Liturgical beings that Episcopalians are, we say some of the same words every Sunday, sometimes for years or even a lifetime. Our Father, who art in heaven… There is joy and comfort to be found in repetition. Patterns can be just as comforting to adults as rocking is to a baby. If you read Tuesday’s post by Parish Verger Ron Hicks, you’ll remember his story about watching his granddaughter organize sticks on the ground – no discernible pattern, but an absorbing task that was its own kind of artistic creation to her.
Music is almost always built on patterns – repeated themes, harmonic progressions, variations on a theme. Poetry uses the repetition of rhyming schemes, alliteration and assonance. Even those things that seem completely random and unrelated can still draw a listener or a viewer into an artistic experience, because, as noted above, not all patterns are easily discerned. The artwork of Jackson Pollock, for example. In reading a recent book review I learned (100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know about Math and the Arts by John Barrow), that the drippings of Pollock’s paintings have a high fractal rating (patterns that repeat at multiple scales). Might that also apply to the music of Philip Glass or Arvo Pärt?
At the heart of this idea is the relationship between order and chaos, the book tells us (I’ve not read the book, full disclosure!). Mentally healthy people are likely bored by too much order, and stressed to a breaking point by too much chaos. What we experience as art or beauty would, by this standard, come from a place of balance between those two extremes.
I began wondering about repetition as a gateway to prayer and meditation some time ago, and developed a program for tomorrow’s offering on the Arts@Midday series that I hope leads the listener down one or both of those paths. Anything related to fractals or math of any kind will be strictly intuitive – my brain doesn’t work any other way! If you’re able to take 45 minutes out of your day to explore this with me, join us at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church at 12:15 on Friday. And here’s a foretaste: Spiegel im spiegel (Mirror in mirror)