While reading a recent article on the origins of the abstract art movement I was struck by this quote from Wassily Kandinsky, widely considered to have been one of the founders of the movement: “the contact between the acute angle of a triangle and a circle has no less effect than that of God’s finger touching Adam’s in Michelangelo.” Apart from putting me in mind of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, this statement emphasized once again the power of one of Genesis’ creation stories. It also made me aware of a new dimension of the distressed pleas of Creationists for a reversal of science and a resetting of the hands of time itself. It seems that there is so much to lose.
Michelangelo’s Adam, as I always tell my students, has bestowed a disproportionate influence on all subsequent biblical interpretation. Rather like the case with Handel’s Messiah and Isaiah 9, modern readers find it exceptionally difficult to climb over Renaissance images to peer directly at the ancient sources themselves. Isaiah was writing about Hezekiah ben Ahaz rather than Jesus of Nazareth, but just try to convince any holiday shopper of the fact! Art has made the decision for us; there can be no questioning of Handel. Michelangelo was a brilliant painter, indeed, a genius by any stretch of artistic imagination, but he was no Bible scholar. Even if he had been, the tools available now were not available then.
I sense that Creationists fear the loss of the literal image (if it can even be considered literal) of Michelangelo’s God and Adam. How threatening it is to ponder that God is not a bearded white man! What blasphemy to consider that instead of an insouciant Adam we have promiscuously procreating ape-like hominids hopping around!
One of my favorite movies has always been 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick’s coming of age. The iconic monolith with early, distinctly apelike humans cavorting around it, timidly daring to touch it, to become something more — this abstraction felt like creation to me. Indeed, much of the film is abstract art. Creationists fear the demise of classical art; however, abstract artists do not destroy classical art, but rather build on it. It is humanity growing up. Like abstract art the biblical images leave much to the imagination. Is it better to remain firmly mired in what we know cannot be true or to allow human progression to continue? Even Wall-e reaches a mechanical hand out to the light (image copyrighted, all rights reserved).