Theology, Creativity and the Arts Postgraduate Study Day

It can feel quite life affirming when a theme or themes evolve from a conference. The conference title ‘Theology, Creativity and the Arts PG Study Day’ told us something of the area but, being broad, you couldn’t predict a direction.

Margaret Beaufort Institute provided an ideal setting for friendly and informative  interaction with a stroll across their delightful garden between one talk and another.

The presentations were parallel so no delegate heard them all. I just aim here to give a feel for a handful of the talks with particular focus in the keynote, but mainly the wider thoughts and ideas that the day gave me.

Férdia Stone-Davis set the tone as she opened in the chapel with ‘Sound, Silence and Listening’. The message I took away from this was the value of silence in music which is as much a part of sound as sound itself. Férdia made me think about how other themes might fit with this such as presence and absence, the seen and the unseen; which I referenced later on in my presentation on Peter Brook’s theatre (it’s good at a conference when preceding presentations help clarify your own!) and how we might reframe these concepts as not necessarily opposites but paradoxes which hold one within the other.

Henry Kirk shortly after in his presentation, showed us slides of paintings where the space or lack of busyness in a piece of art was again as much part of the picture as colour or detail.

It is in the space, emptiness and silence, across the arts, that we can be our most imaginative and sometimes where faith starts. Likewise, resolve and conclusion can sometimes shut us down to what is beyond,  illustrated in the music of James Macmillan via Jeremy Begbie in the keynote lecture. Macmillan’s musical open endings are not agnostic,  Begbie explained, but a warning against jumping too quickly in this life. I mentioned above the notion of reframing and Macmillan does this in abundance with the concept of beauty. In Begbie’s narrative, we are therefore removed from sentimentality. We acknowledge that a horrific death, such as the crucifixion, is not beauty in itself, but it does reframe beauty. The very act itself is one of presence revealed in absence.

Begbie spoke of Macmillan’s work as a metanarrative of hope, which is how you could define art, and faith, themselves; particularly when working together.

I have of course missed many other presentations and themes that came out of the day so can’t do justice to the day but I’d like to give huge thanks to all the speakers and Férdia, Anna Abram, Ela, Sue, the caterers and extended  team at MBI for such an enjoyable, rich and thought provoking day.’

Anna Wheeler, Theos Think Tank