Anyone that’s looked at old paintings from the Middle Ages and before would think that artists had no idea how to draw – the angles look all wrong and common objects and items that we’re familiar with look distorted. The Egyptians seemed incapable of drawing anyone face-on, and let’s not forget the Bayeaux Tapestry…
But a revolution occurred in Renaissance Europe that changed pictorial art forever, and that was the introduction, commonly but not accurately attributed to Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), of the techniques of perspective. In fact, these “rules of perspective” had been in gradual development for around four hundred years, but they came to the fore in Renaissance art. If you’re interested in this, you can get a basic overview, with some good examples, here.
The basic rule in perspective in paintings and drawings is that if we imagine a canvas set up before the scene to be painted, all edges receding from the canvas (at a right angle to it) will project to lines in the picture converging toward a single, central “vanishing point”. This is the point in a work of art at which imaginary sight lines appear to converge, suggesting depth. We see it all the time in real life: train rails that converge in the distance even though we know they’re still separate, roads that appear to get narrower even though they don’t in reality, long garden walls that become lower as your eye follows them into the distance.
So the “vanishing point” is a single location in a classical painting to which all parallel lines are drawn and converge. This single point gives the image perspective and structure, it harmonises the relationships between objects in the scene and between the people in it, and it establishes the correct relationship between the subjects and the world around them. It provides the appropriate way of perceiving the action in the painting so that it aligns with the artist’s vision and will. It is also not immediately obvious where it’s located in the image since it’s not a physical object, and yet it pervades the entire picture. Without it, the painting is a chaotic scrapbook page of disconnected objects that appear to bump into each other or fall off the scene.
What a great metaphor for faith! Without a framework of values and morals the earth is a chaotic place, there’s no harmony between people, nations are in discord, we’re at loggerheads with the world. Yet with faith, we have an unseen framework that places us in perspective, shows us our position in the world and provides a means for us to relate to one another that is based on peace, love and respect. Everything in the painting has a relationship with the central point, and the unseen strands that hold the faith-based world together all converge at the nexus where the master plan is held – the Original Artist’s “vanishing point”. And the beauty of it is that this harmony was only truly available once this technique of perspective was known and understood, revealed to mankind.
Like the vanishing point in Renaissance art, it takes an open eye to see the presence of God in our lives, the unseen strands that align us to Him and point the day-to-day actions and affairs in our lives towards His will. The artworks that He’s provided – the books of the bible – require interpretation by learned people who have studied Him and His ways, to locate him in the great tapestry of Creation.
Except that he’s not there. Like the vanishing point, God is an idea, a theoretical construct, a human creation projected into the chaos of the world by people trying to understand the relationships between themselves and their neighbours, brothers and children. God is a well-honed technique for establishing common values that bind society. When the vanishing point that is God is in the correct place, the tapestry of the world, the filtered image that you see, is harmonious. You go to church and read your bible, enjoy fellowship and prayer, all to show you where this “God Point” is located. And you steer your life by it, knowing confidently how the strands that hold you together all converge there.
But when the God Point is moved elsewhere in the tapestry, all hell breaks loose and there’s chaos – the sizes are all wrong, people are looking past each other, morals are distorted. But as a believer you don’t notice this because the God Point is your sole and absolute reference, and “everything that God commands is good”. You also don’t notice how the God Point is moved by leaders in your society, the pastors and televangelists, so that it resides in a part of the tapestry that suits them. You don’t notice how the God Point is actually fuzzy and poorly defined because you rely too much on others to tell you where it is. You simply have faith that the God Point is there where it’s supposed to be. Except that it isn’t. Even. There. It’s a virtual point, an empty intersection of lines drawn by people.
Just as a Renaissance master uses the vanishing point technique to give a portrait meaning, depth, relationships, wisdom and character, so we use faith and the God Point to direct and fill our lives, to give us meaning and direction. But it’s only a method, a life technique – an empty intersection of lines drawn by people.