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January 06 2011

Naked passion of Christ calendar shocks Mallorcan Catholics

Bishop of Mallorca criticises calendar – which shows Catholic youths posing naked – for 'not respecting Christian symbols'

A Catholic youth group has shocked its religious superiors in Mallorca by producing a calendar that features a nude version of the passion of Christ.

The wrath of the bishop of Mallorca has fallen on the Davallament youth group from the Spanish island's town of Sant Joan after they decided to make the stripped-down version of the Easter week story to raise funds.

The calendar features a semi-naked trio of young men raising the cross on which Jesus will be crucified and a Last Supper whose protagonists wear only crotch-hugging underwear. In other shots the protagonists are entirely naked, covering their genitalia with plumed roman helmets (above).

"It is a daring and original idea that emerged because we are young and wanted to do something new," a group member, Antoni Company, told Ultima Hora newspaper.

The bishopric of Mallorca, however, has criticised them for shocking their more traditional elders. "It turns Easter week into something banal," the bishopric said in a stern written admonition. "It does not respect Christian symbols and is insensitive to Catholic feelings."

The calendar marks the 20th anniversary of the Davallament Youth Association, one of whose principal tasks is to act out the passion of Christ in a fully-clothed version every Easter.

"It all came from the need to celebrate our 20th anniversary," said Pep Mas, the group's co-ordinator. "The actors are the same people who take part in the Easter week representation, and the pictures are shot in the same places. I don't think, after all these years, that anyone can doubt our dedication."

The town's mayor, Joan Magro, approves. "The calender is very original," he said. "The pictures are artistic and the models show what they have."

The town's priest, Joan Marti, refused to be drawn. "They are grown up enough to know what they are doing and what it all means," he said.


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December 02 2010

The Smithsonian 'Anty Christ' censured and censored | Jennifer Abel

I don't think artists should be publicly funded, but that's not the issue. This is the religious right masquerading as fiscal rectitude

Despite the lip service American politicos pay to principles like "freedom" or "limited government", it only lasts until one sees something he personally doesn't like. Once you understand this, it makes perfect sense that Republican congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor set about establishing their small-government bona fides by ordering an art museum to alter one of its displays.
 
The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is hosting an exhibit called Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which explores gay and lesbian themes. Naturally, this offended conservative Catholic political activists, who made a point of viewing the exhibit firsthand. Having seen it, they decided nobody else should; CNS News indignantly reported "images of an ant-covered Jesus, male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show's catalogue as 'homoerotic'."

CNS expended most of its ire on the "ant-covered Jesus" – a video of ants crawling on a crucifix, which the artist (now deceased) said symbolises the suffering of Aids victims. When CNS brought it to Cantor and Boehner's attention, they ordered the Smithsonian to take it down.

Boehner's spokesman called it "symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions", and said "Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January." Cantor, meanwhile, interpreted the video as "an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season".

Under this pressure, the Smithsonian caved and removed the video. It's hard to blame them, if they thought the alternative might be the shutting down of the entire museum a few months hence.

Government art funding is a perennial sore point with culture-warrior Republicans; in the 1980s, Senator Jesse Helms – another limited-government advocate – brought complaints about Andres Serrano's Piss Christ to the floor of the Senate.

Such anti-art crusades are often couched in the language of limited government, saying the feds shouldn't be involved in the art business. At least, Helms and his allies had some valid – albeit spittle-drenched – points about public grant money subsidising individual artists: private people can become artists' patrons if they wish, but government has no business favouring one group of artists over another, and taxpayers shouldn't have to fund the privileged few chosen by bureaucrats with artsy pretensions.

But that's not the case in the Smithsonian controversy. No tax money went to the artist; indeed, the only public money involved was that from the Smithsonian's general operating budget. Boehner and Cantor aren't stopping a controversial artist from sucking on the public teat; they're ordering the Smithsonian to avoid displaying anything that offends the religious right's sensibilities.

There's merit to the argument that, especially in this dismal economy, taxpayers shouldn't be required to fund things they find offensive. I agree, which is why I'd like to cut all tax funding not only for art projects, but also for the dishonest anti-drug propaganda of DARE and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, or worthless abstinence-only sex education programmes.

But Cantor and Boehner won't extend their small-government principles that far. Cantor surely believes Christians have the right to insist no tax money ever help anything they find offensive; but he wouldn't extend that right to Americans in general.

Cutting all government art funding won't do anything to solve the deficit, but it would have one undeniable advantage: next time congressmen speak out against an art exhibit, they'll no longer be able to drape their bigotry beneath the cloak of fiscal responsibility.


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June 22 2010

Apostle images from 4th century found under street in Italy

New laser burnt away centuries of calcium deposits to reveal earliest known pictures of Andrew and John in Rome catacomb

Archaeologists exploring a Christian catacomb under a residential Roman street have unearthed the earliest known images of the apostles Andrew and John.

Using a newly developed laser to burn away centuries of calcium deposits without damaging the paintings beneath, the team found the late 4th-century images in the richly decorated tomb of a Roman noblewoman.

"John's young face is familiar, but this is the most youthful portrayal of Andrew ever seen, very different from the old man with grey hair and wrinkles we know from medieval painting," said project leader Barbara Mazzei.

Discovered in the 1950s and as yet unseen by the public, the St Tecla catacomb is accessed through the unmarked basement door of a drab office building, beyond which dim corridors packed with burial spots wind off through damp tufa stone.

The catacomb is close to the basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls, where bones discovered in a sarcophagus have been dated to the first or second century and attributed to St Paul.

Working under the supervision of the Vatican's pontifical commission for sacred archaeology, Mazzei first exposed images of fellow apostles Peter and Paul, as well as Jesus, and biblical scenes set against rich ochre, red and black backgrounds – colours commonly associated with imperial Roman art.

"The laser can be calibrated to remove certain colours, in this case the white of the calcium, which just fell away. We are used to finding faded colours, but here they are exceptional," she said.

As the calcium was burned off, John and Andrew appeared on the same ceiling panel as Peter and Paul.

"We already know earlier images of Peter and Paul from group paintings, but all previously known images of Andrew and John date to the mid 5th century," said Mazzei. "We assume it is them because they were the most important apostles after Peter and Paul and would have found space alongside them here."

Mazzei said the tomb was built by a noblewoman as Rome was switching from paganism to Christianity. "This catacomb was not a clandestine burial place, in fact they never were, that was an invention of Ben Hur," she said.


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May 23 2010

Moses und der brennende Dornbusch: Am Anfang war das Feuer | Frankfurter Rundschau - Feuilleton | Christian Thomas 20100522

[...]

In der Bibelepisode, im 2. Buch Mose 3, 6, hatte Jahwe sich als der Gott der Väter vorgestellt. Um Israel aus der Versklavung herauszuführen, ...

[....]

Wie auch immer die Moseerzählungen gelesen wurden, ob philologisch oder theologisch, historisch oder hermeneutisch, naiv oder naturwissenschaftlich, archäologisch oder allegorisch: In der Biografie Gottes bildet die Dornbusch-Episode ein entscheidendes Datum, in der Karriere des Jahwe-Glaubens einen entscheidenden Schritt hin zum unbedingten Gehorsam. Glaube und geschichtspolitischer Auftrag, Vertrauen in eine jenseitige Instanz und historische Mission finden sich in dieser Exodus-Episode.

Davon unbeirrt blieb seit Ewigkeiten der Schauplatz der überlieferten Gottesoffenbarung ein Rätsel. Irgendwo in Midian, aber wo? Nicht einmal der Gottesberg ist lokal zu fixieren, nicht philologisch, nicht theologisch, nicht archäologisch. Da hat sich dann die Allegorie der Sache angenommen, ....

[...]

Moses und der brennende Dornbusch: Am Anfang war das Feuer | Frankfurter Rundschau - Feuilleton | Christian Thomas 20100522

[...]

In der Bibelepisode, im 2. Buch Mose 3, 6, hatte Jahwe sich als der Gott der Väter vorgestellt. Um Israel aus der Versklavung herauszuführen, ...

[....]

Wie auch immer die Moseerzählungen gelesen wurden, ob philologisch oder theologisch, historisch oder hermeneutisch, naiv oder naturwissenschaftlich, archäologisch oder allegorisch: In der Biografie Gottes bildet die Dornbusch-Episode ein entscheidendes Datum, in der Karriere des Jahwe-Glaubens einen entscheidenden Schritt hin zum unbedingten Gehorsam. Glaube und geschichtspolitischer Auftrag, Vertrauen in eine jenseitige Instanz und historische Mission finden sich in dieser Exodus-Episode.

Davon unbeirrt blieb seit Ewigkeiten der Schauplatz der überlieferten Gottesoffenbarung ein Rätsel. Irgendwo in Midian, aber wo? Nicht einmal der Gottesberg ist lokal zu fixieren, nicht philologisch, nicht theologisch, nicht archäologisch. Da hat sich dann die Allegorie der Sache angenommen, ....

[...]

May 05 2010

The politics of faith | Nick Spencer

A comparison of Clegg and Attlee shows how bland politics has become. Leaders should be able to speak out on belief

Nick Clegg and Clement Attlee do not have a great deal obviously in common. They do, however, share one significant political feature. They are (or were) each openly atheist.

According to Peter Hennessy, Attlee was one of only three post-war British prime ministers who fell firmly into the unbelief camp (the others were Churchill and Eden). In spite of attending Haileybury Imperial Service College, "a school suffused with Anglicanism", Attlee seems to have been "entirely untouched by organised religion".

Clegg, as he admitted in the second prime ministerial debate two weeks ago, is also "not a man of faith", and it was this point that Eddie Mair, presenter of Radio 4's PM programme, chose to take up with the Liberal Democrat leader at the start of his extended interview with him last week. He opened with a viciously simply question. "In the last television debate you volunteered that you are not a man of faith. Why don't you believe?"

Nick Clegg's answer began with a few seconds of stunned silence, lasted a minute and was a masterclass of incoherence.

"Why don't I believe? Em … Gosh, that's one of the most difficult questions, I, I think I can, I can imagine … I … why do, why do I not know … whether God exists or not … it's not something, it's not something … "

At this point Mair came back in, although it was clearly to bury Nick Clegg rather than to praise him. "You tell me what you think and what you don't think and explain why you arrived at that conclusion."

Clegg stumbled on. "Because I quite simply don't know whether, whether, whether God exists and … you know, I know it's obviously fashionable to say, say that, you know, one does, but I … I don't, you know, I'm not a man, a man of faith … sometimes I very much wish I was, because I think having faith must be a great thing. You know, members of my family do, my wife does, my children are being brought up in her church, and I think it can be a wonderful, unifying thing … but I, I myself ... you know, have not, have not, have not, you know, experienced, if you like, clearly what other people of faith have. Maybe it'll happen one day."

You could almost sense Mr Clegg's relief when he finally ground to a halt, but Eddie Mair was not finished with him. "Were you brought up in a Christian family?"

This was, at least, an easier question which Nick Clegg answered with confidence if not relish, concluding that faith "is not something that has happened to me, or at least not yet."

"So is it something you have actively rejected or have yet to be convinced of?" Mair pressed on.

"No, it's not something I've actively rejected at all," Nick Clegg replied. "I'm, I'm very interested, I think, like everybody is to, you know, a very personal level, with, you know, issues of, of, of spirituality, I think that's what makes us human … and … you know, it's nothing to with my politics but I, like every other individual, struggle with those very important aspects of our, of our, of our lives. So it's not something I'm closed off from at all. No, far from it."

Now, let's compare this exchange with one that Clement Attlee had with Kenneth Harris on the same subject.

Harris: Was it Christianity that took you into politics?

Attlee: Social conscience, I would say. Inherited it. My parents were very much that way.

Harris: But your parents were actually professing Christians, weren't they?

Attlee: Yes. And my brothers and sisters.

Harris: But you weren't?

Attlee: No. I'm one of those people who are incapable of religious experience.

Harris: Do you mean you have no feeling about Christianity, or that you have no feeling about God, Christ, and life after death?

Attlee: Believe in the ethics of Christianity. Can't believe the mumbo jumbo.

Harris: Would you say you are an agnostic?

Attlee: I don't know.

Harris: Is there an afterlife, do you think?

Attlee: Possibly.

Comparison between these two exchanges is a little unfair. Clegg was live on air during a campaign; Attlee talking to his official biographer. Clegg's response is a direct transcription (well, minus the "ums" and "ers") and everyone sounds incoherent when thus rendered; Attlee's was doubtless edited during transcription. And Clegg and Attlee are simply different characters. Attlee, as Peter Hennessey has observed, had the habit of reducing interviewers to near desperation by the brevity of his replies. Douglas Jay, who worked with him in No 10, once said that Clement "would never use one syllable where none would do."

Nevertheless, the comparison remains instructive. Can you imagine Nick Clegg or any other party leader saying to Eddie Mair, "Well, Eddie, I believe in the ethics of Christianity but I can't believe in all the mumbo jumbo." Radio nerves and Mair's notorious curve-balls notwithstanding, it would never happen.

Those of an atheist disposition will put this down to the ludicrous oversensitivity that we show today towards religion. Politicians have been bullied into silence by religious fanatics and are simply scared to roll their sleeves up, get stuck in and call mumbo jumbo by its proper name.

That, however, is obvious nonsense. Tony Blair, who knew a thing or two about being in the public gaze, took a vow of silence about his religious beliefs when he realised, to his cost, how people reacted whenever he mentioned God. On the rare occasions he broke his own rules – such as when he let slip to Michael Parkinson his entirely innocuous belief that as a Christian he thought he would be judged by God – he was reprimanded, not least by tolerant liberal secularists like Evan Harris MP who warned him against making "references to deity" in public life.

The truth behind Nick Clegg's vacillation, Tony Blair's silence, and the reason why both are so different from Clement Attlee's abrasive, monosyllabic honesty, has much more to do with our broader political culture.

Growing religious illiteracy, fear of religious violence and the media pressures that have turned election campaigns into minutely choreographed tours of duty have forced a crushing blandness on our party leaders, draining them of serious personal opinions that might offend voters. As part of that trend, we are seemingly incapable of grasping the fact that public servants are driven by private motivations. Because they are there to serve the universal public good, we seem to believe that they must be driven by universally acceptable public beliefs.

But people don't work like that. Every belief is a belief in something and not in something else. Everyone thinks their beliefs are right, which often means other people's are wrong. And every politician – or at least every conviction politician – is motivated by a particular conception of the good which is informed by particular beliefs about the world. Pretending otherwise, even if it is for noblest reasons of inclusion or public accessibility, is to practise a vast deceit on public life, evacuating politics of its honesty and vigour.

Describing Winston Churchill's own faith (which was rather more in himself than in God), the historian Paul Addison has written how Churchill "belonged to an era of secularised religion in which the doctrines of liberalism, socialism and imperialism were all bathed in the afterglow of a Christian sunset. Now the afterglow has gone: and political discourse has shrunk into a narrow, stultifying recital of economic indicators, enlivened by occasional outbreaks of xenophobia."

The Christian sunset may have faded, but the very fact that Eddie Mair opened with the question he did reminds us that the question of religion and politics burns as bright today as it ever has done. We seem ill-adept at dealing with it, liable to denounce political leaders for believing in things we don't. If we ever hope to escape the political stage-management and stultifying recital of economic indicators, we need to permit our representatives, whether atheist Cleggs or Christian Blairs, to speak openly about the personal beliefs without jumping down their throats when we hear something we don't like.


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April 28 2010

02mydafsoup-01

oezkan_angebot

Die Presse jubelte Christian Wulff zu, als er bekannt gab, dass die türkischstämmige Muslimin Aygül Özkan neue Sozialministerin in Niedersachsen werden sollte. Selbst die politischen Gegner, wie die Grünen, waren hin und weg ob der Berufung Özkans in das Kabinett Wullf. Mittlerweile sind die guten Schlagzeilen vergessen – und aus keinem anderen Grund hat Christian Wulff Aygül Özkan in sein Kabinett berufen, der Zauber ist verflogen. Özkan erdreistet sich doch tatsächlich eine eigene Meinung zu vertreten – was selbstverständlich den Kadavergehorsam der Konservativen massiv stört. In einem Interview lehnte sich mit der Begründung, die Schule müsse ein neutraler Ort sein, Kopftuch wie auch Kruzifix an deutschen Schulen ab. Eine Sichtweise, die übrigens auch das Bundesverfassungsgericht in einem Urteil teilt. Die Union wäre aber nicht die Union, wenn nun nicht ein Sturm der Entrüstung über Aygül Özkan hinwegfegen würde.

Man empfahl Özkan darüber nachzudenken, ob sie Mitglied in der richtigen Partei sei, man forderte, dass sie nicht vereidigt werde, man erklärte das Experiment, eine Muslimin zur CDU-Ministerin zu machen für gescheitert – und als wenn das nicht genug wäre, distanzierten sich sogar Christian Wulff und Angela Merkel von Aygül Özkan. Noch nicht im Amt, ist Özkan restlos demontiert. Ihr Ansehen ist in anderen Parteien mittlerweile weitaus höher als in der Union. Parteifreunde wie die der Union würde ich nicht einmal meinem ärgsten Feind wünschen.

[...]

Aygül Özkan – eine Muslimin für die CDU » F!XMBR
Reposted fromfinkregh finkregh viareturn13 return13

April 06 2010

St Augustine's works to be auctioned

Annotated 10-volume edition offering new insights into Henry VIII's break with Roman Catholic church to go on sale

A meticulously annotated 10-volume edition of the works of St Augustine, offering new insights into one of the most turbulent times in English religious history – Henry VIII's break with Rome – is to be auctioned.

Sotheby's has announced it is to sell an extremely rare and perfectly conditioned first edition of St Augustine's complete works as edited by Erasmus. What makes the set of books even more special is the thousands of tiny red-ink corrections, amendments and commentaries, the majority of which have not been studied academically.

For many theological scholars Augustine, the fourth century philosopher born in Roman-controlled Africa – now Algeria – was one of the most important figures in the development of western Christianity, and his teachings had a profound influence on Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer.

Frédérique Parent, Sotheby's Paris-based specialist in the books and manuscripts department, called the works "the most fantastic book" she had ever been involved with. She added: "It is of monumental historical importance. It reflects all the theological conflict going on in the 1530s."

The identity of the annotator is unknown, but some things are clear: he must have been close to Luther and his inner circle, because he has impressively close knowledge of everything going on in Wittenberg in the 1530s, as well as access to unpublished manuscripts.

"It is the hand of an incredible theologian who seems to know everything," said Parent. "He is correcting Augustine, he is correcting Erasmus and adding doctrinal commentaries by men such as Luther."

Such audacity suggests the writer had incredible confidence in himself. Parent said: "His writing is rather old-fashioned, as well as being incredibly knowledgable and erudite."

The collected works were printed in Basle, Switzerland, between 1527 and 1529 and the annotator began work on the editions in 1532, two years after Henry's break with the Roman Catholic church. The king, clearly feeling vulnerable and isolated, had sent a delegation to Wittenberg to plead his case with Luther.

As things turned out, the eight months of talks came to nothing. But the annotations cast light on what was going on and how much manoeuvring was taking place.

For example, when Henry executed Thomas More and Cardinal Fisher in 1535 for failing to sign the Act of Supremacy, the king's negotiators say it was about his pursuit of a good cause or "Henry's quest for evangelism".

The annotations offer, says Sotheby's, a fascinating insight into that century's intellectual revolution. They also show how important and influential Augustine was to Luther as well as shining a light on the evolution of his doctrinal thinking in his latter years.

Only 40% of the annotations, written in both Latin and German, have so far been deciphered and further study would, in all likelihood, reveal the name of the writer. Parent said the volumes offered "an invaluable window to the political tensions of the time". She added: "Who knows what hidden treasures there are? And we would love an institution to buy the book because it needs to be studied."

In total, more than 8,000 pages have been annotated with remarks including more than 400 important doctrinal commentaries – from 50 to 3,000 words – by Luther and his fellow reformers, such as Philipp Melanchthon, Wenzeslaus Linck and George Spalatin.

For a 16th century theological scholar, the edition would appear to be a treasure trove. One annotation explains for the first time a rather enigmatic woodcut found in Luther's 1534 Bible showing the Two Witnesses in front of a fire-breathing monster of the apocalypse. The two men are Luther and his reforming colleague Melanchthon, while the monster is the pope.

According to the annotator, the two men represent Paul, writer of the Epistles, and John, writer of the Apocalypse – the foundations of the new faith.

The volumes are estimated to fetch between €200,000 and €300,000 (£177,000-£266,000) and will go on sale in Paris on 18 May.


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December 07 2009

Art's debt to faith

That religion is the wellspring of European art is undoubted – but there are other reasons I keep going back to holy pictures

The question: Does God have all the best art?

Germaine Greer has often made the point that she developed her "eye" for paintings through the holy pictures provided by the Irish nuns at her convent school in Australia.

I remember similar holy pictures, profusely distributed at my own convent school in Dublin. We had Raphaels, several Leonardo da Vincis, Murillos, and representations of Bernini sculptures. There was a special interest in Fra Angelico and his work on perspective, as we were reminded that the annunciation is one of the most frequently painted subjects in European art. Our holy pictures were cheap, pocket-sized Italian reproductions of the great masterpieces, but they were, as I recall, immensely pretty and vivid with colour. And when I visited the Uffizi in Florence I recognised so many of such images, often centering on the virgin and child and the tenderness of motherhood.

Indeed, when I came to visit the great art galleries of Ireland, Britain and continental Europe I saw where the provenence of European art lay: in holy pictures. Our nuns were keen on the mother and child, and linked nativity themes – Catholics were notoriously weak on the Old Testament – but there were so many rich Biblical narratives which had fed the imagination of European artists. I progressed from holy pictures myself – sometimes they can be didactic, and sometimes, especially with crucifixion scenes, somewhat lugubrious – and found that I liked the Dutch genre pictures of domestic stories best (followed by a sentimental beguilement with 19th century narrative art). But it is so evident that it all began with holy pictures.

It is sometimes claimed that Catholic – and certainly Latin – culture is picture-orientated, while Protestant – and Nordic – cultures are text-orientated. Even into our times, Latin cultures have tended to favour magazines – no coincidence that Hello! was launched in Spain – while northern Europeans like the text element of newspapers; just as Protestants preferred the text of the Bible to the holy pictures of Catholicism (and, we should add, Orthodoxy: the Russian cathedrals are filled with the most stunning paintings on Biblical themes, as well as the much-cherished icons).

This analysis may be changing, as modern media has become more image-focused, with pictures, branded logos and airports awash with signs and signals to be internationally understood. In any case, it is oversimplified, for many mainly Protestant cultures, like the Netherlands, produced religious painting of great power.

So it is the very source and seedbed of our artistic heritage. You cannot understand European art without a knowledge of Christian (and Jewish) traditions. Biblical themes clearly served so many great artists from the early Christian period onwards, animated their imagination, gave them themes on which to work – and, of course, provided them with patronage, especially once the Medici popes came along (the more corrupt the popes, it is said, the more they patronised the arts).

But I would say there was something else to the great flowering of European art in Christendom, as Europe once called itself. The artists themselves were not necessarily perfectly pious Christians, but they shared in a general idea that there is something higher than ourselves. Man is not the measure of all things. He must aspire to something better, loftier, more extraordinary and miraculous. That idea helped to build the great cathedrals of Europe, just as it prompted the development of music. Not all religious art is to everyone's taste, but it was the fountainhead of the staggering achievement that is European art.

I don't disparage the modern movements: if someone sees inspiration in Rothko, so be it. If anyone sees inspiration in a pile of bricks, that's fine by me (so long as the feeling is sincerely held, and not just fashionable conformity). I thought Tracey Emin's unmade bed was a brilliant concept, and indeed, in its own way, a moral fable. But the holy pictures which got my eye in left me with three legacies: I respond best to the pleasure of beauty in art. That is what thrills. I am gratified by an element of narrative, whether that be in Lavery or Lowry. And it is thrilling to feel that sense of being uplifted to something beyond oneself. Germaine Greer is right: we all owe quite an artistic debt to those holy pictures.


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