we’ve explored the intersection of faith and culture here before, specifically in the realm of the arts. this time, though, i’d like to begin by posing a question:
must/should art be accurate?
must art be “correct”? must it be definitional in nature? must it be factual?
i came across a group called B.A.S.I.C. (brothers and sisters in christ) who are based in ireland. whereas i’ve yet to learn a lot about this group, i certainly connected with their “who we are” statement, proclaiming,
BASIC, founded in 1993, is an Irish-based network of women and men (lay, religious, priests) who feel called to play an active part in building up a Church Community which is freed from the sin of sexism and healed from the divisions between men and women.
BASIC believes in a Church which affirms, proclaims, lives out and makes visible sacramentally God’s creation of women and men as equal partners and the Good News of their reconciliation and unity in Christ.
great stuff (which are certainly values that are shared at eikon). what often strikes me about groups/ministries who are committed to fostering biblical gender equality is that a thorough review of jesus’ life and teachings paired with ancient hebraic history is necessary. what then flowed from this quest was a survey of related common cultural misunderstandings. one they identified is that, often, leonardo’s the last supper is often used as ammunition against their cause, with people stating, “well, there were no women present at the last supper!”
BASIC, as a part of their journey in affirming and advocating gender equality, decided to use art as a mode of educating. they discovered that leonardo’s depiction was far from accurate, omitting the following:
women, yet the Passover had to be eaten by whole families including women
children, yet the laws of Passover require children to ask questions so that they can learn the meaning of the Passover meal from their parents
the disciples who prepared the meal during the day
so, BASIC commissioned a new version of the last supper by polish artist bohdan piasecki in which the last supper was depicted in a distinctly jewish context (supposedly biblically accurate). here’s what piasecki created (unfortunately this is the best quality i could find online):
in this, you’ll find everything that was “missing” in leonardo’s depiction: women, children, distinctly jewish surroundings, the “correct” passover food, etc.
while i certainly find this depiction to be amazing in its accuracy and i truly appreciate the educational aspect of this piece of art, it doesn’t lead me to leave completely leave behind leonardo’s version.
first, leonardo’s piece, of course, is amazing. there’s something to be said for good art. while that’s a whole separate conversation in itself, good art trumps “true”-but-bad art—art, music, writing, film, whatever—any day. i’m certainly not suggesting that piasecki’s piece is “bad” by any means (in fact i very much like it), but i simply throw this idea out there because it’s worth mentioning.
more to the point, i think art is primarily representational of much more than “just the facts, ma’am.” art is feeling. it’s emotion. it’s one’s experiences. it’s a point-of-view. it’s contextual. it’s changing.
leonardo’s piece isn’t “accurate” but it tells us something about who leonardo was, the setting in which he created the piece and the culture in which he lived. leonardo’s piece has survived not only because of the information it gives us, but because of the work itself.
last year, the ever-controversial photographer david lachapelle created a collection called jesus is my homeboy in which he represented the life of jesus in the context of very modern scenarios. in this collection, among many other scenes, lachapelle offered his own take on the last supper:
of the three depictions, obviously, lachapelle’s version is the least “accurate” in the literal sense of the word. clearly, lachapelle wasn’t trying to be accurate.
what lachapelle did do, though, was create an evocative and stirring depiction of the last supper that is, quite frankly, my favorite of the three.
i love the diversity (in spite of only males being represented) and a sense of the sordid company that jesus often kept. there’s also a sense of exploration that engages the viewer. i want to look at this depiction over and over and each time i could find something new. it’s also something that evokes a different story based on what mood you are in when you approach the piece. i can see excitement or confusion or mystery or curiosity or claustrophobia or suspicion or scandal or social engagement. it certainly isn’t accurate, but it makes it no less “true.”
so, ultimately, my answer is “no.” art doesn’t have to be accurate. art evokes something much more truthful than the truth. it presents a reality deeper than reality. accuracy doesn’t make or break a piece of art.
so, must/should art be accurate? what do you think?