Tuesday, November 13, 2012

From Awe to Awful

My friend, Ink, the world's most Catholic architect, writes in a combox here ...

The modernist movement of the 1920s is the reason for the
horrendous space ship churches we have today. Blame Le Corbusier and Mies
van der Rohe. Also, the US was REALLY late to the modernism gig because
they decided that they didn't want their houses looking like factories,
while the entirety of Europe thought the factory typology was the coolest
thing since Haussman.

Well, those of us not in the know are glad of one thing - that the U.S. resists the decadence of Europe for as long as possible.  We're only just now taking up Atheistic Secularism as our dominant culture of choice, while Europe is almost becoming tired of it by now.  If our recent election showed us anything (and I'm not sure what it showed us), it was at least that the empty churches of Europe and the financial collapse of Greece are things we don't mind as long as sodomy, abortion and contraception remain three of our new and cherished sacraments.

As to U.S. church interiors of the 1920's, this is Our Lady Help of Christians in Frankenstein, Missouri ...

... clearly beautiful, but as in many 1920's U.S. Romanesque churches, there is a turning away from the more elaborate church interiors found in many rural American churches in the pre-World-War-I years, such as St. Mary's in St. Benedict, Kansas ...

... which seems to me to foretell of the collapse of beauty and the embrace of ugliness you find even in the few churches built in the 1940's.


And then there's the great disaster in stained glass, which takes us from this (a photo I took of an Emil Frei pre-WWI window in a church in Old Monroe, Missouri) ...

... to this ...

... created and installed by Frei's modern company.

Now, granted, the second window does not try to be like the first; the second window is abstract with wheat motifs and a scary face peering at you in the middle; the second window is much cheaper to make than the first; the second window fits what looks like a shopping-mall-inspired church interior, and so matches the intention of the architect - which appears to be the notion, "Our Faith makes no sense whatsoever and this church and its windows will attest to that".

The second window is ugly and the first window is beautiful.  The second window is confused and disconnected from awe - except the awe that's in "awful".  The second window is to the first what Marty Haugen tunes are to music. 


And if you were a typical affluent suburbanite who thinks that gay marriage actually exists and that abortion is a positive good and that contraception is a right that should be subsidized (positions Obama emphatically supported and Romney tacitly supported), would you even begin to start to think about anything beyond yourself and your pop-nihilism in a church illuminated by the second window - or would there be a slight chance that something might stir in you beyond perversion and boredom in a church illuminated by the first?


This is why I'm not an art critic.  I'm too much of a crabby old man.  And it's the art and architecture's fault!


Mrs. Pinkerton said...

Thank the Lord that you don't have to endure the godot-awful stained glass monstrosities in our local "cathedral" (and they're environmentally friendly too-- solar panels and all!)

Ink said...

I wouldn't be so quick to bash on environmental consciousness--after all, that IS the origin of many (if not most) forms of vernacular architecture and it is often a wonderful design problem: How can I make this work *and* still be beautiful?

However, after observing those windows, I'll confess that I've seen worse but not much worse (and my home diocese is Rochester, NY). They feel so forced! Ugh.