by Ivan Riascos
I recently finished my MFA degree and I have decided to put my thesis paper on wordpress. I will be posting according to chapters. If the response is good I will keep posting. In the end I will put a link to my artwork.
Please remember this is copyrighted, so please respect! If anyone wants the actual PDF, please go to UCF Library to view it. Also I added links for references only on the web, they were not part of the original paper.
DOUBTING THOMAS: THE TESTAMENTS
B.F.A the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2008
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Master of Fine Arts
in the School of Visual Arts and Design
in the College of Arts and Humanities
at the University of Central Florida
Spring Term 2014
© 2014 Ivan Riascos
This paper will discuss the creation of my artwork, which has been inspired by my experiences and understandings of Catholicism and its icons. I will consider how iconography works in art, its influence, and how and why I have created this artwork dealing with my beliefs. I will also refer to the works of contemporary artists Duane Michals and Michael Wesely to help explain my exhibition, which I have titled “Doubting Thomas: The Testaments.”
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Having been raised in a religious household I witnessed my mother’s unwavering belief in and devotion to Catholicism, despite highly publicized reports of pedophilia, and corruption within the institution. When I was a child I did not question going to Mass or the Church’s teachings, but as I got older, those teachings began to conflict with what I was witnessing in the world. Also, I often felt disconnected from the religious imagery I was exposed to, because I was taught that the images were actual representations of what had happened according to the scriptures. Instead, that imagery came from the imagination of an artist and his view of the world, or from his interpretation of the scriptures of the Bible, which did not relate to my views or offer substantial proof.
For my thesis show I have created two bodies of work that explore my experiences and understanding of Christianity. First is the use photography to create my understanding of the biblical stories that my mother and I often discussed. The second are sculptures referencing a specific experience that I believe was directed, perhaps from God, towards only me. That experience raised the question, “Is God communicating with me”? For the installation, I created an object similar to the one that I encountered during the event to recapture the spiritual effect it had on me.
This paper will discuss how and why I created the photographs from the first part of my exhibition and the sculptural installation for this exhibition, which I have titled “Doubting Thomas: The Testaments.”
UNDERSTANDING AND DOUBTS
In this chapter I will provide a brief history of Catholic iconography and of my formerly incomplete understanding of it to justify my thesis.
The origins of iconography are hard to determine, because many cultures have been shown to “write with images.” Iconography is a term used in anthropological studies and art studies. Iconography is also general term applicable—generically—to the West and the East, as well as to their respective religious sub-genres, such as Christian, Orthodox, and Buddhist. Each branch has specific criteria, such as its location, culture, beliefs, and a system of symbols that have been established through historical studies.
In the Oxford Dictionary of Art the word icon is defined as:
An image of a saint or other holy personage, particularly when the image is regarded by the devotee as sacred in itself and capable of facilitating contact between him or her and the personage portrayed. The term, which derives from the Greek word eikōn, meaning ‘likeness’, has been applied particularly to sacred images of the Byzantine Church and the Orthodox Churches of Russia and Greece (The Oxford Dictionary of Art).
Because several meanings and histories of icons exist I do not intend to write broadly about the subject. Instead I primarily discuss Catholic iconography I was exposed to and its relevance to my artwork.
While growing up I encountered religious iconography inside churches and in an illustrated Bible. I accepted their truths as literal. Two paintings that affected me were Saint Michael the Archangel Michael Bringing Down Lucifer by Francesco Solimena, and The Collapse of the Tower of Babel by the Dutch School. Solimena’s painting depicted a winged creature banishing the angel who was to become Satan. But I began to wonder, if Michael had the opportunity to defeat Lucifer once and for all, why did he not do so? Michael would have eliminated evil in the world. I believed that evil arose from Satan’s desire to lead us away from God. Where did a world of winged, and powerful creatures come from? How did they relate to me? Would they rule over me if I reached heaven? How does someone become an angel? It did scare me into not wanting to be a sinner and end up in hell. I was less inquisitive about The Collapse of the Tower of Babel because its message was clear and it was such a powerful image that I did not question its validity. In the story of the tower of Babel, God was angered that humans believed they could reach heaven on their own. God destroyed the tower and created different languages so humans could not complete the construction of the tower. I reacted equally strongly to images that depicted the scriptures in which God punished humans for not obeying him, especially from the Old Testament, such as; The Destruction of Sodom by Jean Baptiste Corot (http://worldvisitguide.com/oeuvre/O0030826.html), The Evening of the Deluge by John Martin (http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_130359/John-Martin/The-Evening-of-the-Deluge-1828), The Plague of Asdod by Nicolas Poussin (http://bible-library.com/imgfullsize?id=ag1iaWJsZS1saWJyYXJ5chALEgdQaWN0dXJlGI_w8QIM), etc. These images blurred truth and fiction and confused me as a child. Images created by these artists matched my understanding of particular scriptures. I was taught, “you do not question the word of God,” which meant the Bible is the truth. At the same time I was being taught in school the theory of Evolution and other scientific theories. Why did men attempt to give us a metaphorical understanding of the world at a time when it was not possible to explain the phenomena referenced in these stories? This conflict weakened my trust in biblical scriptures as tools for resolving my daily moral dilemmas.
When author Albert Moore discusses Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s, The HundredGuilder Print (http://www.artbible.info/art/large/446.html), he suggests that an icon is a ‘likeness,’ and that the reality it seeks to embody is actually present. Thus Rembrandt’s etching shows us that Jesus was a person 2000 years ago who preached and healed the sick. The picture purports to provide us his likeness despite the fact that neither Rembrandt nor anyone else could be sure of what Jesus looked like. At the same time we are drawn into the picture as a depiction of the present, for it represents (makes present again) to our mind’s eye Jesus meeting a group of people who would have seen him. The “reality” of the image has simply been taken from its original time and place – or at least from Rembrandt’s – and made available to us (Moore 30).
Over the years as an artist I’ve learned that the purpose (or effect) of art is to illustrate the artist’s intentions as well as the culture and time period that the artist lived in. “Art is sometimes classified by anthropologists as cultural tradition and as communication-to convey ideas and emotions by means of conventions and formal symbols and to reinforce beliefs, customs and values” (Moore 33).
After reading Albert Moore’s ideas, I understood my feeling of separation from the religious imagery I had grown up with. These images from the past did not relate and coincide with my understanding of the world. This alienation became a primary motivation for the creation of this body of work.
Three main things that I was taught about faith were: (1.) one does not question it, because God works in mysterious ways; (2.) God’s intentions for us are incomprehensible to us, and (3.) one can witness God’s hand in the everyday if one pays attention. The ideas correspond to “blind faith,” which I had difficulty with, but the third idea was also a motivation for my thesis project, which meant if I witness God’s hand at work or its results, I can photograph it.
To be continued…