In almost any book of 36 essays, one is bound to find both good and bad. Such is the case with Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith, and Mystery, Gregory Wolfe's collection of editorials from his stunning journal, Image. Sometimes Wolfe strikes gold, sometimes he simply digs.
Take, for example, Wolfe's incisive essay on sentimentality. The problem with kitsch, he writes in "The Painter of LiteTM," is "a misrepresentation of the world in order to indulge certain emotional states." The unreal reality created by this willful self-indulgence is not morally neutral—commenting on the work of Thomas Kinkade, Wolfe notes that the "The only folk who could ever have inhabited his cottages and lighthouses are prosperous white folk"—and can even nurture violence: "When we are too tender about something we can easily become too violent in seeking to defend or preserve it." Linking sentimentality, an emotion most consider harmless, to violence and prejudice, Wolfe establishes ethical critiques (beyond the merely aesthetic) of an artwork many blindly consider wholesome and religious. When Wolfe is good, he's very good.
But Wolfe is not always good. The recurring theme of Intruding Upon the Timeless is mystery in art: message flattens, but mystery opens. A dichotomy emerges between good art (reveling in mystery) and bad art (mired in didacticism)—a dichotomy, moreover, that simultaneously separates reason from imagination. Mystery is a place "where reason fails and only faith and imagination can go." Moreover, mystery encompasses the dogmas that might guide Christian art, for dogmas are "not really propositions, but symbolic mysteries." In other words, Wolfe removes reasoned propositions from the free play of imagination. ...1
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