hermeneutics of space


I couldn’t sleep the other night and on TV they were showing Marry Poppins and nothing else. By nothing else I mean wrestling. Flipping through the news, I stopped at BBC. Sometimes they have interesting city guides but this time it was Andrew Graham-Dixon’s Art of Eternity program. My love for any art/museum related program is probably due to my attachment to memories of my university studies and the art history class in a darkened room with the VHS. Old men in grandpa shirts talking about Rothko and Kandinsky in English English.

It was like having someone comb your hair or watching silently as someone teaches you the ins and outs of sewing. Or the simplicity of being taught to tie the shoelace. Placid and pacifying. 

When I was in kindergarten, I found it strange when other kids colored their clouds blue and contemplated on the redundancy of the white color pencil. I was very much a color pencil snob. (My dad worked for Faber-Castell at one point). And from the flatness of two-dimensional drawings I was taught to graduate into drawing cherries in three-dimension. Works were graded on how good you were in spacial realism. 

But I found it extremely fascinating when Graham-Dixon met an icon artist painting in Byzantium style. The artist explained to Graham-Dixon his interest in the style and what it meant to him. And like most artists who found it easier to illustrate a point than to explain it orally, he pointed out the difference between Byzantine and Renaissance iconic art.

He said that the difference is in the theology. It wasn’t merely two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, but the hermeneutics of space.

Byzantine and Renaissance

When we view Byzantine art, we view it from our Western educated eyes and it’s chronologically backwards and seemingly primitive. When a spectator stands before a Renaissance painting (right), it is as though he is looking through a window to another landscape. Perspectively, the vanishing point is deep within the painting. But Byzantine art (left) is all about presence and connecting with the spectator, it’s about bringing the art to you and the vanishing point is outside the painting (where the spectator is standing). If I’m only messing it up more, I hope this helps.

I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but it clearly shows (to me at least) the different theologies. Western/Renaissance understanding is that one has to go to God and that He is in another realm, almost unreachable. But Eastern/Byzantine understanding is about God coming near to us, that He is reachable and His Kingdom is here.

After watching the program, I now find much security in my three-dimensional disabilities. Oh, the joy of being an art geek.



  1. ah the newness of something new.


  2. steve

    here’s to art geeks! thanks for the summary, and a flashback to my art school days!

  3. S8j

    love your pic very much!!! :)
    thx your sharing.

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