Above, oil on linen, 4 x 7 inches
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8 x 10 inch signed prints on Museo paper $75
ON CULTURAL FRAMES
by Terrance Lindall
I sent my little "Christmas" greeting above out to the scholars on the Milton List. It caused a bit of a furor, pro and con. One very reasonable response from a Jewish Milton scholar pointed out that since there are many non-Christians on the list that it might have been better had I sent it privately only to Christians. Well, that is reasonable. Then I thought more about it, that what my card depicted was something from the Old Testament from the book of Genesis to which Jews, Christians and Muslims subscribe. I erred in calling it a Christmas card! Therefore, let me offer my little card be a holiday and seasonal card to all, including those of the Hindu, Shinto or those within any other framework of belief and even for those who do subscribe to the Western tradition of the Bible to which the illustration refers! I am sure that most will not take umbrage with my greeting, but probably find it amusing. However…
Then I thought about the subject matter that some probably found offensive, id est, Adam & Eve in their heat. Well, the subject engaged goes back for centuries. In great books images of nudity and copulation are abundant enough. Milton described the scene I illustrated rather directly enough and I did it with some modesty by hiding the joining behind the Tree of Knowledge.
Artists, writers, poets and actors are generally less likely to be Prudish (Old French “prude” meaning “honourable woman”) or be concerned with decorum or propriety by prevailing community standards. They are not unusually uncomfortable with sexuality, nudity or mischief as are many people, especially ordinary church going Christians. I should have been aware that the degree of prudery can vary among different cultural frames and there are certainly a variety of cultural frames lurking on the Milton List. So forgive me!
I have a 16th century illustrated book of Boccaccio’s Decameron in our collection. One of the little woodcut illustrations has a piece of paper pasted over a portion of an offending image. In another scene (not shown here) the genitals are inked over and the ink has faded over centuries.
"Those scholars on the Milton List are basically good chaps, a bit too concerned with commas and punctuation and finding pinholes in the belly of a whale...but good chaps nonetheless..." A Wag of Williamsburg
For those who would like to see some of the responses on the Milton Lists to my little greeting card, below are just a few:
I do not believe this post (of a scene of Adam & Eve copulating) to be appropriate. Richard Strier
(Parentheses above by Lindall)
Not only is this tasteless, it is ungrammatical. Julia Walker
A Wag of Williamsburg: "I wonder what part Julia found ungrammatical, Adam's dangling participle or the conjugation of their verbs?"
In defense of Mr. Lindall, whether you like his work or not, he is a pre-imminent "interpreter" of Milton and an awesome artistic force introducing Milton to a whole new generation. Whereas Milton is a pre-imminent "interpreter" of the Bible. Milton even went so far as having the angels having sex. Are you aware that he basically said Heaven started off as a gigantic homosexual orgy? A Boys Town to the tune of millions of flapping wings? With God as some Hugh Hefner watching it all?
Were Terrance Lindall to paint angels copulating in front of God on his throne, guess what - IT WOULD BE A LITERALLY EXACT INTERPRETATION.
What I'm essentially saying is: if Christianity, as told in the Bible, is "right" then what Milton did was WRONG. Not to mention "tasteless."
James Rovira: I had mixed feelings about the image. "Tasteless" is fair. But I don't think calling it tasteless is quite enough. This work seems to me to be a legitimate, imaginative reading of the fall. Adam and Eve are copulating behind a tree filled with eyes. A serpent is slithering away, looking back at the couple, as if to say "My work here is done." A large, horse-like creature with a single eye for a head is galloping toward the couple. The predominance of eyes signals 'knowledge," sexual experience being the mode of the attainment of this "knowledge" and the loss of innocence.
If these signals aren't enough, two apple cores lay on the ground near the couple's heads and storm clouds are entering the scene from the right, following the horse. The storm clouds are placed opposite the four rivers watering Eden (in the upper left of the painting), so that the couple copulates between paradise and judgment. The transition from innocence to experience is therefore the product of a sexual awakening, and the painting itself is representative of our postlapsarian existence between Paradise and the final judgment.
This reading of Genesis has a long history. Jerome shared it; Blake shared it. I'm still trying to figure out why part of me still agrees that it's tasteless. My guess:
It's tasteless as a Christmas card. Christmas is not about the fall through sexual experience or about impending judgment.
But, I don't think this work is tasteless as a work of art.
B.F.A, M.S.Ed., M.A, NBCT:
Perhaps I am reading the entire situation wrong, but does the assumption that "Paradise Lost" was meant to be taken as a religious text not seem silly? Yes, Milton was making a point, and creating an argument. However, to say that it's heresy or on an equal level with a religious text seems as ridiculous as saying that Harry Potter is heresy because it features witchcraft.
Maybe if the conversation had stayed in the realm of LITERARY discussion, the response would have been what we usually have on this list- an enlightened examination of Milton's work.
Gotta admit, this is one of the most entertaining threads I've read in a while, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Exams are being administered, students are exausted and cranky, teachers are exasperated and cranky, traffic is getting worse as we get closer to December 25th, most of my daylight hours are spent in a classroom, and people in my building just don't know how to refill paper in copy machines properly!
For lurker Miltonists like myself ... and I only speak for myself ... this has been a delightful diversion to the workaday blues of mid-December academia. Thank you!
And Peace to all of you. May your holidays be joyous, wherever you reside!Professor Schwartz:
A few brief remarks regarding clarity and courtesy:
1) I think that some of the scholars and teachers among us ought to have a little more patience and generosity with those whose experience of Milton’s work comes from enthusiasms and activities outside the academy.
2) I think that those who come to a list like this from outside the academy should be aware of and sensitive to the fact that many of the list’s members have dedicated long professional careers to the study of Milton’s life and works, the culture and politics of seventeenth century England, and to the cultural history of Western Europe. Some have expertise that ranges more widely than that. Many of these members have published carefully researched and closely argued books on these subjects, explaining their importance to a full understanding of Milton’s work. Their conclusions can be argued with by anyone who takes the time to consider them with some care. It would be good to address these members, in any case, with this in mind.
3) I have no problem with people sending Christmas greetings via the list, but it would be good if those greetings recognized that there are many list members who are not Christians. Courtesy, I believe, simply requires that such greetings should be addressed only to those who are indeed celebrating the holiday in question—although they can of course be posted publically. That should be easy enough to do. Beyond this matter of address, the greeter should be free to say whatever he or she wishes to his or her fellow Christians—and they can respond however they wish. For my part, although I am not myself a Christian, I wish them all a merry Christmas. After all, many are deeply cherished—and in some cases deeply loved—friends and colleagues. I also can’t help but think of those who are no longer with us as I write.
4) I think questions about #3 above should be carefully separated from other questions, like for example, those concerning the artistic value of a particular work of visual art that might accompany a Christmas greeting. Again, for my part, I think Terrance’s illustrations of Paradise Lost are wonderfully rich, expressive, and responsive works of art, and I’m always happy to see them posted. People can of course disagree about that, but that is a separate issue. I could be mistaken, but I believe that the initial, negative reactions to Terrance’s post had to do with the assumptions his greeting seemed to be making about the beliefs of those he was addressing and not with the content of his painting.
5) I think that the discussion about “culturomics” and etc. is entirely relevant and very interesting. So now I’m going to go and give it some (I hope) careful thought.
All the best to everyone,
Listen, Terrance: it is right to respect the opinions of everybody
etc., but I think that this issue of Political Correctness is getting
more and more silly. You ARE a Christian artist who express your
skills the way you are, AS well as a great Miltonist (who,
incidentally, was a Christian too), so you can freely post any picture
you like best, and we ALL will find something to learn from it, even a
mad fake zen buddhist like the undersigned. People can like your art
or not, agree or disagree, all right, but they CANNOT ask you,
"Please, draw something more childish than that, otherwise I will weep
all night long: I was so sure that every human being was identical to
me, and now......................."
As for those naked guys etc., Pope John Paul II had Michelangelo's
Ignudi restored into their original nakedness in the Sistine Chapel,
so I suppose this issue should be no problem to adult scholars. You
surely did not draw anything "gross".
Shortly thereafter I got a rather gratifying email from my dear friend Robert J. Wickenheiser who is working with me on my Elephant Folio:
I was delighted and received with humility and yet great pride this message a short time ago from Dr. Wickenheiser (he turned 68 on the 10th of this month) after he opened the HUGE box of signed framed Giclee prints of the Paradise Lost Altarpiece: https://sites.google.com/site/terrancelindallsparadiselost/home/paradise-lost-project-annual-newsletter
Have no doubt about my pride over your paintings; they are superior and second to none and will stand the test of time; of that I am absolutely confident.
I glowed in sharing my pride in the voice message I left for you, but let me simply reiterate the general thrust of my message here: Milton has found in you his most profound artist and illustrator in the late 20th and early 21st century. My original feelings have never changed and I couldn't be more proud to have played a small role with you as Milton's great artist and also in your great capacity to bring to life the story of Milton's epic. I say this more effectively, I am confident, in my Commentary than I do here.
I remain deeply touched and absolutely convinced that the project is the right way to go and that many will be touched in ways otherwise new to them. You have brought Milton's epic alive in untold ways, and to say this is to say more than I otherwise ever thought I would say. The project is right and I remain committed to it and to its message and manner of delivery. Thank you, thank you, thank you for affording me the opportunity to work with you in this special way.
With profound humility and heartfelt gratitude, I remain your friend and ardent admirer,
A couple of days later I received this from Bob about that offending card:
Your Holiday card is very moving and your accompanying message even more so!
Since you said in your previous email that you would be mailing your Christmas Card to me on the Monday before the "Thu, December 16 2010, that I may assume that my Christmas card, depicted below, will be arriving soon in my mailbox. What a treasure that would be.
I know better than to assume the above, but may I obtain a small bit of the sacred treasure. or, as you sent me before from you comic days, a smaller version on canvas.
(Here Bob suggests I do a variety of printings of the card, from simple to high end Giclee prints)
Doing it this way will also help other of your friends and visitors to the WAH Center to come to know the broad range of your work and the intensity which infuses it, and also the purposes behind it besides the obvious. The work is truly inspiring and can be made to serve a variety of purposes.
You may already have had all of the above thoughts and more in mind, and if so, then I applaud you most loudly. My guess is that you haven't given this any thought (and here is where my genuine admiration, coupled with my diverse ideas and talents, may give you an idea of ways in which we can explore together thinking about selling you and your remarkable work while raising money to help meet the needs of the WAH Center and simultaneously praise for your work as an artist.
I've written this quickly because of the bundle of things on my desk in need of my attention), so please forgive me for any errors of thought and grammar, or anything else for that matter. I know that so much more can be done with your Christmas card, now and in future (new cards and new ideas), setting up, e.g. a sort of endowment (yet another purpose of the annual Christmas card).
With much esteem and humble gratitude for your friendship,
BOOKS 9, 10, John Milton's Paradise Lost
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