The Writing Room: If It’s Religious, Can It Be Art?

Bearing the Mystery:Twenty Years of Image

Bearing the Mystery. Jacket art, Steve Hawley, c 2000.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Can a religious person be an real artist these days?

Can ”great” art address matters spiritual in the modern era?

In his introduction to Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of Image, Gregory Wolfe quotes a 2008 New Republic literary critic who asserts that ”the absence of God from our literature feels so normal, so self-evident, that one realizes with a shock how complete it is.”

Not so, says Wolfe. God is not at all absent from the contemporary art scene.  Wolfe cites as just one example the fact that books by three “intensely Christian writers” held top spots in the New York Times tally of Americans’ favorite twentieth century novels. The authors? Marilynne Robinson, John Updike and Cormac McCarthy.

Wolfe is the founder of Image, a journal based on the premise that art and faith are not mutually exclusive. Four times a year, Image offers fiction, non-fiction, poetry and criticism, along with several glossy pages devoted to the visual arts.  

Bearing the Mystery presents the work of nearly seventy writers and more than twenty visual artists, all gleaned from the pages of Image journal’s first twenty years. Some of the artists address  Christian or Jewish themes directly. Others explore the spiritual questions less overtly. The writers include Ron Hansen, Denise Levertov, Marilyn Nelson, Ann Pachett, Kathleen Norris and Richard Rodriguez.

And so — if you are wondering whether it’s possible to grapple with issues of religion and spirituality and still maintain your integrity as an artist, this book is the place to get some answers.

© 2009 Barbara Falconer Newhall

Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of Image, Gregory Wolfe, ed., Eerdmans, 2009, $30, hardcover.

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© 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 Barbara Falconer Newhall. and Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog's author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that full and clear credit is given to Barbara Falconer Newhall and with appropriate and specifc direction to the original content. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA. The Psalms are from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Material originally published and copyrighted by the Oakland Tribune is posted here by permission. WordPress theme adapted from Thematic Theme Framework