The Art of William Kentridge

One of the great things about John Coleman, S.J., is his ability to write on seemingly any topic with great grace and lucidity--from theology to sociology and, more recently for America, on art.  Here is Fr. Coleman, a sociologist associate pastor at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, writing on the mysterious art of William Kentridge, the subject of a new exhibition in SF. Here's Coleman:

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"That often ill-defined term “spirituality” must, minimally, refer to some actual practices (such as meditation, worship, using a mandala, journaling, consulting a spiritual advisor, fasting) which help us to see the world as it really is. That is no mean feat, given our fierce denials of reality—to see the world as it really is might, at times, force us, like Mr. Kurtz in Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, to shout out:” The horror! The horror!”  Sometimes seeing in new ways will change our behaviors; conversely, sometimes actual altering of behaviors (for example, going to live among the poor) may change the way we see. To be sure, seeing, as the artist Georgia O’Keefe once put it, “takes time, as to have a friend.”

Nor, as Ignatian spirituality insists, in its evocation of the use of all five senses, is seeing the only metaphor for spirituality. Art becomes a vehicle of spirituality (even if it is not, as such, explicitly either religious or spiritual) when it helps us see the world as it really is, and to conjure how the world might be imagined as different from what it is. That spiritual task of “seeing” lies behind the fecund allegory of Plato’s cave. In that metaphor, Plato postulated that we, actually, live in a cave where we only see the somewhat distorted shadow images of the real. We converse, huddled together, trying to figure out what the shadows really convey. For Plato, the philosopher who escapes the cave and sees reality as it is, in the light of the sun, returns to the underground in an act of compassion, to help people better “read” the shadow images they see.

Few contemporary artists have so touched my imagination or sensibilities or raised spiritual questions for me as the South African artist William Kentridge."

Read the rest here, in our Books and Culture section online.

James Martin, SJ

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