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Friday, November 8, 2013

Questions That Plague

In 2007, American artist Jimmy Grashow began work on what might be his "final epic."  Inspired by the great baroque sculptor Bernini, whose fountains grace Rome, Grashow set out to create his own "fountain." A "fountain" so intricate, exquisite, and so large, it was not finished until 2010. Grashow's "fountain," however, was not made of marble. It was constructed from cardboard. 

Grashow's work wasn't really finished until 2012. That's because his plan from the start was to set his masterpiece out in the open, so rain would turn it to mush. On April 1, 2012, Grashow set it outside, and six weeks later, he laid the dilapidated mess to rest in a dumpster.

In The Cardboard Bernini, film maker Olympia Stone follows Grashow through his creation's life cycle, from conception to dumpster. We watch as Grashow painstakingly carves details on a huge cardboard fish: "It's very important that you do this right," he says, while carving out the back side of the scales, which nobody will see.

Viewers are confronted with questions that plague postmodern artists like Grashow: "What is the point of art, or the creation of anything beautiful that doesn't last?" And, ultimately, as Stone puts it, "What is the point of our lives in the face of our mortality."

As I watched this remarkable film, I marveled at our Creator's design of human beings as image-bearers of Himself, capable of extraordinary works of beauty, as Grashow and Bernini demonstrate. Through this film, I celebrated Grashow's humanity, as he celebrated it himself. I was blessed by his loving and devoted relationship with his wife, by his adult children, by his joy in living and his warm encounters with friends.

Yet, I was saddened. Saddened to see Grashow's fear of death, his sense of emptiness, and the absence of divine meaning in the work of his hands. I was saddened, once again, to realize how great a thief the postmodern "worldview of nothingness" really is, as seen in Grashow's faith that "everything dissolves in eternity."

This faith would have been inconceivable to Bernini, whose favorite book was Thomas á Kempis' Imitation of Christ. According to historian Paul Johnson, in Art: A New History, Bernini "believed that God had endowed him with unusual gifts and that, in return, he must make exemplary use of them to glorify his Maker and to make the world share his faith."

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