Ars Nova. New art and renewed art
Whilst Edward Williams’s idea of an ars nova within the context of the music of the Orthodox Church provided musicologists with a new and fruitful way of viewing the flourishing of kalophonic chant in the 14th century, we may still legitimately ask how the idea of a “new art” may intersect with the concept of tradition in the liturgical art of the Orthodox Church. Conventional narratives of the genesis and practice of liturgical art would lead one to suppose that such a contradiction is impossible, but, as has become increasingly apparent in recent reappraisal of the work of Uspensky and Florensky, amongst others, such narratives are historical constructions, themselves subject to revision and refashioning. When the parallel between “bad icons” and “bad church music” is brought into play, with the corresponding implication of a direct relationship between artistic style and prayerful efficacy, the idea of a “new art” may be viewed either as an unnecessary innovation or as an essential return to origins with the intention of renewing the capacity of art to transmit and facilitate prayer.
On the subject of the new, Fr Thomas Pott, in his Byzantine Liturgical Reform, has the following to say: "Newness is one of the essential themes of the Christian message. (...) Nevertheless, rather than speaking of ‘newness’, it is more appropriate to speak of ‘renewal’. For the newness of the Gospel did not fall from heaven like a Deus ex machina, but descended to the depths of the earth in order to surge up like a water spring that renews everything and everyone it quenches. (...) It does not abolish the old, but rather transforms it by renewing it from its very depths, not in order to make it last a bit longer, but to make it well up to eternal life."
I should like to address here in more detail this idea of renewal, and the ways in which it might give us a theological perspective on phenomena in the history – and actuality – of Orthodox liturgical arts such as what Williams described as an ars nova.
Copyright (c) 2018 Ivan Moody
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