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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Making and Breaking: Art, Hospitality and Eucharist

Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

On February 17, Bruce Herman, the Lothlórien Distinguished Chair in Fine Arts at Gordon College, spoke and showed his art at a Boisi Center event titled, “Making and Breaking: Art, Hospitality and Eucharist.” 

Many of Herman’s works include Christian themes, such as his series “Magnificat,” which is a meditation on the life of the Virgin Mary, and “Body Broken,” which commemorates Christian saints. One of his most recent works “QU4RTETS” — a collaborative exhibition and performance that also includes work by painter Makoto Fujimura, composer Christopher Theofanidis and theologian Jeremy Begbie — responds to T.S. Eliot’s poetic work, Four Quartets

Herman’s physical studio process is emblematic of his theology. A convert to the Christian faith, Herman finds in the fundamental act of Christianity – Christ’s death on the cross – that good is born out of destruction. Salvation comes out of death. According to Herman, this can be analogous to making art. For Herman, the process of destruction in the studio is part of a creative exercise that leads to something new. Breaking art sometimes allows Herman to find new meaning, so after he finishes a work, he often scraps it and uses pieces of the original to create something new. 

Georges Rouault and Max Beckmann, expressionist painters who responded to the horrors of World War I by expressing violence and horror in their artwork, deeply inf luence his work. 

In his talk, Herman also connected his process to hospitality, explaining that the Greek word for symbol, an image or sign that contains meaning, was literally a token that homeowners would offer strangers to welcome them into their homes. 

For Herman, making art is a two-way relationship between artist and viewer. The artist must welcome the viewer to take part in creating meaning out of the work. The viewer must entrust himself or herself to the artist and be open to being changed by the work. Herman acknowledged the risk for each party, but he thinks that is where the meaning of art lies. 

Herman argued that the themes of Eucharist and hospitality are connected. To Christians, the Eucharist is a symbol of welcome, and that hospitality, made possible through Christ’s death, is a source of healing on Earth.