Day 2

...of Credo did not disappoint. The early morning started with artist Bill Komodore, an expert on color. A few facts I learned from this charming Greek artist:

1. Strangely, Egyptians used the color black to symbolize happiness and white to convey death.
2. Dogs can see a color that humans cannot.
3. The terms editive and subtractive colors. He did not offer definitions, so I will research.
4. Color is actually seen in your brain. He proceeded to explain exactly how our eyes and brains see color. My notes are sadly choppy, but I was mesmerized to hear how God created our complex eyeballs and brains. More research to do.
5. He likened the art of Gauguin, Cezanne, and Matisse to stained-glass windows and I agree. He also said Matisse did not understand color. Since Komodore studied under Mark Rothko, I trust his judgment. Komodore mentioned Rothko's book The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art. I assume it is targeted to painters, but since I'm a Rothko fan I plan to peruse.
6. A painter's personality is revealed through their color palette.
7. Some cultures are literally more colorblind than others. I remember Komodore said Latin American countries have a higher percentage of colorblind people. He highly recommended the book The Island of the Colorblind by Oliver Sacks and after his description it is on my wish list.
8. Komodore was in a war (he didn't specify) and he recalls memories in color before and after the war, but his memories from during the war are always in black and white. He mentioned this in reference to the movie Letters from Iwo Jima and how it was filmed.
9. There were a few students rudely whispering during his description of the beautiful, intricate process used to paint Christian icons. He frankly admonished them - if they are not interested in icon painting, they should drop out of painting immediately.
10. There is evidence that a long time ago, people were unable to see the color violet.

After Komodore, Dr. Siglind Bruhn explained Olivier Messiaen's Oratorio on the Transfiguration. In the Credo bulletin Bruhn wrote, "I want to show that, just as the bright splendor surrounding the transfigured Jesus both reveals and veils his divine nature, so do Messiaen's veiled musical signifiers help to reveal impressions that transcend verbal description." I was seated next to my violinist friend Christina who quickly jotted down lavish notes, but to be honest, Bruhn's lecture was over my head. I love many genres of music and I even turn the car radio to classical music now and then (I love piano pieces), but I've never studied music theory like Christina or my husband. As I looked at Dr. Bruhn's detailed handout I got lost and grasped onto more familiar items: Latin-English translations, bird calls interspersed in Messiaen's choral meditation, the number five symbolizes Jesus (5 wounds, etc.), and the yellow iris symbolizes forgiveness. The fact that there are bird calls in this grand piece of music somehow reminds me of Sufjan Stevens. I gave the handout to Johnny.

During the next lecture my blood sugar dropped as it is infamous to do when I am hungry and tired. To no fault of Jim Edwards, I had trouble focusing, but it was truly interesting. He discussed three American artists and their relationship and work in the desert: Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake, Nancy Holt's installation The Sun Tunnels in Utah's Great Basin Desert, and James Magee's assemblages in and around El Paso, TX, and his poems. Edwards mentioned what he read to us has been published which I need to find.

After a lunch break, new pens from the bookstore, and a cup of coffee in hand, I listened to Gregory Wolfe expound on literature. His lecture was titled "Shouts and Whispers" or "Unlikely Saints." And aren't we all unlikely. He compared modern and postmodern Christian writers and mentioned that both types, especially contemporary writers, inspired him to start Image journal. Examples of modern writers are Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, and George Bernanos - their response to problems of modernity was to "shout" through literature using grand themes, big canvases, and verifiable drama.

Postmodern or contemporary writers such as Doris Betts, Oscar Hijuelos, Alice McDermott, and Marilynne Robinson "whisper" through their novels about ordinary people in 9-to-5 life where nothing cataclysmic happens, but a whisper of truth emanates from each story. Gilead is a great example of a whispering book - an elderly man sitting in a small nowhere town writing to his son. Wolfe pointed out that his voice would never be heard by the masses were it not for Marilynne Robinson.

Gegory Wolfe also cultivated my to-be-read and wish lists:
Diary of a Country Priest by George Bernanos
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Souls Raised From the Dead by Doris Betts
Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos
Charming Billy by Alice McDermott

The next speaker was funny in that I expected a male, James Turrell, an artist who designed the Live Oak Friends Meeting House. But the speaker was actually a female, Terrell James, a painter who discussed the spiritual in the work of Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock, The Menil, Rothko Chapel, and yes, James Turrell's Live Oak light-art, and his light tunnel attached to The Museum of Fine Arts. People like me often confuse the two artists and she receives many calls intended for James Turrell.

One particular aspect I loved about Terrell James's lecture was her adoration of light. I personally love watching light change throughout the day and find the soft shades of dusk and dawn the most beautiful and ethereal. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the novel Gilead is how John Ames describes light. James said that light is a metaphor for the spiritual. She talked about bringing light forth from paint, very mysterious since I am not a painter. And interestingly enough, she said that we are most efficient at dawn and dusk when our pupils are strongest. Even more research to add to my list.

I mentally debated back and forth - should I linger for the panel discussion or go home and take a nap? I decided to stay and that was the correct decision. The panel included Marilynne Robinson, Mary McCleary, and Gregory Wolfe. Dr. Louis Markos of HBU was the moderator; he compiled a list of quotes by the panel participants to discuss and asked them personal questions as well. Seriously - read this passage from Gilead by Robinson:

"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light... Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except the willingness to see. Only who could have the courage to see it?... Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm."

Markos asked Robinson to read that quote and she reads like the voice of Gilead. Though the novel is narrated by a man, she reads with the same dignity, fatigue, dry wit, gentleness, and wisdom.

"There is more beauty than our eyes can bear." Robinson said that art is a discipline of focus on that beauty. Please don't take me for pretentious, but I see the fire and light beauty and then it fades. And when it fades, learning from artistic sages such as these helps to kindle.


allison said...

Don't know if it's me or your site but anything I click on disappears. It was almost impossible to leave a comment. I haven't had this problem on other blogspot sites and it's only happened on your for the last couple of days...has anyone else noticed??

Anyway, assuming this will post, thanks so much for the wonderful coverage of what sounds like a fantastic gathering. My faux pas on Terrell!

Jenni said...

Allison, what browser are you using? That happens to me sometimes when I use Safari, but when I use Firefox it never happens. Thanks for letting me know! We will look into it.

If anyone else reading this blog notices the problem Allison described, please let me know.

Amy C. Moreno said...

Wow Jenni!! You LUCKY woman (blessed really) to be hearing all of this info. I'm going to go back and print it out later read the references and into. I loved hearing about the whispering books....excellent info.