Bridge to Wonder: Art as a Gospel of Beauty

Article excerpt

Bridge to Wonder: Art as a Gospel of Beauty. By Cecilia González- Andrieu. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012. Pp. 250. $29.95.

When I was an undergrad uà te at a bilingual university in Tokyo, one of my classmates chose San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge as the subject of a 10minute presentation required for ART-201, "Introduction to World Art." His presentation was successful; he provided focal information about the bridge along with some beautiful images, although he was noticeably frustrated with this monotonous routine. Clearly, this was not what he wanted to tell us about the bridge.

This classmate lived in San Francisco with his Japanese parents throughout high school. For him, the Golden Gate Bridge was the symbol encapsulating his experiences - the cultural ambiguity, anxiety, loneliness, wonder, and joy of living in a foreign city far across the Pacific from his native country. Yet, when he began talking about his love of the bridge, the time allocated for his presentation was already up. In any case, the requirements of ART-201 did not include sharing anything "personal" with the class. Nor did they concern sharing anything beyond objective information about the bridge.

This book would have helped. Cecilia Gonzalez- Andrieu's vibrant book on theological aesthetics proposes a theological method to articulate profound "personal feeling" toward works of art and to develop it into an "insight" that can be shared with others. "I have proposed that our experience with works of art is at first pre- theological," she remarks, "only moving to an interpretive and reflexive mode as a second step " (30). Working her way through a number of brilliant artworks and provocative art projects, González-Andrieu demonstrates the transition from the pre- theological first step to the interpretive and reflexive second step. The book is a learned and eye-opening read for all who wish to articulate the religious potential inherent in all art. Especially to Christian educators, the book provides instruction on accommodating an individual's experience of art in classrooms and church communities, and transforming it into religious insight that is at once revelatory and redemptive.

Bridge to Wonder stands out among other excellent works in the field, for the author engages in critical studies of actual works of art and offers new ways to explore ethical and pedagogical aspects of theological aesthetics: "Theology can help unpack the insight of what it means to see and to care that others also see," she writes. "Works of art can be redemptive if they help build communities of vision and renewed purpose: art and theological reflection may work together to bring to light what is wrong by imagining how something may be righted" (43). Despite the book's limited space, the author presents the widest range of art - for example, Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, the works of John August Swanson and Sergio Gomez, sculpture, theater, music, architecture, and film - and illumines their theological potential by weaving together different viewpoints, seeing the arts not simply as objects or objectified performances but articulating each artwork's role "as witness and producer of revelatory symbols" (18).

Navigating through theories of art from the classic (Plato and Aristotle) to the modern era (Pope John Paul II, Paul Tillich, and Karl Rahner), GonzálezAndrieu stresses two points with regard to the roles of art in our society: art as a bridge toward revelatory wonder and art as a means to unify a community Thus, the author introduces fresh interpretations of some canonical texts. As for Aristotle, for example, González-Andrieu emphasizes the communal outlook present in the philosopher's understanding of art: "The primacy Aristotle gives to the 'we' in the Poet ics_to the shared humanity of artist, art, and audience_is truly remarkable" (105). Indeed, as we read the Poetics from the perspective of shared experience of humanityÁ | fear and pity | it is evident that art cannot be autonomous. …