By Iris Conlay
IF you feel that you under-1stood art until it became
" modern " art, try forgetting about art altogether and start thinking about people.
The significant people of every age get the kind of art that expresses them in their setting. Generalising, eighteenth century people were artificial and aristocratic and carefree and they got frivolous. gay and artificial art: nineteenth century people were solid, middleclass romantics and they got both romantic and realistic art.
What are we? Technicians, who are made by conditions, rootless and insecure. Now turn back and look at our art. in that light it presents a new aspect.
Modern church art is always
being criticised by people who I never think of. it in its setting in time. They decide that the contemporary church has no connection with the church of other times: that it has shed its tradition and lost its religious atmosphere. In gloomy ones of despair and disparagement thcy will say with an air of finality " churches today Look just like factories".
Aim of the Modern Church
ANTON HENZE, a professor of the history of art at Munster, is the best writer I have read on the subject of contemporary churches.* He has constructed a theory in tabulated form which I have simplified and reproduced with this article, to show that in every period church architecture represented a sublimation of the building characteristic of the ruling class of that period.
Never. he says, did ecclesiastic art reject the contemporary sty le in favour of a past style, and if vve consider that there have been of recent times changes in the mantles ol worship far snore integral even to the nature of a church than the technical changes mentioned above, we shall discover less reason than eser for reetetion
Remember, for instance, hoe Our liturgical studies have had the effect of bringing the modern congregation nearer and nearer to the altar. How recent Popes have all commended strongly the corporate act of worship--the sharing of the action of the Mass with the congregation—in place of the private devotion.
In order to play their part, then the public must all be within sight and hearing of the priest when he is at the altar. Hence the circular church. and the central altar. Hence the need for the maximum light, for the supreme task of the church is to provide a shelter wherein the liturgy can be served in the best possible manner.
ULTIMATELY a church owes
its origin to the supper-room at Jerusalem where Christ celebrated the first Eucharist. At no subsequent celebration can the relationship between Christ and communicant have been humanly closer or more intimate.
To obtain this binding unity between the altar and the congregation is the aim of every modern church. and the vessels it uses, the imaages it creates. should also be wrooght in the service of the liturgy.
In the case of statues and pictures they should be " signs of faith ", not " what the subject is really like". In the case of furnishings, they serve best when design and function are best integrated; simplicity and straightforwardness being of the first importance. decoration afterwards.
Where did it all start—the new movement in the liturgy which created the need for change in architecture?
The liturgical movement began in the 19th century. Its aim was to " transform the faithful from silent onlookers to active participators in the sacrifice of the Mass ".
Church architecture gradually' came to see its role in the liturgical movement as the provider of the right environment in which every member of a congregation should be in contact with every other and with the altar.
First Contemporary Church
HE first truly contemporary
church built with the needs of the liturgy in mind was Notre Dame du Rainey built in 1922 by Auguste Perret. Built of glass and concrete it nevertheless seems to have taken its plan from the rectangle of the basilica, with the separate choir eliminated. The supporting pillars of the usual basilica have shrunk to the narrowest rods, and the walls dissolved into a-honeycomb of gleaming patterned and coloured glass.
Light pours in: the space is wide open. Notre Dame du Rainey demonstrated the shape of churches to come all over Europe
—and awn all tn-er the 5,01 ltk hot as Anton Henze points out in his book*, Christianity today is limited to no single people, no particular group, no part of the world.
Like the Church, modern architecture and art are not limited to any one part of the world but have gained a foothold wherever Christianity has established itself. " For a religion to be spread over every part of the world is something new and unique in religious history; for a style to be accepted all over the world is something equally unprecedented in the history of art ".
From the Perret church Anton Henze has made it possible to watch the modern movement fanning out to Switzerland, Germany. the United States and even to Mexico in a series of illustrations to his stimulating text. He is supported by Theodor Filthaut. a theologian. on the liturgy. and by Maurice I.avanoux, editor of "Liturgical Arts", on the American contribution to the religious arts.
CONTEMPORARY Church Art* is out today, It demands to be read by every specialist in church art, whether architect, builder, sculptor, painter, ceramist, silversmith, glazier. or maker of vestments. but most important of all, it demands to be read by the clergy and by the patrons.
Of this last, many hard but true things are said. The book is a tine, fearless and truthful statement of the state of the religious arts today, and if ell its illustrations are drawn from abroad (Epstein's Madonna excepted) we have only ourselves to blame for providing so little.
*CONTEMPORARY CHURCH ART, by Anton Henze and Theodor Filthaut (Sheed & Ward, 35s.).