One Longing, Two Pathways

by Scott Crosby

We continue this blog theme of Balance and Harmony in a time that seems to laugh at such quaintness.  But with a moment of reflection, this time is also full of reminders of the need for looking toward such disciplines, even as we delve deep into the pursuit of our days and calling.

Riverbank, by Dong Yuan (mid-10th century) – The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain

For many years my family and I lived in Asia and much of our lives reflect that experience, especially perspectives and new understandings of community, nuance, time, patience, and humor (especially humor), to name just a few.  The remarkable history of those cultures and the extraordinary heritage of art, of course, were constant elements throughout these lessons.  Like many others, I have found that art is the best story-teller of culture.

China’s Five Dynasties period (907-1127) is considered the great age of Chinese landscape art. It epitomizes the ideas of balance and harmony.  The cultural backdrop of this period was of social, economic, and political chaos as the preceding Tang dynasty disintegrated.  The cultural elite, as a result, began reaching toward nature to find a sense of peace and equilibrium, and
this genre of landscape art began to reflect that longing.  

While the resulting paintings were somewhat representational, the greater focus was on presenting a sense of harmony and peace.  These artworks typically included the core elements of water, wind, and earth – which gave harmony.  There are often very small renderings of people in these paintings to indicate the relative insignificance of humans in the provision or maintenance of this balance and harmony.  The events of the time, after all, showed that our efforts usually produced the opposite.

Closer to home, the 19th-century Hudson River School, of which Thomas Cole was the putative founder, shows remarkable similarities with Chinese landscape art.  It also presents a sense of tranquility and harmony and is actively beckoning the viewer’s acquiescence to this longing.

Oxbow, by Thomas Cole – Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain

While from radically different historical and cultural contexts, both reflect a deep longing and wonderment of purpose and flourishing.  Where the one was birthed from a desire for the order and beauty that circumstances stole, the other reflected the belief that exploration and pastoral beauty reflected both American destiny and God’s glory.  For both, perhaps, it is a hope for what might be.  My own faith tradition would suggest Hebrews 11:1 – that these are images that gesture toward the “…assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Both schools bring to the fore at least one aspect of the practice and hope of balance and harmony.  They are fruits of not being content with the status quo but actively pushing into the hope of the longing abiding in our souls.

During 30 years of residence in Asia, Scott worked in diverse areas of the arts, publishing and missions. He founded a gallery for Chinese contemporary art in Shanghai, as well as models of urban ministry in some of Asia’s global cities. Returning to the US in 2010 Scott has worked with Christian Union and other organizations to build a new model of urban ministry, beginning in New York and Washington DC. This entails the development of industry networks to redemptively engage culture in the most influential cities.

One Response to One Longing, Two Pathways

  1. Well said Scott. Always appreciate your insight and observations. Thinking it’s time for me to head up to New York City again soon