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Image and Spirit: Finding Meaning in Visual Art.

Image and Spirit: Finding Meaning in Visual Art. By Karen Stone. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003. 171 pages. Paper. $16.99.

Stone, instructor of art at the University of Texas at Arlington and art specialist for the Fort Worth Independent School District, offers here a helpful and delightful book. Whether you think you know a lot or only a little about art, you have much to gain from this book. As a handbook it clues us in to those criteria by which the guild of artists judge their works, thereby helping us all appreciate art better. She brings this discussion to bear upon the desire to interpret art, especially as any given artifact might offer a spiritual-depth dimension. Her book is limited to the visual arts; it does not deal with music or theater.

In attempting to bridge art and religion, her goal is not to help us understand "religious art" but instead the religious dimension to a work of art, if one can be discerned. Her quest is appropriate and plausible, because religion embraces ritual and symbol; it is enmeshed with images that tell more compellingly than historical fact or dogma the significance of the mystery of our existence (p. 8). Following Augustinian sacramental theology, she notes that art is a kind of embodiment, a visible word (p. 9). Art reaches to the depths of time, truth, suffering, and joy (p. 11). Even if any given artist did not intend a spiritual meaning or truth to a work, "nothing forbids our experience of it spiritually" (p. 12). Indeed, for Stone, art is a form of practical theology.

Stone helps us interpret art by initiating us into the standards of the art guild that judges art. She informs us of the many purposes of art, such as stylization, expression, decoration, imitation, and formalization (pp. 37-43) in which art can offer narratives, teach, commemorate, and socially change the world. She shows us how to describe art, label it (in terms of information about the artist), and seek its content, or subject matter (p. 64). She shows the relation between technique and content--line, shape, value, color, texture, and space (pp. 72-73). When interpreting art we need to ask: Is the artifact more naturalistic or more abstract? Does it show more similarities to reality or more differences? The heart of interpretation can be found in questioning art (sometimes in its reciprocal questioning of ourselves), free association, comparing and contrasting, investigating, eliminating, suggesting, testing, and reflecting (p. 101).

The volume is particularly helpful in that it offers a glossary and glossy reproductions of images discussed in the text.

Stone helps us move from images to mystery, a depth dimension that art suitably conveys. She moves us from a private understanding of art to a community (What does art do in and for the community?) as well as the prophetic nature of art. It is art that addresses us and not we who manipulate art.

Art is a central component of worship in iconic traditions. Given that fact, this book merits wide attention. It is recommended for a general audience, interdisciplinary courses on college, university, or seminary campuses, and adult parish education groups.

Mark C. Mattes

Grand View College

Des Moines, Iowa
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Author:Mattes, Mark C.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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