!”, the crowd might have chanted, as Galileo’s critics might have shouted onto his stage, “no geocentric, no faith; know geocentric, know faith!”.
Dylan saw there was a deeper truth to folk music that wasn’t defined by the instrument being played. I can’t resist wondering if, standing on stage with his electric guitar splashing light into his fans’ horrified eyes, the ever-prophetic Dylan was smiling, “Someday this will all make sense.”³
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
¹Jonah Lehrer’s ties some of these pieces together in his well-researched book, Proust was a Neuroscientist.
²There are of course different viewpoints on the booing that day, enough to have its own wiki page
³ Hard not to think of Marty McFly’s Back to the Future moment after breaking from Chuck Berry style electric into a more 80’s style solo, “Guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet… but your kids are going to love it.”