art... Relational aesthetics alive and well in the Turner Prize!

Phil Collins
2006 Turner Prize, Tate Britain

For those that may not know, the Turner Prize is a very prestigious and important award given annually to a particularly promising contemporary artist in Britain. Past winners include Gilbert & George, Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Douglas Gordon, Chris Ofili, Martin Creed, etc. The prize offers a hefty cash award and instant notoriety. This year’s winner was Tomma Abts, a German painter now living and working in London (see more about the prize). Despite the committee’s selection, I felt that the work of Phil Collins actually represents the most interesting and engaging potential out of the four candidates short-listed for the award. Admitting my bias, I happily announce that relational aesthetics is alive and well!

Collins’ chosen medium is video, and he has showcased his work internationally, including key exhibits in New York, London, Chicago, Istanbul, etc. The Tate’s press release describes his art practice in this way:

"Phil Collins’s art investigates our ambivalent relationship with the camera as both an instrument of attraction and manipulation, of revelation and shame. He often operates within forms of low-budget television and reportage-style documentary to address the discrepancy between reality and its representations. In his projects, Collins creates unpredictable situations and his irreverent and intimate engagement with his subjects – a process he describes as ‘a cycle of no redemption’ – is as important for his practice as the final presentation in the gallery."

In his recent work, these aims have manifested a driving interest in reality television: talk shows, makeover shows, and reality TV in general. The showcase of his work in the Turner Prize exhibition includes two projects embodying this unique exploration of reality TV. For obvious reasons, visitors to the gallery on the day I was there naturally found Collins’ work the most engaging and were unable to gloss over his work as they had with the others.

Visitors discovered first his 8 hours of documentary footage entitled the return of the real / gercegin geri donusu 2005, originally compiled for last year’s Istanbul Biennial. The footage records eight interviews with various past guests from reality televisions shows in Turkey. The interviewer, a reality TV host himself, dialogues with each person about how they felt about their television appearance and how things in their lives might be different as a result of the appearance. The volunteers were allowed to re-live the experience, once again in front of the camera, for all that opportunity might offer: release, closure or something worse. The grim details had all the agonizing effect of viewing a traffic accident.

In addition to this documentary footage, Collins constructed a fully functioning office space in which to house the work toward his next documentary initiative in Britain. Organised under the name Shady Lane Productions, Collins’ aim is to document the same sort of effects of reality TV in Britain this time. Until the research for this new work is complete, visitors to the Turner Prize exhibition can gain a view of the day in and day out activities of a contemporary artist and his team through the office windows of Shady Lane Productions. In this way, Collins has attempted to broaden the scope of what constitutes appropriate portions of the work to be displayed in the gallery. Homework can be art too!

More fascinating than building an office in an art gallery, however, is the driving impetus behind Collins’ body of work. Enthralled by the complex duality of thrill and horror wrapped up in the public confessions that reality TV thrives upon, he has set to examining the way in which the camera not only documents these highly personal stories but also influences, even changes, them. By his own confession, Collins himself maintains a wicked fascination for the sort of exuberant freedom that seems on offer through reality TV’s strange combination of media spectacle and public confession. Stay tuned to learn what surprising insights this artist’s exploration of human vulnerability might yield.

See and hear interviews with Phil Collins here.


film... The Devil and Daniel Johnston

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Though this film is one of the best documentaries I have seen in some time, I feel inclined to persuade you to see this movie more than just discuss its artistic qualities or successes. The best way I can convince you seems to be by sharing with you exactly what I learned through becoming a witness to Daniel’s story. Three things continue to grip me about his story.

First, I don’t think I will ever envy the life of the artist to quite the same degree again. Historians and commentators can argue incessantly about the extent to which artists invite upon themselves the constraints of alienation and isolation that satisfy the tired pattern of the ‘tortured artist.’ In the life of Daniel Johnston, that unfortunate dynamic evolves into a critically dangerous, almost murderous, mechanism. It seems that Daniel’s life was fraught by two mutually harmful adversaries, and I am not suggesting here that Satan was one of them—though he may prove a suitable third. On one side, Daniel’s family provided the consistently narrow-minded and unsupportive atmosphere, just the sort that most artists love to rebel against. On the other side, the ground-breaking intelligentsia of underground music never missed an opportunity to celebrate Daniel’s savage genius to the point of aiding and abetting the mad scientist in too many unfortunate episodes. Why does the artist’s age-old stigma as ‘outsider to normality’ remain both an easy target for some and a campaign banner for others?

Secondly, I don’t want say that the Devil is real anymore and seemingly live like he’s not. It seems clear to me that no Christian person that learns about Daniel’s story can view their own beliefs about Satan with the same passivity. I don’t wish to speculate about the causes or conditions that contributed to the extreme nature of Daniel’s mental breakdowns and grand delusions. His great quest to defeat the Devil, however, may be able to tell us something about the discrepancy between Armageddon as described by Scripture and the way some Christian contingents apply that apocalyptic content toward a particular agenda. I can understand how Daniel would take up his quest in light of the fact that apocalyptic dramas are played out through Sunday sermons in many churches week after week with little effect. Could Daniel Johnston be the most heroic/tragic casualty in the current American culture wars?

Lastly, I don’t want to forget the simple power of happy endings. Daniel’s story is the sort of tragedy that you wish you could turn away from—grimacing as each turn from the better is quickly squandered. But in the end the drama is just too mesmerizing to deny. After the academic appeal of viewing both his artwork and songs as ‘outsider art’ wears off, our attention holds on the intimate connection between the sheer vulnerability of his plaintive ballads and the desperately sad tale of an artist that can now only sing from his heart. Daniel’s story has no happy ending, especially to the degree that he and his family deserves, but there have been small miracles along the way that help to keep his art hopeful. And it is no small miracle that his story has been made available to the rest of us. Without its honesty and authenticity, many people—myself included, would likely never see the wonder in their own stories and lose their hope in what matters most in life. Daniel reminds us so well that “True Love Will Find You in the End.”

Please see this film.

View trailer here.


art... Ron Mueck

Ron Mueck
Royal Scottish Academy
Edinburgh, Scotland
5 August – 9 October, 2006

Fortunately this late summer blockbuster was held over for an additional week and I didn’t miss out this time. Anyone that remembers Jim Henson’s ‘Muppets’ or the film ‘Labyrinth’ will have an immediate fondness for Mueck’s more recent creations. The hyper-realist sculptor has made a very successful transition from the world of movie and advertising animatronics to the spotlight of contemporary art. As part of the unforgettable exhibition ‘Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection’ that sparked controversy on three separate continents, Mueck has taken the attention he received for his small part in that show and made himself over as a main attraction. While many super star careers arose in the wake of ‘Sensation,’ this recent showcase reveals what could very well be Mueck’s greatest attempt so far at recruiting a new audience for contemporary art. Before we draw conclusions on the significance of this show, let’s consider the work.

While even the most uninitiated spectator can appreciate Mueck’s arduous quest for a pristine naturalism—this patience for representational technique remains thoroughly praiseworthy indeed, many commentators remark extensively on the careful selections that dictate the scale of these works. In my estimation, however, scale merely permits the viewer an otherwise impossible perspective, whether it be seeing that big or this small. I happen to think that Mueck simply takes his audience by the hand to a better vantage point. The more important aspect, however, is the actual site to behold.

His subject matter is at once both exotic and mundane. These models could be found in the everyday if one knew exactly where to look. While these forms are not too alien to our everyday experience, what seems almost other-worldly is Mueck’s choices in posing these creatures. Rather than the idealized forms of ancient or classical sculpture, the artist has isolated and solidified the most chance appearances, looks that punctuate the visual landscape of our experience of others. These are the sort of expressions that you can miss in the real world with a mere glance or blink. They are the looks we would never model.

Contrary to much of the commentary provided in the museum by the show’s organizers, the eerie candour of this work should not be interpreted too plainly or directly. While these forms are very far from idealized, they are quite recognizable. We have seen many of these expressions before… dissatisfaction, fear and frailty. They can’t hide insecurity or inadequacy any better than we.

Interestingly, I found myself and those around me seemingly unable to relate to these sculptures. I know that because it seemed so natural to attempt an empathy for what we saw. I suppose that if we struggle to regard someone appearing desperate on the street we have no hope of feeling compassion for a shrunken or enlarged silicon copy in a museum. Could Mueck’s works speak beyond our spellbound voyeurism to a deeper sense, the feeling of isolation that we all experience a little bit each day? Hopefully, this vast new audience will pause in examining the subtle connections of hair and tissue and the life-like pores on Mueck’s models long enough to consider the thought. As long as most museum visitors prefer twenty foot newborns to a severed cow’s head or a shark in formaldehyde, however, it remains unlikely.


quotes... Christian Aesthetics

Due to the recent and worthwhile discussion generated by the last entry, I thought it would be a good idea to give a sample of the work of one evangelical philosopher/theologian who has contributed immensely to the conversation about defining art. Consider these thoughts:

There is no purpose which art serves, not any which it is intended to serve. Art plays and is meant to play an enormous diversity of roles in human life. Works of art are instruments by which we perform such diverse actions as praising our great mean and expressing our grief, evoking emotion and communicating knowledge. Works of art are objects of such actions as contemplation for the sake of delight. Works of art are accompaniments for such actions as hoeing cotton and rocking infants. Works of art are background for such actions as eating meals and walking through airports… The purposes of art are the purposes of life.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action, 4


Surely it is time for us to break out, to start over, to somehow find a way of approaching art which no longer focuses successively on artist and work and receiver, but instead holds all these in view simultaneously, and does so in such a way as to answer the call, now increasingly heard, to take account of the social embeddedness of whichever of these one has in the center of one’s attention: artist, work, receiver. I suggest that we approach art from the angle of the social practices of art.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Philosophy of Art After Analysis and Romanticism,” 158.


music... Derek Webb

Mockingbird by Derek Webb

Sadly, it seems Derek Webb has lost his faith in the power of art.

From all accounts, the progressive trajectory that characterized Webb’s I See Things Upside Down has diverged from its artistic course and instead proceeded toward pure rhetoric. In this way, Mockingbird could have made excellent source material for a series of magazine editorials, commentary for a bible study, or maybe a book of poetry. But it should not have been recorded as an album. How did it all go so wrong for the most promising Christian singer-songwriter of this generation?

Webb has always worn his influences on his sleeve, and that sort of honesty has worked well for him in the past because he chose superior influences. I would recommend that Webb return quickly to his influences, namely Dylan. A secondary viewing of No Direction Home might reveal for him more clearly the genius behind Dylan’s legacy. In a time when the country was torn in two by conflicting opinions of grave political matters, Dylan refused to let his art be subsumed into the prevalent ethos of topical songwriting. It’s the reason that the world will never forget Bob Dylan and never remember Pete Seeger. Dylan launched a legacy in the 60’s while those around him launched campaigns. Ironically, Dylan’s music unquestionably had the greater impact on society and culture. Webb would do well to follow his mentor’s lead in this area.

By any standard, art should show and not teach, dream and not dictate. Not even the best intentions or the truest sentiments can adequately replace the visionary abilities of art. Unfortunately, this is the untold story of kitsch. Usually thought of purely in terms of overly sweet or saccharine sentimentality, kitsch actually has a dark side as well. You see the earnest convictions of Webb’s newest cd are no different than the sappiest CCM love ballad to God because both rely on pre-digested content. Sadly, political credos do little more than Hallmark slogans in the end. Both are easily dismissed for the simple fact that neither evoke wonder and deepen the questions upon revisiting.

Even in truly difficult times, people still want sermons from their preachers and songs from their artists. Art will not change the world on its own, but it must be allowed to do its individual and unique part. If Webb wants the choir to sing so badly, maybe he should stop preaching to them and start modelling for them a better approach to art-making. We don't need another mockingbird.


art... Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst



Britannia Street, London
20 June – 4 August

Interestingly, the Gagosian Gallery’s press release for this dual exhibition carefully points out that in the work of Francis Bacon the artist’s preoccupation with the form of the triptych did not arise from the religious roots of the form, but rather was inspired by the panoramic qualities of the cinema screen. In other words, another traditional religious form is given new life by virtue of modern perspectives seeing a greater depth of meaning in the everyday.

In many ways, the triptych’s form derives its potency not from historically appropriate content but, I would argue, from its unique structure. Three in one has always been a powerful formula. In this way, each individual component simultaneously sets itself apart and draws closer to its companion pieces. The result is an inevitable and attractive tension, which often pulls the viewer into the struggle. In these works by Bacon and Hirst, the formula has been shockingly realized. Brandishing the full effect of this unity within diversity, both artists impose their respective gravitational forces upon the viewer.

The multitude of Bacon’s paintings brought together for this show submerges the viewer under the weight of his emotive rage. His grotesque fascination with the mutilation of beautiful form burdens the work with countless echoes of existential doubt and longing. Maybe he has represented well the harsh emotional realities of the portrait’s subject or the artist himself, but in this way, the very choice of painting, not to mention the texture and style of the medium, merely adds to the larger prostitution of hope within his artistic vision. Ultimately, he does not capture the agony he longs to exhibit but leaves his viewer with a glimpse of the sheer horror within, a horror that cannot find a way out. Looming just beyond the edges of Bacon’s work, death waits with a patience that confounds the horror of life. If Bacon attempts to map the meaninglessness within the heart, Hirst merely pulls back the curtain shielding each life from its grim future. In this way, Hirst shares a great deal with Bacon while at the same time resolving the progression his paintings began.

The trajectory of Bacon's work has reached its terminal velocity in the clinical austerity of Hirst’s call to death. In contrast to the anatomical interest generated by Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibitions, Hirst’s work presents through a characteristically cynical and somber lens life dissected and dismembered. Even the black monochrome triptych Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned, 2006 captures cleverly the artist’s penchant for interrupting the viewer’s aesthetic experience with subtle reminders of the inevitable. Besides the Bosch-like texture of the triptych’s rough surface, the work preserves the unnerving smell of death beneath the layers of flies mixed in resin. In this way, this work and others incorporate a satire of the mundane into the larger scope of Hirst’s picture of death. With Like Flies Brushed off a Wall We Fall, 2006, Hirst offers his viewer the closest thing to a pretty aesthetic object that may be found in his body of work. Despite the minimalist appeal of the paintings, the viewer cannot ignore the satirical effect rendered by his choice of materials: household gloss, common butterflies and flies. Nothing signifies this mutually clinical and mundane aesthetic better than the early milestone of Hirst’s career A Thousand Years, 1990. For Hirst, death no longer looms just beyond the scope of art; it has taken centre stage.

More than a timely polemic against the pharmaceutical industry or contemporary society’s obsession with medicine, this work contains significant implications for the theologically minded. Despite the grim nature of its presentation, the sentiment is religious at its core. Humanity cannot evade it own eventuality and therefore must face it. Religion is nothing if not a means to that goal, but how hard we work to forget ourselves and our own frailty. In this way, Hirst’s greatest achievement might be the symbolic space he has created between the public’s guilty fascination with his work and their unwitting attempt to distance themselves from its latent reality.

More Bacon images... more Hirst images


music... Jose Gonzalez


josé gonzález

González can boast a truly singular achievementent in the world of contemporary popular music. He is without question both universally recognized and yet utterly nameless. I make that claim based on the fact that multitudes upon multitudes have by now seen the Sony Bravia commercial showcasing the majestic descent of countless, multi-coloured bouncy balls through the banal confines of a random urban landscape. Having glimpsed such a glorious video production, you would also have witnessed the subtly evocative nature of another landscape, the one produced by the vocals and guitar work of José González' "Heartbeats."

If like me, you were left mesmerized by the at once joyous yet yearning quality of the experience, then you must search on for more. To their credit, Sony represented well their balladeer in the way they masterfully wed their footage with his music, for the balance of pensive and blissful evocations within the video can be found again and again in González' debut album- Veneer and the companion EP - Stay in the Shade.

Along with the remarkable opportunity to be featured in the Sony commercial, González has something else few can claim these days... a unique sound. His rare blend of somber vocal arrangements and complex, Latin-influenced guitar voicings - coupled with the sparse production of the albums, allow for a very fresh reconstruction of the singer/songwriter genre. With such an original strategy, most commentators have to reach back nearly thirty years to find an appropriate comparison in Nick Drake's Pink Moon.

While the extraordinarily reworked covers - Kylie Minogue's "Hand on Your Heart" and the Knife's "Heartbeats," constitute his most powerful tracks, it seems González has all the talent he needs to find a faithful audience, but time will tell if he can gather the experience and mature craftsmanship to keep it. The initial glimmers of his promise definitely shine through on tracks like "Save Your Day," "Lovestain," and "Crosses." If your interest is sufficiently piqued, check out the following links to discover more about the quiet Swede with the nylon string guitar.

one more time... "Heartbeats" Video


quotes... or a word of warning

In retrospect, it seems quite logical that when we as evangelical students of culture began to emerge from the dusky passageways of fundamentalism, our eyes would be dazzled by the enchanting romantic tradition. Because of its skepticism about the relevance of history and the historical process, because of its desire to assign to art a special separate status, and because of its sense of alienation about both unadorned nature and mass culture, romantic theory has offered an appealing sight to those of us whose aesthetic lenses have been ground, whether we appreciate it or not, in the shop of American fundamentalism.

-Roger Lundin,
"Offspring of an Odd Union: Evangelical Attitudes Toward the Arts"
from Marsden's Evangelicalism and Modern America p.144


art... Gestures


One of the more debilitating hang-ups that Christian audiences have with both modern and contemporary art stems from a basic misunderstanding of 'artistic gestures.' The preference for gestures in works of art, beginning with the modern era of painting and evolving significantly in contemporary times, represent some unique possibilities for what art can be. Before we explore these remarkable trajectories, let me try and explain the significance of the gesture.

It may prove interesting to pause and consider what comes to mind when we think of a 'gesture.' Maybe you recall a hand signal you received on the highway or something you saw on the street in a foreign country. Perhaps, you remember the way your mother always hugs you when she first receives you. Honestly, we all may have very different associations with the term, but we can't ignore the potential depth beneath such everyday practices.

Merriam-Webster defines a gesture in this way: "a movement usually of the body or limbs that expresses or emphasizes an idea, sentiment, or attitude." It was this sort of abstract, austere definition of a gesture that we find in many famous modern paintings. We can trace the momentous transition in painting that came about possibly during or just after WWII when German or Early Expressionism (Emil Nolde, Franz Marc) gave way to Abstract Expressionism (Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko).

detail of Pollock's Full Fathom Five, 1947

For our purposes, we can focus on Pollock, a figure from modern art much maligned but never ignored. Pollock had a powerful fascination with primal spiritualities that offered mystical connections to the 'essence of being.' In this way, he attempted to use his painting to access the primal aspects of his own being. Often referred to as "action painting," Pollock's practices generated a methodology of painting that placed the greatest emphasis on the very movements or acts that produced the work. Hence, the gesture takes the place of prominence, and the painted canvas is the mere artifact of the art action that took place. Or, in words Jerry Saltz, prominent art critic for the Village Voice in New York, used recently to describe an artist's work from this lineage: "...these paintings are narratives of their own making."

The fresh emphasis upon the artistic gesture ushered in a whole host of new questions about art. Aspects of the work that had always existed in the finished product but had not previously received the attention of the audience; such as the work's duration, location and technique. From these developments, it is not difficult to see how 'performance art' came to be (See Joseph Beuys and Yves Klein). If the gesture is valued more than what it produces, then why not gather the art audience around the gesture(s)? At that point, the audience itself took on a singular importance. Following Marcel Duchamp's notion of "Rendez-vous d'art," the work necessarily involves the observation or participation of an audience. In other words, the gesture always needs a receiver.

With performance art, we see the issue of an artifact or an end product dealt with in various ways. Sometimes the performance generates a piece of work, and sometimes the performance is only recorded through photography or other audio/visual means. In many galleries or museums, you will simply find traces or marks indicating that a work of art took place. Interestingperformanceance art seems to have diverted its future down two different roads; greater prominence for the artist as performer or a quest for increased purity of the gesture.

It seems that the 'relational artists' have accepted the latter for their mantle. In many cases, the audience not only experiences but receives the gesture itself or some token of it. Recall here the huge piles of candy that Felix Gonzalez-Torres left in gallery corners as a memorial to Ross. Along these lines, it should be noted that, following cultural theorists like Michel de Certeau, in our post-industrial consumer context the 'gift' proves a much stronger tool for thought than many conventional tactics. At least the form of the work requires a great deal more attention from recipient.

In the case of a recent exhibition at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts by Tino Seghal, I received a very odd giNaivelyvely, I happened upon last chance to catch exclusive new work, a relational art piece consisting entirely of ftravelingling conversations within the gallery. I will recount the experience briefly. Elif- a young girl of ten or eleven, met me at the door to the gallery and escorted me inside. As I observed the barren walls of the gallery, Elif asked me, "What is progress?" After spitting out a few thoughts, I wondered what was happening. Before our conversation had gotten started, Elif passed me off to Fred- a teenager of rare analytical faculties. Fred led me through the guts of the gallery; up the stairs and down the hallways. Before he had finished telling me about a Woody Allen movie I had reminded him of, Johnny entered the discussion. A man of thirty-five or so, Johnny told me several stories about people he had met and things he had read. As we walked, he learned of my studies and was commenting when... he suddenly took off down the stairs! At the bottom, Anne greeted me warmly, like the grandmother she obviously is. She reflected that progress is like a quilt that is patched together out of lots of different pieces. Anne is from the north and actually studied at Durham too. I hadn't even realized that she had led me to the gallery exit when Anne shook my hand and wished me luck. This journey took about twenty minutes.

I would describe this experience as a gift because the only artifact of the work is really the impression it made on me and what I took away. Honestly, four conversations with complete strangers these days is nothing short of an amazing gift. How many strangers do I pass everyday that aren't the least bit interested in telling me about themselves or hearing who I am?

While many would consider it very fortunate that I entered the gallery without any previous bias, I wonder what more I could have shared with these people about myself had I known what was in store. I have tried to envision what participation by Christians in relational art could be. I think it begins with a thoughtful recognition of the importance of the gesture offered and a sincere and honest response to it. Please follow the link to see an encouraging example of a recent artist's subtle, yet powerful use of gestures. See food, flowers and other stories.



For all our technological breakthroughs and
nearly omnipotent potentialities in the digital arts,
why do we not see more examples like this?

( thanks, katherine )



To set this in a more theological perspective, the arts can be seen as part of our calling to voice creation's praise, to extend and elaborate the praise which creation already sings to God. The doxology of creation has found its summation in Christ: the one through whom all things were created became part of a creation whose praise has been corrupted, and in the crucified and risen Lord, creation is offered back to the Father, redirected towards its originally intended goal. The Spirit now struggles in creation to bring about what has already been acheived in Christ. We are now invited into this movement in order to enable creation to be more fully what it was created to be.
Jeremy Begbie, 1997


art... Relational Aesthetics


Nicolas Bourriaud.
Relational Aesthetics.
trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods.
Dijon-Quetigny, France:
les presses du réel,
2002. 125pp.

I. Introduction
Commenting on the persistent desire for meaning both in art and life, Arthur Danto reflects on the future of contemporary art in a post-historical age. He writes, “What we see today is an art which seeks a more immediate contact with people than the museum makes possible… we are witnessing, as I see it, a triple transformation—in the making of art, in the institutions of art, in the audience of art.”[1] Perceptively, Danto foresees an imminent metamorphosis necessary for the art world, but could it be fulfilled in what Nicolas Bourriaud describes as ‘relational aesthetics?’ Reflecting on a shift to ‘models of sociability’ within contemporary art of the last decade or so, Bourriaud produces a theoretical system based on the recent art attempts focused on human relationality. It remains to be seen whether or not Bourriaud’s vision fulfills Danto’s expectations, but in the interim, ‘relational aesthetics’ offers rich developments for theological dialogue with the arts.

II. Summary
By way of summary, I would like to point out the unique features of Bourriaud’s argument, with a particular focus upon the impetus for, theory and practice of ‘relational aesthetics.’ Although the ‘relational aesthetics’ movement constitutes a very recent development in contemporary art, Bourriaud has reflected effectively on a leading group of artists from the past decade or more and produced a cohesive aesthetic system to interpret these developments. Let us examine first how the movement distinguishes itself from its predecessors.
Quite conscious of the authoritative ‘post-historical’ dynamic guiding contemporary art today, Bourriaud describes carefully the way in which ‘relational aesthetics’ both rejects and incorporates the important themes modernity exercised upon art. In this way, he quips, “It is not modernity that is dead, but its idealistic and teleological version.”[2] By this statement he means that the enthusiastic modern hopes for rational certainty or political utopias that fueled the artistic enterprise during the twentieth century have completely exhausted themselves. Thus, art no longer draws its inspiration from such optimistic visions and has turned its efforts to less grandiose projects. “Art was intended to prepare and announce a future world: today it is modeling possible universes,” microcosmic universes of authentic human sociability.[3] ‘Relational aesthetics’ is much less a consequence of the ideological or philosophical dilemmas of modernity than merely a reaction to the practical concerns of human interaction in our present world. Consider Bourriaud’s desperate tone as he writes,

"These days, communications are plunging human contacts into monitored areas that divide the social bond up into (quite) different products. Artistic activity, for its part, strives to achieve modest connections, open up (One or two) obstructed passages, and connect levels of reality kept apart from one another. The much vaunted “communication superhighways”, with their toll plazas and picnic areas, threaten to become the only possible thoroughfare from a point to another in the human world."[4]

In his argument, technology plays a suspicious role, and Bourriaud later cautions against technological indulgence in artistic exploration. The more important theme, however, remains the endemic lose of authentic social interaction in our post-industrial age. In this way, Bourriaud holds out hope that the gallery space can surpass its role as commentator of modern life and begin providing projects of human exchange, experiments for renewed sociability. He writes, “Herein lies the most burning issue to do with art today: is it still possible to generate relationships with the world, in a practical field art-history traditionally earmarked for their “representation”?”[5] ‘Relational aesthetics’ concerns itself with human relationality through the arts, a project rich with significance for more than just the art world. Thus, let us proceed to a discussion of Bourriaud’s theory.
As he constructs this aesthetic system, Bourriaud includes his own philosophy of art-history. Aware that art has always maintained a relational component to its self-understanding, he draws a three-tiered timeline of its development. First, in the period beginning with Classical Greco-Roman culture up to the height of Middle Ages, he sees art as an intended means of human relation to deity. Secondly, art was utilized for human relations to the physical world from the Renaissance through Modern art up to some forms of contemporary art. Finally, the third epoch of relational development began in the 1990’s with a turn toward inter-human relations and ‘models of sociability.’ Although the brevity of such a timeline may astound the reader, the gravity of his delineations cannot be ignored. Bourriaud explains his third epoch in terms of the urbanization of contemporary society. In this way, it is not hard to identify the sharp turn in contemporary art toward inter-human relations as a result or by-product of the drastic implications visited upon modern life by the increasingly urban challenges of today. As technology and urbanization relegate social functions to specific modes and spheres of experience, the spontaneity of authentic human relations is necessarily reduced. Thus, Bourriaud describes relational art as “art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context” in contrast to a modern approach that seeks “an independent and private symbolic space.”[6] Employing a term used by Marx, he defines relational art as the type that “represents a social interstice.”[7] In other words, the work itself becomes space of potentiality, a free realm of possibility for human interaction.
In this way, Bourriaud’s theory does not centre upon ontological or teleological statements of art, but rather stresses the significance of form. “Relational aesthetics does not represent a theory of art, this would imply the statement of an origin and a destination, but a theory of form.”[8] For him, works of art may embody or incorporate forms, which are the structures of relations and interactions between entities in the world. Bourriaud defines form as a lasting encounter, or an “independent entity of inner dependence.”[9] Thus, unlike previous conceptions of form as ‘closed off’ by artistic style and signature, relational artists offer forms open to “the dynamic relationship enjoyed by an artistic proposition with other formations, artistic or otherwise.”[10] Therefore, the aesthetic category of relationality organizes or determines the artistic form, so when “the aesthetic discussion evolves, the status of form evolves along with it, and through it.”[11] As far as the task of the artist, Bourriaud envisions the artist as the mediator of specific, concrete exchanges, the perception of which results from what Félix Guattari characterizes as the awareness of subjectivity in the presence of a second subjectivity.[12] For Bourriaud, this view of subjectivity as dependant upon the subjectivity of others supports immensely the communal aspirations of his theoretical system. This theory of ‘relational aesthetics’ necessarily places a great emphasis upon performance and participation, so let us consider his vision of the practice of relational art.
Incorporating Duchamp’s notion of “Rendez-vous d’art”- which justified works of art by virtue of their observation, Bourriaud seems to offer more implications from his theory for the art audience than the artist. As a consequence of relational art, he writes, “the artwork of the 1990’s turns the beholder into a neighbor, a direct interlocutor.”[13] It is the subjectivity of the observer that engages the subjectivity of the artist. Thus, for ‘relational aesthetics,’ Bourriaud claims that, “meaning and sense are the outcome of an interaction between artist and beholder, and not an authoritarian fact.”[14] The meaning that results from works of relational art comes from the interstice between artist and beholder, the attempt at momentary intimacy set apart from “the alienation reigning everywhere else.”[15] While the artist has supplied the “conditions” for interaction in his or her work, the beholder must engage the work for it to succeed. Thus, Bourriaud offers his readers helpful criteria for such engagement:

"The first question we should ask ourselves when looking at a work of art is: - Does it give me a chance to exist in front of it, or, on the contrary, does it deny me as a subject, refusing to consider the Other in its structure? Does the space-time factor suggested or described by this work, together with the laws governing it, tally with my aspirations in real life? Does it criticize what is deemed to be criticisable? Could I live in a space-time structure corresponding to it in reality?"[16]

In other words, Bourriaud envisions an audience response that transcends that of a “passive consumer” or mechanized witness; he sees the opportunity for a more human encounter.
While he draws inspiration from a range of provocative contemporary artists, Bourriaud lifts up the legacy of Felix Gonzalez-Torres as exemplar of relational art. Gonzalez-Torres made a profound impact on contemporary art through his attempts at relational types of art. Consider his series of installations dedicated to his homosexual lover, Ross Laycock, who succumbed to an AIDS-related illness in 1991, five years before Gonzalez-Torres’ own death from AIDS. Variously designated Untitled: Portrait of Ross, the memorials consist of a mound of wrapped candies or chocolates measured to Ross’ approximate body weight of 175 lbs. heaped in the corner of a gallery space. Visitors are not prohibited from taking as many candies as they wish, and the galleries are instructed to replenish the supply from time to time. Like many of his other works, the candy piles relate Gonzalez-Torres various emotions of love and loss through a participatory medium. As visitors grip their fetish-like souvenirs or enjoy a tasty treat, the encounter with the artist’s feelings about his lover’s depleting health occurs over and over again. Moreover, what surfaces is, as Bourriaud points out, Gonzalez-Torres’ enduring question: “How can a meeting between two realities alter them bilaterally?”[17]

III. Potential for Theological Engagement
In many ways, one of the most valuable aspects of contemporary art is the prevailing preoccupation with drawing attention to the often neglected or overlooked aspects of life. What the majority of self-professedly common people boycotting the galleries suggest is that art has become too unapproachable, intellectual or obtuse. Actually, for the most part, contemporary art is profoundly simplistic. In the same way that analytic philosophy has made various disciplines more precise with their use of language, the contemporary art world has demanded more precise sensibilities when it comes to their aesthetic goals. For our purposes, we must enquire what possibilities lay ahead for theological dialogue with relational art and Bourriaud’s ‘relational aesthetics.’
I would argue that theologians and churches that remain concerned about the cultural forces around them in the West would do well to learn from and appreciate the contributions of relational artists and Bourriaud’s aesthetic system. Though many may struggle in removing their aesthetic categories from Bourriaud’s first epoch of art history—due in no small part to general aesthetic ignorance amid the rising influence of institutional theories of art, all would benefit from a more participatory engagement with art. Theologians and ecclesiastical leaders that concern themselves with the influence of cultural habits or sensibilities upon the faith community must take note of the factors that have instigated the relational art movement. Faith communities should come to feel the impetus driving the movement, if they hope to minister effectively to themselves and the society around them. In short, we have much to learn from artists such as Gonzalez-Torres.
Similarly, the church has much to offer the relational art movement. Not only does the faith community dare to offer relation to the transcendent deity God through Christ the Incarnate Son, but the church also offers a restoration between human beings. Specifically, the believer’s spiritual union with Christ means a restoration of human potentiality, already experienced in this life but fulfilled in the coming kingdom. In other words, the gospel not only provides reconciliation between God and the individual, but it also provides a path of reconciliation between one individual and another, extending beyond the individual to encompass many individuals gathered together by God—‘the people of God’ as described throughout the bible. The locus of that reconciliation is the faith community gathered under the lordship of Christ and led by the Holy Spirit. Since the origins of Christianity, theologians have maintained the New Testament sense in which the faith community constitutes, along with Christ, the first fruits of the new creation. In this way, Christian theology, more than any other source, should preserve the inherent value of human relations in the post-industrial, social ghettos of modern life. In other words, we have a theological apparatus that may not only sustain dialogue with relational artists and their audiences but envision for them a tentatively present and comprehensively future restoration of human relationships through Christ. There remain great possibilities, primarily through participation, for how the theological imagination can picture for art audiences the recovery of human sociability in Christ.

IV. Conclusion
In light of the great hope that Christ holds out for a community of renewed humanity, one finds it quite disparaging to encounter artists and philosophers of art that dedicate their efforts toward authentic human interaction without certainty of its realization. Along these lines, Bourriaud concludes, “These days, utopia is being lived on a subjective, everyday basis, in the real time of concrete and intentionally fragmentary experiments. The artwork is presented as a social interstice within which these experiments and these new “life possibilities” appear to be possible. It seems more pressing to invent possible relations with our neighbors in the present than to bet on happier tomorrows. That is all, but it is quite something.”[18] Beyond mere experiments, can Christian community both signify and entail the hope of ‘utopian sociability?’

[1] Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997) 183.
[2] Nicolas Bourriaud. Relational Aesthetics. trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods. Dijon-Quetigny, France: les presses du réel, 2002, 13.
[3] Bourriaud, 13.
[4] Ibid., 8.
[5] Ibid., 9.
[6] Ibid., 14.
[7] Ibid., 16. Bourriaud explains Marx’s term thus, “The interstice is a space in human relations which fits more or less harmoniously and openly into the overall system, but suggests other trading possibilities that those in effect within this system.”
[8] Ibid., 19.
[9] Ibid., 19.
[10] Ibid., 21.
[11] Ibid., 21.
[12] Ibid., 91.
[13] Ibid., 43.
[14] Ibid., 80.
[15] Ibid., 82.
[16] Ibid., 57.
[17] Ibid., 52.
[18] Ibid., 45.



Sacredness is making a comeback, here, there, and everywhere. In a muddled way, we are hoping for the return of the traditional aura; and we don't have enough words to shout down contemporary individualism. A phase in the modern project is being wound up. Today, after two centuries of stuggle for singularity and against group impulses, we must bring in a new synthesis which, alone, will be able to save us from the regressive fantasy that is abroad. Reintroducing the idea of plurality, for contemporary culture hailing from modernity, means inventing ways of being together, forms of interaction that go beyond the inevitablility of the families, ghettos of technological user-friendliness, and collective institutions on offer. We can only extend modernity to advantage by going beyond the struggles it has bequeathed us. In our post-industrial societies, the most pressing thing is no longer the emancipation of individuals, but the freeing-up of inter-human communications, the dimensional emancipation of existence.
- Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, 1998



something to believe in...

Simply titled Hope, the Linda Warren Gallery of Chicago is offering an unexpectedly candid show on that "innate human desire" during the months of January and February. Bringing together six different artists with different conceptions of hope working in different media, the show brackets out our cultural assumptions and seeks to open up a fresh dialogue on the topic. After all, in their own words--"Hope is riskier than cynicism at this moment culturally and historically." Recognizing that our polite facade of mutual hope as a society or a nation is but an "illusion of reconciliation," the show's organizer offers both artist and audience the opportunity to explore exactly how we find hope in this life.

One of the more admirable goals among contemporary artists remains their efforts in drawing attention to the oft-neglected aspects of life. In this way, Hope takes up a simple subject, yet in profound fashion. How often do we consider the ways we cope with our own existence, for meaning belies hope, and hope uncovers belief? Though we may feel the answers are beyond us, the questioning itself may be our great hope.

Please check out the details at www.lindawarrengallery.com and make the visit to Chicago for what promises to be an extraordinary experience.



We “undergo” much of reality, sharply filtered and
pre-sensed, through the instant diagnostic sociology
of the mass media. No previous society has mirrored
itself with such profuse fascination.
George Steiner, 1970



Have you ever borrowed someone’s daydream?

On the occasion of Wilco’s release of their much-anticipated live album, I would like to reflect on the importance of this record and the band that made it. Like so many others, my welling enthusiasm for Kicking Television: Live in Chicago shrank with bitter disappointment when I learned that their live project would be limited to a double-disc record, and not include an accompanying DVD. Instead of divulging their reasons for that choice, (for clues, however, try pondering the album’s title) I would point anyone interested to an excellent interview with Tweedy in Paste magazine.

Having just recently considered with a good friend the provocative, reoccurring phenomena of love ‘em or hate ‘em reactions to Wilco from our acquaintances, I am strangely curious about what it is that keeps me so interested in their music. For some reason, I love listening to it, playing it and thinking about it as well. It seems to really give me something to engage with; not only through the CD’s but much more so as a live concert. I guess that’s why Kicking Television has been so enjoyable for me.

For anyone that has listened carefully to the past few albums, the inevitable question remains: Can they pull off that sound live? Kicking Television obliterates that concern. The recording of those two nights in Chicago contain more sonic ambiance and spontaneity than any of the studio recordings. Not only do the guys master the precedent of their albums, but they embellish the fabric of their sound with rich, textual layers of vibrancy and colour. Encircling the core of Tweedy’s serenades and rising off the driving rhythms of Stiratt and Kotche, float the exotic jazz musings of Nels Cline on lead guitar and the soft accents of John Jorgenson’s piano. In this way, tracks like “Company in my back” and “Via Chicago” come alive in ways unimagined on the studio releases. The careful balance struck between the sombre echoes of “Jesus, etc.” and “One by one” and the raw desperation of “At least that’s what you said” and “Misunderstood” go along way in capturing the essence of their live show, evoking for me powerful memories of the emotions I experience at their show this past summer.

My fascination with Wilco, however, has not always been so strong. Just a few years ago, I heard Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for the first time and wrote it off as an Americana version of Kid A. Interestingly enough, some Reprise records exec’s must have had a similar experience; recall the now infamous tale of Wilco’s reversal of fortune with Warner Bros. immortalized by Sam Jones in the film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Contained within that documentary, you will find an insightful interview with a Rolling Stone editor who perceptively dissected the whole affair. Basically, he explained that the album, like others since, required a careful listen. Unfortunately, our current culture is not so keen on careful listening. But Wilco, with the help of Warner Bros., has made a prolific run at opposing that unfortunate trend in society.

While much of the so-called ‘Alt. Country’ genre is still hell-bent on the ethno-musicological interests of resurrecting an ‘old’ sound, Tweedy and the guys write songs for tomorrow through a veil of the past. With simple folk songwriting and electronicly creative arrangements in the studio space, Wilco attempts new ways of constructing, and often deconstructing, Americana. Tweedy’s unique approach gives his listeners just enough of the human touch in his lyrics to evoke resonance but keeps a certain, wary distance from autobiography. His style offers a glimpse, a window of emotion, while at the same time elusively avoiding the intense abyss of a more austerely confessional approach. Tweedy’s subtle resonances are made possible through the tempered use of soft melody and sheer noise, a soundscape representative of the all too familiar echoes of our industrial environment. Treading the aural space of a Wilco record can best be described as borrowing a friend’s daydream. Take a listen to “I am trying to break your heart” or “Radio Cure,” and see what I mean. While many may not share my appreciation for Wilco’s approach, we can all acknowledge the respect they give their audience. In an age where the music industry is frantically searching for the most cost-effective pop formulas to package scores of pre-digested tunes, Wilco requires something from its audience: imagination! To their credit, imagination is what makes Kicking Television so powerful.

More than just a great representation of their show, Kicking Television sends Wilco fans a subtle message. Unlike most other contemporary pop/rock, Wilco refuses to be just another product of their time. Their simple choice to release a live album instead of cashing in on DVD sales shows me that they expect a similar resolve from their fans. They would like to remind us that music is a gift, not merely a universal right of citizenship in this post-industrial civilization. No one is oblivious to the preponderance of music outlets available to us today. Consider how Descartes famous dictum could easily be replaced with a more updated sentiment: “I am therefore ipod.” As music has come to mean less and less to us as a culture, can we find a way to enjoy it a fresh? Maybe, but only with some imagination.

See Wilco’s site to preview or purchase Kicking Television, www.wilcoworldnet. Also, check out the Paste Magazine interview with Tweedy: www.pastemagazine.com/action/article?article_id=2421.



Speak to me in song:
Elizabethtown and the intersection of film and popular music

How pleasant and painful art can be! I guess I should rather say good, or even great art, since many thinkers consider deep emotional reactions a superior indicator of the quality of successful works of art. Recently, we found ourselves in the midst of one such experience. Expecting merely a nice 'date movie,' Anna and I happened upon Cameron Crowe's recent film- Elizabethtown this past weekend with quite surprising results. I suppose that the fact we left the cinema in tears dictates further reflection upon this quite uncharacteristic response. Here, I will offer both reflection and review and a discussion of what I am learning through each. I am moved to offer such because I am so curious about the role and influence of popular music in not only my own life but the larger context of contemporary culture. Since confession is good for the soul, and part of my method, let's begin there.

Concerning the painful, or the melancholic rather, we could not help the longing inside us for the people and places that await us back 'home'- that which provides the landscape for Crowe's story. Filmed almost exclusively in the areas in and around Louisville, Kentucky with important references to Tennessee, Elizabethtown adopts the cultural vernacular of our home in order to communicate its tale. (Now that's a sentence pregnant with assumptions and questions!) What do I mean by a term like 'cultural vernacular?' Well, I am trying to suggest the broadest sense of visual, oral, and emotional language that I can. Trying to describe Crowe's approach, I would have to say that choosing Louisville in particular and the 'Southern' culture in general provided a unique authenticity to the story, especially for someone from this region. From the production notes available on the film's website, it is clear that filming on location was a supreme priority for the filmmakers. This commitment affords them remarkable opportunities, and along these lines, Crowe showcases poignant examples from the world of our 'home,' which would not be possible otherwise. The 'Heartland'- as referred to by the production notes, actually surfaces from the backdrop to become a very real part of the story.

I will divulge one vivid example. When Orlando Bloom's character Drew first arrives in Elizabethtown the viewer is powerfully and creatively oriented to the setting. As Drew gets out of his rental car, you witness his drastic realization of entering a previously unknown world. We watch as Drew encounters physically both the wilting oppression of Kentucky's summer humidity and the deafening din of cicada choruses. It really takes you back!

And despite the uncomfortable reminders, it is home, our home. In this way, the overall topography of the film provided us a stunning reminder of the world we left behind to come to England. So, the film showed us our homesickness, when we were barely aware of it ourselves. The timeliness of this reminder could hardly be better, since I have recently been trying to reflect on what I missed most about the cultural context we left behind. In its profound complexity, this film showed me that most of all I have been longing for that cultural fabric that holds life together, the life I know back home. I will illustrate what I mean here.

Cameron Crowe's greatest asset as a filmmaker is not any special talent that makes other directors or writers or producers great. Crowe's genius lies in an ability that almost no one else in the movie business has utilized, at least with any skill equaling that of Crowe. His fundamental approach to making films begins with a more holistic respect for life. Unlike so many others, Crowe never underestimates the value and potential of music. He understands that somewhere amid the interplay of film and appropriate music lies an undeniable emotional power. In this way, he creates a series of visual images that resonate beyond the sheer beauty of the image because the visual recognition of such is intimately linked to the emotional depth of the song or music he has carefully selected to encapsulate the scene.

For too many filmmakers, the 'soundtrack' is merely an afterthought to production, but not so for Crowe. As detailed on the website, Crowe makes popular music an intimate part of the whole process. He keeps a journal of how he intends to use specific songs in films or scenes. This process also involves incorporating those essentials songs into the casting calls as well. Crowe even uses music to 'set the stage' for a specific scene while on location. Also drawing from the input of the cast member's musical tastes, Crowe never stifles the profound influence that music can bring to film. And, the end result gains much for his creative take on music. Consider Jerry Maguire; a movie that I felt would not have made such an impact without the aid of a superior soundtrack. Or Almost Famous, more than a thoroughly interesting autobiographical tale, Crowe provides an excellent anthology of rock history throughout the story of the fictitious band Stillwater. This talent is even further developed in Elizabethtown.

If you have a special place in your heart for "mix tapes," then you will love this film. As opposed to High Fidelity, which merely philosophizes on the subject, Elizabethtown chronicles with the visual narrative the power of a 'mix tape.' Beyond giving a nod to the cultural phenomenon of 'mix tapes,' however, Crowe accomplishes so much more. Allow me to reflect on three examples that involve quite captivating expressions of the nature of human relationships.

First, Crowe captures the delightful mystique of a budding romantic connection through an unlikely choice of song. As Drew and Clare form the first fruits of romance through the free-flowing banter of an extended phone conversation, Crowe juxtaposes scenes of the two talking into the night with Ryan Adams' "Come pick me up," a melancholic gem from his first solo CD Heartbreaker. While the subject matter of Adams' song- the dark remains of betrayal and estrangement between lovers, actually communicates the opposite of what is budding between the characters in Crowe's story, the song works there. The emotional freedom and exuberance that exists between Drew and Clare in that moment of the film is actually strengthened by the wistful refrain of Adams' song. As the singer proclaims, "Come pick me up, take me out..." and expresses his regret over the loss of something special, we experience the convergence of bitter reminiscence and pining aspirations. In this way, the moment on screen deepens through the thematic intersection of memory and hope. Even if the contrast is not identified by the viewer of the subject matter portrayed by the song and the scene, the song works simply for its raw emotion. The youthful yet grave tone of Ryan Adams imparts a layer of longing that cannot be gleaned from the visual images alone. In this way, Crowe communicates a deeper level of romantic potentiality through his methodic use of popular music. Also, we can see that his approach works well with various other emotions.

Secondly, and more comically, Crowe succeeds in uniting a once disparate family group through the mutual celebration of some classic 'Southern Rock.' At a point in the film when the emotional gravity of the situation has fully emerged among several key characters, especially the chief protagonist, the family receives the opportunity to merely enjoy the moment they have together as they witness the momentous reunion of Ruckus, Cousin Jesse's failed rock group. The communal catharsis and subsequent restoration present in the cinematic moment is furthered exemplified by the song choice, what else but Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird." Too long have these 'Southern Rock' ballads served as cultural anthems throughout the Southeast we may agree. We cannot, however, deny their influence, an influence quite apparent in Crowe's film. While the cultural significance of what the band represents remains an important point, the song itself speaks to the need to face one's own mortality and help others deal with the subsequent pain of loss. Recall the haunting question of Ronnie Van Zandt: "...will you still remember me?" Thus, despite the overindulgence of 'Southern Rock' clichés, "Freebird" is an appropriate embodiment of the moment. While the family struggles with the despair of death, they can also relish their togetherness and respond to the emotive invitation of the song's extended jam. It seems that Crowe may be hinting at the fact that just as Lyrynd Skynyrd goes on with life after intense tragedy so also will this family. Again, if these connections do not emerge for the film's audience, it is clear that the ecstasy that results from rockin' out on "Freebird" communicates the sort of unitive joy that Mitch desired for his families, both nuclear and extended. The humanity portrayed in this scene also proves to further authenticate the whole story. Though quite enjoyable and cathartic for the audience as well, this scene cannot compare to an even greater accomplishment of Crowe's wedding of story and song.

Third, Crowe narrates the development of the key relationship between Drew and his father through his use of Elton John's "My Father's Gun." Here, Crowe's creative technique achieves full blossom. The song reflects the experience of a young Rebel soldier's task in burying his father and taking up the inheritance of his father's legacy, symbolized by his gun. Crowe admits the singular importance of this song for the film. He relates how the transformation of the song's character provides the same emotional journey for Drew in Elizabethtown. Placed strategically near Drew's receiving the news about his own father, the song begins with the starkness of death's reality, encapsulating the sort of empty confusion and somber realizations that are no doubt plaguing Drew at the time. Unlike the Rebel son who could boldly stand in his father's place, Drew did not know his father well at all. He found himself at a loss in grieving for his father. In this way, the tension surrounding Drew's inability to mourn over his father's death builds throughout the film. When the moment finally comes, Crowe returns to "My Father's Gun," which transitions to a jubilant refrain to end the song. Once Drew deals with the reality of what has happened in his life, he has finally grasped the restoration and renewal symbolized so well in the song. Thus, Crowe has succeeded not only in giving form and shape to Drew's delayed experience of mourning but also granted the viewer a greater depth to the emotion of the story. While this is the aim of every film score, Crowe proves a master in his use of dual texts, the visual and the oral. May I add that this approach to film offers me great delight in the midst of the most bittersweet of emotional connections touched upon. Here, we have both the pleasure and the pain; now for some concluding thoughts.

There remain multiple questions surrounding this whole creative enterprise. What are the rules, if any? How do the artists' intentions compare or contrast with the resultant emotional effects that Crowe utilizes? Or better yet, what is left in his ipod when the whole process is done? Well, let's not cloud the discussion with any frivolous speculations. Crowe's mastery of the interplay between film and popular music provokes much deeper reflection than mere technique. I think that he is really on to something.

As a voracious student of popular music, Crowe seems to have a unique advantage in this respect, but I credit his sensitivity most. Not only does Crowe have intimate knowledge about the developments, origins and sources of most popular music, his greatest asset as a student of music remains his empathetic ear. He can at once feel the resonance of a great song and simultaneously envision how to portray that moment visually. In other words, Crowe simply works on the intuition that we all have. Our culture has trained us to experience life with songs, usually pop songs. There is a cultural vocabulary known only to the heart through song, and this is the great resource Crowe utilizes. In other words, popular music provides what I termed above the 'cultural fabric' of life back home.

In my own life, I recognize the power of music to generate and embody the memories that are both endearing and loathsome. They are my horror and my joy, because they are a very real part of my experience. I know that I can't escape the power that music has to deepen my own life. In this way, I will never be able to thank my father, and mother, enough for the way popular music has shaped me. They gave me a cultural language of emotion wrapped in music, the stuff with which to make sense of my own heart. And just like Crowe, I am a kid that has never really gotten over the way music so captures us in awe and wonder, takes us away and sings for us when we can't.

So, I am thankful, more than thankful, that there is a filmmaker that communicates in a language I can understand with my whole heart. While I am so far from home, adjusting to a new culture, Elizabethtown has granted me a glimpse of what I miss most. And I didn't even know that I was so homesick.

Please see the film and visit www.elizabethtown.com/home.html for the songs, interviews, videos, and more. Thanks for indulging me.