My friend Ian recently launched a new project called Paramentics. Paramentics is a growing series of artwork for liturgical use. The prices are unbeatable, and the art itself is great.
I’ve been using the artwork of Steve Erspamer for the past few years. I appreciate the rich variety and unique style Erspamer brings. His work is so different than what people often see in self-produced church materials that it gets people to notice the art and, hopefully, to think about what the art is saying. However, some of Erspamer’s artwork can appear strange to certain people. For some, the faces look too contorted, or the fingers don’t look right. The scale between figures is sometimes downright odd. For lack of a better term, I’ll call this the “weird factor.” I hear about it from parishioners and fellow pastors from time to time. As far as I can tell, some of those qualities are by design, while others I assume are the result of the medium Erspamer used: cut paper. There is a certain irregularity that the medium brings. And that’s fine.
In contrast to Erpsamer, Ian’s work retains a certain quality of realism, but also uses enough abstraction to keep the “weird factor” down. The images are clear, concise, and striking. I don’t get a weird feeling looking at them. And here’s why.
In Scott McCloud’s book, “Understanding Comics,” he explains the different levels of abstraction that visual art can take. He illustrates his point by talking about the way an artist can draw the human face. On the one end of the spectrum you have a drawing that preserves all the details of the human face. Such a drawing is concrete, and typically pertains to only one face. Not much room is left to the imagination. On the other end of the spectrum is the smiley face. There are no details in a smiley face, except for maybe the expression on the face. Such a drawing is an abstraction of the face down to its core essence. We must fill in virtually all of the details from our own mind.
“When we extract an image through cartooning, we’re not so much eliminating details as we are focusing on specific details. By stripping down an image to its essential ‘meaning’ an artist can amplify that meaning in a way that realistic art can’t.” (Scott McCloud, “Understanding Comics,” p. 30)
That’s a fascinating point, and I think that concept gets right to the heart of what makes Ian’s art different than Erpsamer’s. Ian’s artwork clearly thrives on an extra step of abstraction which allows him to focus on the “essential meaning” of the image. By abstracting things a little more, Ian’s work also reduces the “weird factor” by removing extraneous details. He focuses on core visual concepts, thus allowing the Christian to supply details with his or her own imagination.
The bold, modern, clear, and iconic artwork from Paramentics is, I think, a wonderful direction to see liturgical art going. It’s not cheesy clip art from big stock services. It’s also not too weighty for the average person in the pew. It’s clean, attractive, and focuses on simple truths.
I’m planning on using these for my bulletin covers as much as possible. I’m sure I’ll supplement them with some of my favorite Erspamer art, but these pieces, as long as they keep coming, will be the focal point of the worship folders at my congregation for the year to come.
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