bigger pond

Archive for April, 2007


Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

“Ma’am,” he said, popping his head over my shoulder, “I just wanted to compliment you.”

I was sitting outside my coffee shop haunt — sandals off and feet propped up on another chair — reading a cultural geographer’s apology for the dynamism of space. I was not prepared for compliments.

“You,” he continued, “have beautiful feet. I haven’t seen any good feet since I moved to St. Louis, but you have beautiful ones.”

And there it was.

Already. Not Yet.

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Over the last few weeks, through the Lenten season, I have been reminded — joyfully and achingly — of redemption’s already and not yet.

The “already” is breathtaking. Marriages are starting, friends are beginning new ventures, siblings are finding success in their callings. Mary Bell is finally going to Japan. Our small group is growing with newly arrived and newly announced infant additions.

But, the “not-yet” is heartbreaking. Friends have revealed ongoing health struggles and emotional aches. Two days after her baptism, Amelia, a little baby from our church here, was diagnosed with leukemia. Yesterday, Caldwell, one of Paige’s roommates was in a serious car accident and is now in the ICU. Their hurt is real and they, and their families, need your prayers.

Kiki Smith, Untitled 2002

Art people talk a lot about the “abject.” Julia Kristeva, in “Approaching Abjection” writes that the abject is the cast aside and the wretched that stands just outside the order that we know. According to Kristeva, since the abject exists along the edges of our comfort, when we are confronted by its reality we are challenged; it “beseeches a discharge, a convulsion, a crying out.”

I find myself returning to Kiki Smith’s 2002 sculpture Untitled: a crouched figure with the long, stretched out arms, broken in its beseeching. The figure is stripped bare with visionless eyes and cold skin. For the unbeliever, the work stops at the reminder of human fragility. For the Christian, our theology of the not-yet allows us to face the already without denial or fear. Instead, we recognize the damage and the creation’s cries as the devastation wrought by sin. But hurt so great demands a greater Savior, a greater redemption, a greater future than we can imagine.

And this is why I study contemporary art; the broken bodies become my acts of worship. While believing the resurrection hope, Untitled ensures that I never forget the visceral and enduring ache of sin.


Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

take my stand take my stand, ii

Where Spaghetti and E-mail Grow Free

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

By now, many of you likely know that our friends at Coptix pulled an April Fool’s joke on most of the free world. Despite the clear opportunistic brilliance and attempt at self-parody, the prank’s targets were far from amused.

I guess some folks are fairly embarrassed by the whole kerfuffle, but I don’t think bitter defensiveness is necessary. Being duped by an April Fool’s Day joke doesn’t mean you’re dumb. You might be British, though.

An Art Historian’s Conversational Primer: German Names

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

The Art Historian is a funny bird. Something of a rare species, no one is entirely sure what exactly it is that an Art Historian does during and after the schooling process. Art Historians themselves are not always sure. In a sprawling discipline that prides itself on its interdisciplinarity, such ambivalence can often render conversation difficult, or at least unpredictable.

Paradoxically, both the cause and the escape of such uncomfortable exchanges a can be traced to a single source: a German Name.
The Germans, it seems, have studied pretty much everything. They’re also pretty good about writing down everything they’ve studied. Better still, they disagree all the time with each other, which means more thinking and more writing. Whole forests have been felled to accomodate the machinations of the German Mind. Germans also seem to float fairly freely between disciplines, doing exotic things like talk about photography, memory, and national identity all in one essay. German Names have a tendency to pop up when you least expect them. You’ll be talking about 1930s abstraction and then, out of nowhere, Brecht shows up. In the middle of Baroque poetic portraiture, Benjamin makes an appearance. Adorno drops in on discussions of jazz music. If you’re not careful, Arendt will pop up in the middle of a banal landscape painting.

Operating in their special world of elaborate cross-pollinations, Art Historians like German Names. They make us feel like we belong to disciplines like History and Literature that normal people know about. I’m fairly certain that if I ever get my PhD, I will be handed a small, pocket-size encyclopedia of German Names that I will henceforth be expected to utilize in case a conversation is accidentally becoming too accessible.

On the other hand, no one, really, has read all the German Names. And it is this sheer volume that will extricate you from the most dire of academically-overwrought conversations. “Oh,” you could say, “I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the writings of Warheimsteiner.* He may be of help to you since he considers the aesthetic power of small woodland creatures and the socio-environmental implications thereof.” And then, as the Art Historian rifles through her mental file of German Names, you can excuse yourself for a much-needed refill of the wine glass.

That said, taking Noel’s last name for my own may have been the greatest professional move of my life. Perhaps one day I, too, can be a German Name.

* Lebenmier, Kaufenkop, Hammsteil, Schuebenhauer, etc. may also be substituted.