Yesterday Jani and I strolled through The Huntington Art Gallery in San Marino. We found it liberating to step outside the crushing banality of 2012 and go back, in heart and mind, into another world, where we feel more at home. It is possible to idealize other times. It is also possible to become so immersed in our own times that we lose all objectivity.
We are not the only way this thing called human existence can be done. We are not the best way. I believe we handle it clumsily. The art at the Huntington touched us not just because it evoked a time past but, far more, because it whispered to us of a time to come, a renewed earth, where we will get our glorious humanity back forever.
John Constable's View on the Stour near Dedham (1822) opens a door to a lost world I want to visit. I want to shout hello to the men working on the barge. Maybe they would help me across the stream. Then I could walk across that field to the village in the distance and visit that church, whose spire centers everything:
Thomas Lawrence's Pinkie (1794) was commissioned by the girl's grandmother, living far away in Jamaica, because she missed her granddaughter so. Sarah Moulton was eleven years old at the time of the portrait. She died a year later. I am glad her grandmother could cherish this likeness after her loss.
Joshua Reynolds' portrait of Samuel Johnson (1775) shows what it means to read a book. True reading is not simply decoding one English word after another. True reading is getting out of oneself and pressing into the writer's thought and feeling. It looks like this:
Frederic Remington's Bronco Buster (1895) is pure, manly Americana. As an American, this is part of my directly received heritage. Who wouldn't want to ride out into the Wild West with this guy?
Then, there is the art of our times -- such as Andy Warhol's Brillo Soap Pads Box (1964). The parody that "sees through" everything, including art itself, marks the end of art.
When the kings of the earth bring the glories of their nations into the New Jerusalem, and nothing unclean will enter in because redemption will rule (Revelation 21:24-27), will Warhol's work be there, remade as fit for God and for redeemed mankind? I wonder. A divine Redeemer can work miracles.