If you are a reader of Books & Culture, you may already be familiar with Image, the superbly produced journal of the arts and religion edited by Gregory Wolfe and now based at Seattle Pacific University. (If you are not familiar with it, head straight for www.imagejournal.org.) This past weekend on the campus of the University of Chicago, Image held its ninth annual conference. The theme this year was "Disturbing the Peace: Provocation and Prophecy in Contemporary Art and Letters."
Poet Li-Young Lee opened the program Thursday night. Lee's first collection in some years, Book of My Nights, has just been published. Charter subscribers to B&C may recall that David Neff interviewed him in our very first issue, September/October 1995. Other speakers included the painter Tim Lowly; critic (and frequent B&C contributor) Alan Jacobs, whose book A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age is also just out; painter Tim Van Laar, who gave a brief history of art scandals seen as ritualized behavior; filmmaker Scott Derrickson; and novelist Bret Lott.
Given such a diverse array of talent, it's not surprising that there was consensus only on one point: that the subject of this event was worth talking about. And indeed the conference itself served as a useful provocation to ongoing reflection, conversation, and debate.
Still, if there was no simple consensus, it's fair to say that in one way or another, a number of the speakers distanced themselves from the notion of the artist as visionary rebel, provocateur, and scourge of the suburbanites. In his talk, "Shame the Devil," Jacobs suggested that artists who set out to be "prophetic" will almost certainly betray their art. His first example was Auden, whose poem "September 1, ...1
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