Monday, April 18, 2005

That's a hell of a lot of Cardinals


And so it begins. By night they will be locked in a modern Cardinals-only hotel in the Vatican; by day they will be locked in the sublime Sistine Chapel. They won’t move freely again until they have elected one of their own to the Papacy. The Catholic Church is the Catholic Church, and as such I guess it has to have a Pope. And as such, I guess it has to be one of a number of aged, religious men. Yes, maybe it’s because I’m in my twenties and gay and don’t like religion that I find this so disturbing, but the fact that the current favourites for the post are all conservatives of an ultra-conservative church worries me no end. See the previous post on this issue earlier this month.

Getting to more wholesome things, Jonathan emerges from a blog hiatus to write dreamily about art, life and feeling sorry for oneself. He muses on the elegant notion that “people who think art and depression go hand in hand are dead wrong. Dead as in metaphorically, not dead as in Vincent van Gogh rotting in his suicidal grave.”

I reckon that’s accurate enough. For, with only some notable exceptions in hundreds upon hundreds of years of art, depression is to the production of art what pasteurised milk is to the production of Camembert: it produces an unsavoury mess at best, and a squalid, forced little diarrhoeaic accident at worst.

I know because I’ve been there. And other writers, and musicians, and sculptors and I daresay even pop artists have, too. It’s a dark, misaligned place filled with distorted misunderstandings and self-righteous beliefs in the unique shittiness of your own situation.

One of the things I’ve learned in well over 10 years of more-or-less serious art appreciation is that if the artist didn’t have at least one clear, unwarped idea at the heart of a piece of work, the observer won’t get a clear idea of what the hell (s)he was on about at the end of it. But feeling disillusioned or bitter or grumpy as hell about something: oh yes. Now that can produce satisfying art. You only have to look at Bacon or Larkin or, dare I say it, Damien Rice, to see that.

And irony? Oh yes. During their deliberations, the Cardinals may care to gaze up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, jewel of the home of the Roman Catholic Church on earth, to see perfect, erotic, lustfully rendered male figures of God and the Saints — all painted by one of the greatest male artists Christendom has ever known.

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