Canberra Money

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
23rd May 2008

Tagged: art

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It was a great deal. It offered a significant discount in a new hotel for those attending the Turner to Monet art exhibition in Canberra. It delivered. The hotel was new, nice and comfortable. It was a short walk to the National Gallery of Australia. The 19th century landscapes were beautiful and beautifully displayed.

But it sadly demonstrated the truth of the Bible. For the scriptures teach that the alternative to God is foolish idolatry and sensuous hedonism—a worshipping of the creature rather than the creator—absorption with self at the expense of others.

A market researcher, at the art exhibition, surveyed me. A nice woman who wanted my opinions rather than Helen's for so few men passed her point. I was asked why I came to Canberra. I replied “for a holiday”. There were ten options on her survey form—“business”, “live locally”, “tourism”, etc.—but no “holiday”. She had never met anybody who came to Canberra just for a holiday!

The Hotel was strangely inconsistent with the art exhibition. All romance was removed from the hotel's architecture and furnishings. There was not one painting on any wall in the public part of the hotel. Inside the room the only thing on the wall was the TV screen. The furniture was new and pleasant but totally functional. There were no flowers. There was a fully stocked mini-bar.

Here was the bureaucratic design of the modern world set amongst, and indistinguishable from, the other government office blocks of the national capital. It expressed the mood against which 18th-19th century Romanticism rebelled. The hotel and its promoted art exhibition were in contradiction.

The hotel was the expression of human control—the “enlightenment” victory of barren rationality. It had all the luxury of modern hedonism contained in a totally sterile environment. It was so neat, uncluttered and orderly you felt obliged to keep it tidy. You sat in Spartan luxury as you mastered the complexities of the television's remote control and reorganised your life.

This was a business hotel not designed to live or to holiday in. The local art exhibition was only of commercial interest—a business decision—to attract more customers.

But then we noticed the folly of superstition and idolatry. We stayed in room 312 and next to us was room 314. There was no number 13 in this rational modern world. And the fourth floor was not called by the Chinese number of death—there was no “4” just as there was no “13”. The rationality of the market place mandates superstition and foolishness.

But the alternative world of the landscape romantics did no better. They desired to return from the harsh rationalism of industrialism to the creation of God. They commenced painting the world that God created and steadily moved to painting the world they wanted to create. They moved from realism—albeit a romanticised one—to their own impressions. They turned from God's handiwork to their own senses.

While some like Friedrich were deeply religious most did not paint creation but nature. Their God was not the Creator but Mother Nature. And so they sank into the self-absorption and the irrationality of the post-modern world. At the end of the period Monet said “For me the landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment”.

A short holiday in Canberra reminded me that God told us: “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1:20-25).