Images, Icons & Idols

February 28, 2008

michael claytonI had a few different thoughts from this past week’s conversations in one of my classes. First, having never really taken a theology and film class, I really appreciated the discussion of Michael Clayton after we watched the movie on Monday. Being an English major, it’s a (relatively) new concept that what before seemed to me to be purely entertainment is now employing a parallel depth and intelligence that has always drawn me to the written word. I most appreciated the part of the discussion about the complicated nature of our lives, how things are not simple and orderly and easily categorized. Characters have layers, stories have layers, we have layers (I’m getting an unnecessary image of Shrek and the onion). Everything is connected, but no lines are clearly drawn. I would benefit from watching the movie again.

The second thought that captured my attention was the TED-talk Alison Jackson gave on how photography seduces us into voyeurism. I am not much drawn to celebrity life, personally. When I took Theology and Culture last year, I was unable to participate in the discussion of our favorite celebrities because I really just have little interest in the lives of people Queen of England on the looI do not know personally. But the idea that we believe what we see in a picture, that we cannot tell what is real and what is not, and that maybe we do not even care if something sensational turns out not to be true—the idea that we are aware of the seduction and continue to consume fascinates me. We are such a visually driven culture. Where I grew up reading books and imagining for myself, children today grow up watching TV and movies based on those books, fixed into someone else’s vision. There is something about being fed information through a screen that turns off our active intelligence in favor of passive acceptance: we receive and receive and receive, but how much do we evaluate and ponder? How much are we aware of the effect of the visual on our daily lives? This idea draws me back to my first thought, the revelation that movies may have more than entertainment value. They might cause us to think and criticize and respond. They might cause change. Someone in class said that where music used to be the catalyst for change, film is stepping into that slot.

The third thought I had from the week concerned the issue of icon and idol. Peter Rollins discusses the issue in his book How (Not) to Speak of God. I remember writing a paper for Aesthetics in college on the veneration of icons in the Christian tradition: is it idolatry? I never could quite decide; bpeter rollins bookoth positions were persuasive. I remember concluding that if I were in a congregation where my fellow Christians had trouble separating the veneration of an image from the worship of it, I would rather remove images from the sanctuary than mess with their faith. But for myself, I hunger for color and light, texture and symbol and anything beautiful that inspires for me a sense of the holy that we talked about the first week. I thought of my paper when we discussed idols and icons in class, and I thought about the comment someone made that the Bible itself is an icon—pointing through itself to God. But we can get stuck at the page, bogged down in the text, and we miss the whole point; our vision arrests and cannot pierce through the page to see God. This takes me back to the idea of God’s creative word that speaks into existence and the correlation with the Word that arrives in human form to give us an image of God, for whomever has seen Jesus has seen his Father in heaven. The words on the page point to God, just as the Word points to God. Yet Jesus is more than an icon. Clearly there is still more to think about here. But the idea that images are so important is one that stuck with me all week long.

One Response to “Images, Icons & Idols”

  1. Evtastic said

    I’m glad you resumed your blog writing. Please continue!

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