“Ordinary Saints” Exhibits What Art is Supposed to Be

There are about two weeks left to see Bruce Herman’s art exhibit, Ordinary Saints, in Barrington. I would encourage you to go see the show before it ends, both in an effort to support our Art Department, and (more importantly) to view the beautiful work being made today.

For the unaware, Herman has been a longtime faculty member at Gordon College before retiring in 2020. He is the founder of the art department. Gordon praises Herman on its website: 

As founder of the College’s art department Bruce has, for more than three decades, been a strong contributor to the flourishing of the larger Gordon community. As Lothlórien Distinguished Chair in the Fine Arts, he remains a catalyst for change at Gordon- transforming blank canvas into lush image, an old gymnasium into a first-class center for the arts, fledgling artists into mature, inspired painters.

Although Bruce Herman’s reputation clearly precedes him, Ordinary Saints is particularly noteworthy. It showcases contemporary art that is both skillful and relevant. I know contemporary art has earned a banana-taped-to-the-wall, golden-toilet reputation, but it has the potential to be more. Art is powerful, reflecting and representing reality to give us a better understanding of all that there is. When done well, art does not simply help us assent to certain truths, it helps us comprehend truth on an intellectual and emotional level. 

Good art wields emotion well.

What about art today?

To the average viewer, it seems to have lost something. 

And understanding the past one hundred years of art might explain why. Modernists, for example, thought their style was the pinnacle of artistic evolution. Motivated by rationalism, art became defined purely by form. 

Artists began to push the boundary of what is art, deciding that it could be defined purely by concepts or whatever the artist chose to display. Thus, a signed urinal was welcomed as legitimate expression. With the rise of postmodernism, so came relativism. The art world moved away from the modernists’ narrow definition to not being defined at all. 

Art lost its philosophical purpose. 

Every art movement is characterized by a certain philosophy. Artistic choices are made for a reason and the current philosophies of the day no doubt influence their direction. The two dominant philosophies of the past one hundred years, modernism and postmodernism, present a bevy of problems. Their rejection of God, for either science or relativism, translates into art that has lost the ability to understand the world. When art becomes so disconnected from reality, it no longer fulfills its purpose. 

Ordinary Saints is so great because it understands something fundamental about what it means to be a human. The knowledge that humans have value and worth because they are made in the image of God shines through in each portrait, along with a deep understanding of the process of sanctification.

The viewer is met by a room full of faces. Many of the portraits are accompanied by a poem and if using the accompanying app, the viewer can listen to the music that also goes along with the pieces. One of my favorite parts of the portraits is getting to study the eyes of the subject. Each painting is hung at eye level, and you the viewer are invited into communion with the subject. Their personhood greets you. Thinking about the title of the gallery, Ordinary Saints, the viewer doesn’t have to ascend to a saint who is holier than thou. These saints are ordinary, and that is what makes the paintings so powerful. They are ordinary like us, and on the same path of sanctification.

The abstract backgrounds of each portrait present a common theme, one of addition and subtraction. Layers of paint and gesso have been built up, sanded away and then painted over once more. It reminds me of the process of sanctification. God chips away parts of us and gives us back something new.As an artist, viewing exhibits like Bruce Herman’s gives me hope for the future of art and reminds me what it’s supposed to be. I hope you will take the time to go visit the Ordinary Saints show before it concludes on October 15th. Good art is a gift to see.

Categories: Arts, Student Life

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