A Treasure Chest Of Insights

Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, by H. R. Rookmaaker (Inter-Varsity, 1970. 256 pp., paperback, $3.95), is reviewed by William Edgar, teacher of French and religion, Brunswick School, Greenwich, Connecticut.

This is a wonderful book. It is a smorgasbord of information, a treasure chest of insights. But more than this it is a remarkably ordered presentation of an extremely complex and difficult body of material. Dr. Rookmaaker, professor of art history at the Free University of Amsterdam, begins with a chapter on the message in art, showing how a painting is more than decoration and always bears a meaning, whether it be Christian or non-Christian. He then gives a lengthy but highly stimulating analysis of Western culture. Beginning with the times before the eighteenth century, he goes on to show how the mentality of the Enlightenment is a turning point, and the basis upon which the modern age is built. He then analyzes the mainstreams of art as following a three-step pathway: first, the loss of the great traditional themes in painting (there is to be no more Venus inspiring love); second, the loss of any reality behind our sensations (no more real subject in art, only colors); and third, the loss of all meaning or universals (only the stark absurdity of life is left).

We then have a rich treatment of the many movements that have grown out of this sequence, particularly the last step. Included in this is a brief look at modern music, especially popular music in its current expression. The last chapter is a tremendously profound section wherein Rookmaaker explores many facets of the problem of Christian art. The facility of his style hides the difficulty of the subject matter, as he goes into ...

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