Thursday, August 07, 2014

Public Art or Parasitical Waste

I hate to boast but whilst you may have been enduring the freezing winter days of the south east of Oz or the debilitating drought of NSW and Queensland,I have been traipsing around Spain being more churchy than thou.  Because I am the crappest atheist in Chrisendom, I have an enduring passion for the Passion.  There is no hymn I will not sing.  There is no Cathedral I will not visit.

The Spanish cathedral movement was an extraordinary phenomenon.  Communities that by modern standards were small and impoverished somehow managed to build the soaring gothic structures that bless the landscape throughout the nation.  They may have lived in domestic hovels but the gothic cathedrals with flying buttresses, ornate side chapels, dazzling woodwork, some good and some corny art were the communities' jewels.  The Spanish cathedrals seem to be the most consistently luminous.  Remember, Spain was the super power of the fifteenth century.  Enriched by New World gold, the leaders augmented that by sucking an estimated 30% of their people's resources.  It led to an outrageous confection of creativity.  And it wasn't just the cathedrals.  In every tiny hill top village we visted, there were substantial churches with huge ceilings, golden ornamentation and classy carvings and art.

The resources required must have been onerous, particularly given that those funding the ventures knew that they would never live to see the completion of these projects.  It was faith writ large.

The rational reaction of an unbeliever when confronted with this apparent excess is to rail against it.  Indeed the Reformation was driven by the costs of medieval faith.  Surely I must damn the priests as vain parasites and the buildings as wasteful white elephants?  But I hesitate for several reasons.

First, it seems that the majority of the community at the time appeared to appreciate the wonder of their creations.  Indeed without a blinding faith, I wonder if they would have been built.  But they were and were probably the sole high cultural experience for people of that ancient time.  Of course the cathedral and church movement exacerbated poverty.  But it was the major source of public art.  Moreover, the buildings were more than just places of worship and extravagance.  They were meeting houses and gathering places.  They were social glue.

Secondly, they had other social functions such as communal endeavour and unity through shared purpose.

Finally, these buildings and thei contents were a gift for future generations.  The creators knowingly built these things for their progeny.  Lives were short and so they looked a future where these wondrous buildings would be.their legacy.  And what a legacy they are.  They speak of a time when completely different views about faith, death communal obligation and art prevailed.  The heritage and the tales they tell are powerful.

So it is no surprise I feel thanks and wonder as my Spanish  cathedral crawl proceeds.  They literally are awesome.

What do you think?

Am I being too soft on the clergy or did they give their own and future generations a great gift??

Is the art dated corny crap or a luminous lesson for us today?

Is it possible that only faith could have driven such creativity??

Over to you guys...