Reviews > Culture

The American sublime

"The American sublime" Continued...

Issue: "Brothers up in arms," Oct. 26, 2002

Hudson River landscapes are transcendent, both visually and in their understanding of the relationship between nature and God. This is in stark contrast to the next school of American artists, the Luminists, who, influenced by the Transcendentalists, really were Romantics. In their landscapes-which are beautiful to see and which anticipate the European Impressionists by decades-the light seems to pulsate from within the natural scene. God, for them, is in nature. Whereas, for the Hudson River Christians, God made nature, sustains it, is involved with it, cares for it, but however vast the natural landscape, He alone is infinite.

To the credit of its curators, the "American Sublime" exhibit, in its labeling and catalog, recognizes the religious impulse in these paintings. It also recognizes the centrality of faith to the formation of American culture. The Hudson River school artists "were trying to forge the idea of a great nation, one that was close to God," says Ms. Sajet, "and that this was a country blessed by God."

No wonder people jaded by the content-free pretensions of modern art, and made cynical by the ironic contradictions of postmodern art gasp at the sight of these American landscapes.

Contemporary Christian artists, in whatever field, can learn much from their predecessors. Many follow secular styles, naively trying to force some Christian content into intrinsically incompatible artistic theories. They would be better off devising original, new styles of their own suited for the truth they want to convey, styles that will make the secular world want to emulate them.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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