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Essay

WHEN Harold and I brought out the first pilot issue of Image exactly four years ago, we knew that we had undertaken a quixotic task. The “culture wars” were then at their height. The relationship between art and religion was front page news—but only because Senator Jesse Helms and the Rev. Donald Wildmon were trading charges and counter-charges with the supporters of the National Endowment for the Arts. Irate citizens were marching for and against Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. In this cultural High Noon, it often seemed that the fastest press conferences and largest mailing lists would determine who was left standing at the end of the day.

In short, you might question the timing of Image’s debut.

Nonetheless, Harold and I dared to believe that we had conceived and produced a journal whose time had come. In our first editorial statement we spoke of the increasing number of artists embodying religious experience and themes in their works. We also noted that the cultural establishment was less monolithic in approaching the subject of religion in art; few critics today believe that religion is nothing more than wish-fulfillment or nostalgia.

There are other reasons to believe that Image is a timely and necessary venture. To take just one: In fundamentalist and evangelical circles, many individuals are questioning the fear and hostility toward the arts that have marked their theological tradition. Organizations such as Christians in Visual Arts not only function as a “support group” for their members, but also have an advocacy role in the evangelical subculture.

Ultimately, however, the strongest justification for Image will be the quality of the material published in the journal. No amount of editorializing or posturing on our part can take the place of art itself. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Harold and I have been heartened by the richness and the diversity of the poetry, fiction, visual art, memoirs, and critical essays we have brought together in the pages of Image. When we stand back and look at each issue of the journal as a whole, we find a number of fascinating resonances between the individual contributions. Take, for example, the two visual artists represented in this issue. Both Ed Knippers and Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt have turned to the Baroque era to recover the meaning of the Incarnation—the enfleshment of the divine—at a time when spirituality has become increasingly abstract and nebulous. The memoirs of Tom Willett and John Peters-Campbell both evoke that struggle for emotional and spiritual maturity that has characterized many who have grown up in the fundamentalist subculture. Another subtle resonance can be found in the interview with Andre Dubus and the excerpt from his son’s new novel.

Sensing the relationships between the various pieces in Image—the metapoetics of the journal—put us in mind of Flannery O’Connor. She named one of her stories, and the collection in which it appeared, “Everything that rises must converge.” The phrase comes from the Catholic philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin. You don’t have to accept Teilhard’s belief in cosmic evolution (O’Connor didn’t) to appreciate the wisdom of this saying. Whenever something it true, good, or beautiful, whether it be art, or prayer, or thought, it rises. And in rising, it converges with everything else that is true, good, or beautiful.

O’Connor saw Teilhard’s words as central to the mission of the Christian artist. For a work of art to “rise,” it has to reveal that the natural world borders on the supernatural. That is the way of art: to approach mystery through indirection and metaphor.

As editors, the key question for us, when looking for material to publish in Image, is: Does it rise? If so, then we know that there will be important convergences arising out of each issue—convergences with other pieces and convergences with the minds and hearts of our readers.

It is difficult to maintain this editorial policy in a politicized culture, where attention spans are short, and so many people want art to fit into their own version of political or religious correctness. Judging from the enthusiastic response to the pilot issues of Image, however, we feel that there is a growing number of people who would like to become conscientious objectors in the culture wars.

There have been many positive developments in the Image camp over the last four years—a second pilot issue, a major national conference, and a great deal of “networking” with artists, scholars, and enthusiastic readers. Now we embark on a full publishing schedule, grateful for the convergences that have brought us into contact with so many friends.


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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