In a 1950 interview, Henri Matisse claimed that “all art worthy of the name is religious.” [Judith Dupre, Churches] I like that statement for its truth and its provocation, since it provokes both artist and religious practitioner.
As I ponder the architectural renderings of our church by our architect, Philip Renfrow, I wonder, can we flip the quote by Matisse and gain any further insights? Like this, “all religion worthy of the name is artistic.”
What would we be saying by such a statement? At its most basic and simplest, we would be saying that both art and religion reach for the same invisible horizon and render that invisible horizon by symbolic forms and expression. It is interesting to hear what Matisse wrote to his friend, a nurse and then nun with whom he stayed in contact, “‘I live with my forces directed towards that same spiritual horizon,’ he wrote. ‘My effort differs from yours only in appearance.’” [“Station to Station,” The Architectural Review, 2 Nov 2013]
There are remarkable resonances between art and religion, artists and faith practitioners. Of course, there are great tensions that dwell within the nexus of these two arenas of human expression and interaction, not the least of which is a history of how religion has used art and manipulated artists along with aniconic proscriptions within the great monotheistic traditions to avoid making images of the Holy One. We can’t explore these resonances and tensions in a blog post but we can tip our hat to them and recognize there are many dynamics involved in something as seemingly straightforward as “building a church.” By the way, I have had the pleasure of exploring some of these ideas with Ian at Blind Whino where artists and their works inhabit the historic building of what was Friendship Baptist Church. If there is a place in Southwest that takes us immediately to this epicenter of art and religion, then it is here. That building is literally a canvas for mural artists but one might ponder how that religious canvas and the thresholds that lead upstairs to what was a sanctuary provide a dialogical moment for the artist and faith practitioner as they pursue the invisible horizon of existence and cosmos.
As I survey Maine Avenue at this moment, with the large apartment buildings and hotels being erected just across the street from our corner, I wonder about the relationship artistically to those buildings and our church, soon to be built (God willing) sometime in late 2018. What will the scale and size of our church say in response to these large structures? How does the interplay of business, commerce, and spiritual quest play out? Fundamentally, it will be expressed architecturally. Our church—quite small by comparison to everything around it—will be gesturing in symbols some enduring values of the human spirit. As Judith Dupre writes in her book, Churches, “A church embodies, in its purest form, the fundamental elements of architecture: light, threshold, and the concept of passage both physical and metaphysical.”
Riverside Baptist Church will be a twinkling word in what is being spoken along Maine Avenue, 7th and I Streets. We’ll chime our presence into the Wharf and the warp and woof of that interplay between the various aspects of human expression. And if we are at all fortunate, we will discover the deeper bonds of our shared humanity. At the corner gateway of The Wharf along 7th and Maine Ave., there will be a threshold that crosses into the Sacred and that liminal passage will be artistically rendered by stone, light and artistic renderings carefully expressed. I can’t wait! Until then,
~See you on Sunday at the Jefferson Middle School auditorium