Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sculpting with light

The title of this blog is partly taken from a quote by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky where he described the art of filmmaking as "sculpting with light and time." The visuals of Tarkovsky's films share a kind of otherworldly beauty. His films come from a transfigured point of view, a spiritualized way of seeing and relating to the world. Everything takes on a symbolic significance and depth. Tarkovsky was extremely influenced by the liturgical beauty of the Eastern Orthodox church, most importantly the iconographical tradition (his masterpiece, Andrei Rublev, is a commemoration of one of the greatest icon writers of the Eastern Church). Orthodox Christians believe that the icons are not just religious art that affect us emotionally and/or cerebrally but that they are, rather, a kind of spiritual medium by which we can experience God's presence in and through the material world. They are, literally, windows into the divine. As such, icons are a kind of life-giving art, a way for us to see the world, ourselves and our brothers and sisters anew. One can see these considerations at work in Tarkovsky's work. The light that permeates his films does not seem entirely "natural." It is, rather, a kind of divine light, a step beyond the surface of things. The luminous quality of nature and human beings, created by a loving-God who is all Light, all Face, is revealed in the poetic sensitivity of Tarkovsky's films.

Anyone interested in Tarkovsky's films and his vision as an artist should check out the book "Instant Light: Tarkovsky Polaroids," which contains beautiful prints of polaroids that Tarkovsky took towards the end of his life, interspersed with passages from his journals. The book reveals a great deal about the way Tarkovsky saw the world around him. The polaroids are all snapshots of seemingly mundane "everyday" things (trees, rivers, Tarkovsky's dog) but they are filled with a radiance so beautiful it is literally awe-inspiring. Socrates said that the first step towards the love of wisdom (filosofia) was to be able to recover our natural wonder of the world, to see the world like a child. This is one of the great gifts of true art, to enable us to step closer towards such a transfigured vision and the art of Tarkovsky exemplifies this gift better than almost any other filmmaker I can think of.

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