You ask about art, specifically Christian art—more specifically yet, about the differences between traditional and modern forms of such art.
Are you familiar with The Saint John’s Bible? Commissioned in 1999 by the Benedictines of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and completed last year, it’s purported to be the first fully handwritten, fully illuminated Bible to be produced since the invention of the printing press.
Last fall I was invited by Colorado College to give a lecture on this Bible at the opening of a campus exhibition of prints from its pages. I posted the lecture, “Patterns of the Glory”, on my website, and I’ve also uploaded the extensive PowerPoint presentation I used, complete with audio. I think listening to this lecture and taking note of the various images I focus on, both traditional and modern, will be the best answer I can give to your question.
As you’ll discover, I devoted much of the lecture to the mystagogical significance and power of traditional Orthodox iconography, contrasting this power with the predictably demotic assumptions and subjectivism of modern and contemporary art—the form of art which, unfortunately, predominates in this Bible.
I tried to pull my punches. After all, I was lecturing to an audience of faculty and students at a college that had chosen to sponsor this exhibit, and of nuns from a nearby Benedictine convent. I saw no point in speaking too offensively! But having done my best to highlight some positive things about a few of the images, I have to say in all honesty that The Saint John’s Bible strikes me as a perfect example of everything Coomaraswamy, Guénon, and Schuon warn about in their writings on the art of modernity.
Just a note: The PowerPoint will work (and look) best if you click on “full screen” in the bottom right corner of the video and if you also click at the bottom on “change quality” and raise the resolution from 360p to 720p.