Thursday, 10 March 2011

Getting my act together

Poor Ian. I never thought that this exchange between us would get so deep and far-ranging. So many ideas and issues, and yet ultimately, you have to take them and write an icon inspired by these thoughts and musings. I am beginning to think that everyone who wants to really understand their faith and belief should commission an icon!! The term writing an icon seems wholly appropriate. At this stage, I think I really must try to pull things together. Trouble is, I have a BSc (econ) not a BA in theology or fine arts! And so, I have to use the tools I have to hand and that I know how to use in order to contribute to this opus. And that is absolutely right, it seems to me. I have to harness faith and reason - ratio et fides - with the tools that I have to hand. In which case, I think that I have set out four types of spiritual and artistic product: (1) Sacred Heart as drawing or diagram; (2) Sacred Heart as Batoni type; (3) Sacred Heart as Merson type and ; (4) Sacred Heart as 'Paray' type. The aim of this project is to produce a fifth type: an Icon of the Sacred Heart. What I have to do, in order to help Ian, is (as a customer) identify my preferences or formulate my 'utility preferences': in other words what do I get (my utility) in a spiritual sense from these different modes of representation. Of course, all choices - whether spiritual or material - have opportunity costs, costs and benefits and trade-offs. That is, if you get more of x you get less of y. By choosing to do A you cannot do B. Ten pounds or ten mins doing C can be measured in terms of the money or time you do not spend on D or E. Seems to me that spiritual utility works just like any other. So, I should ask what kind of spiritual / aesthetic utility ( and dis-utility) do I get from each type of image. In that way, I can better understand what kind of 'return' I want from a type 5! Another aspect of this spiritual economy ( and I know in theology the word economy has another meaning) is the cognitive utility: that is how does an given type of image function as a spiritual heuristic? I always give the example of the London underground map as a heuristic: its inventor, Harry Beck , solved the problem of people getting lost on the underground system by saying let us look at the underground as an electrical circuit diagram. It is not, but let us look at this way. And bingo: we all get smarter. Heuristics ( from the Greek "Εὑρίσκω" for to "find" or "discover" - as when Archimedes shouted ' Eureka!' ) make people smarter, so therefore a spiritual heurustic - such as an image - aims to make us more spiritual.

So, a key aspect of the economics of sacred images is the heuristic aspect of their utility. And, it follows, that will be different from person to person over time and space. What works for some people will not work for others. Spiritual utility will inevitably be a function of personal preferences over culture. Therefore, the question I have to pose to myself is 'what kind of spiritual values does a given mode of representation give?' In other words, I need to apply ratio to my fides! (Of course, I would ask my students to turn all this into a mathematical model- but that is going too far!)

My next set of blogs, therefore will, for poor Ian's sake, try to analyse what the existing image types do for me. In this way, I think I can clarify what our icon is all about! I hope this is helpful? I will return to the issue of 'The Sacred Heart and Evolution' at a later date!

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