Just over a year ago, Ed Knippers, who had been invited to Covenant College as the Staley Distinguished Christian Scholars Lecturer, presented his artwork on campus. A controversial artist, known especially for the use of striking scenes and particularly nude figures in portraying Biblical themes, Mr. Knippers gave a slide show during an assembly (i.e., non-worship) chapel. (NB: Although "cuts" are allowed, chapel attendance is required of Covenant College students.) Included were slides of some of his paintings, including some with nude figures. That night he gave a lecture entitled, "The Nude, The Narrative, and Our Life in Christ." He also displayed in the chapel lobby several of his paintings.
Apparently, word about this exhibit had gotten around the Chattanooga Christian community. An anti-abortion activist, Mr. Charles Wysong, having heard about these paintings, went up to the campus and tore up three of them portraying Christ.
Mr. Wysong's actions stirred controversy on and off campus. Having heard of the controversy, this publication (then known as PCA News) did a three page spread on the matter, including interviews with Mr. Wysong, Dr. Frank Brock (President of Covenant College), and Mr. Knippers; publication of a letter from Art Professor Ed Kellogg which had been in the student newspaper (the Bagpipe); and reaction from other Presbyterian colleges.
At the General Assembly, Dr. Brock issued a brief apology which was accepted by the court.
However, the controversy has continued, as is evident from articles in the Covenant College student newspaper.
In the October 4, 1996, edition of the Bagpipe, an article by Miss Kara Griffith stated the following:
Several faculty members feel the president's apology to be inappropriate. Emotions have run high over the issue, making most of the faculty reluctant to comment for fear of reviving the controversy.
Covenant art professor, Ed Kellogg, read a statement to the faculty on Sept. 17. According to several professors in attendance, Kellogg was strongly opposed to the president's apology, and felt unjustly accused before the General Assembly.
In the statement, Kellogg said he felt that the exhibition of Knippers' paintings should have been defended on the basis of a Christian liberal arts institution. Kellogg has been confused and hurt by the actions of the administration, particularly since he seemed to be the first faculty member ever to have his actions called an incident before the General Assembly. Kellogg declined to speak to the Bagpipe regarding the content of his statement.
. . . . . .
The president had prepared an 8-page statement but ended up writing a short apology instead. "It was the wrong place" for presenting the larger paper, Brock explained. Due to the complexity of the issue, the large number of people at the assembly, and their little background in art, an in-depth explanation "would only have resulted in greater misunderstanding."
His apology was based on a distinction between study and exhibition. "When you put up artwork in a public place with little opportunity to explain why it's there or anything else, it seems to me you've got to think about the image that is being portrayed. It's not just education, it veers from the classroom to the public. . . . It just gave an impression to many people that . . . the Covenant College art department was endorsing the painting of the pictures of Jesus."
In response to Kellogg's statement to the faculty, Brock affirmed his appreciation of Kellogg as a professor. " . . . I appreciate him as a teacher and as a person. I have no objection to studying someone like Knippers. But I stand by my statement that we erred in exhibiting Knippers' work."
Some have deemed the president's apology political and compromising. "There's something wrong with that," Brock argued. "I make no apology for the fact that in making a decision I was trying to take into account . . . what I thought the larger interest of the college was, as opposed to the narrow interest of certain individuals in the college."
There are no plans for further formal faculty discussion of the issue, according to one of the members of the steering committee for the faculty assembly. The more general issue of policy in inviting chapel speakers will probably come before the Board, as recommended by the Committee of Commissioners.
The following letter from Ed Kellogg appeared in the November 8, 1996, issue of the Bagpipe:
In light of the flap over the Edward Knippers exhibit last semester I think it important to clarify certain matters. I must admit at the outset that it gratifies the teacher in me to know that the art of Edward Knippers is now widely known in the PCA and has been the topic of frequent discussion, hopefully intelligent, both on and off campus.
I want to emphasize that the problem was not with the powerful and excellent art exhibited but rather with how some, no doubt well-meaning, persons perceived the exhibit although they had never had the opportunity of seeing it. The whole disturbance points to the larger problem of the pervasive ignorance in the church of matters relating to art and Western cultural history.
Now, having exhibited art by one of the leading Christian artists today has been judged to have been a mistake at this institution of higher learning. This frustrates and concerns the teacher in me.
Unfortunately some of the opinions out there were formed on the basis of misinformation spread principally by the PCA's own official unofficial tabloid "PCA News" and our even less-friendly and misguided vandal Mr. Charles Wysong.
Let it be clear that I in no way resent the concerned questions asked at the General Assembly of the college representatives by my fellow elders in the PCA. They are to be commended as I believe they were being faithful to their high calling to protect the church and its agencies from the ever-present threat of error. I only wish they had been given better information initially about these matters and that a thorough and reasoned defense of the lectures and exhibit had been made for them.
When I introduced Mr. Knippers in chapel I stated that his art is difficult. It is not pretty and it challenges viewers in ways they may not wish to be challenged. The lectures and exhibit were an inseparable package. They were introduced as such at both chapel talks with the encouragement to thoughtfully consider what Mr. Knippers had to say in both his lectures and his art.
That we at Covenant College would have on campus an artist of the caliber of Mr. Knippers says to anyone familiar with the arts in our culture, and the art of Mr. Knippers in particular, that we have high standards. I would add that the mature students who invited him to campus to show and discuss his work give me hope for the future of both the college and the Presbyterian Church in America.
Knippers's art is neither artistically weak or aesthetically shallow. After graduate study at the University of Tennessee he did further art studies in Salzburg, Austria and in Paris, France. He has had major exhibitions at several reputable museums. His art is in the collections of Vanderbilt University, the Billy Graham Museum in Wheaton, Illinois, Messiah College, Asbury College and even Covenant College. He gave professional testimony at a congressional hearing dealing with the issue of National Endowment for the Arts funding. For years he was co-editor of the newsletter of C.I.V.A. (Christians in the Visual Arts) the largest evangelical Christian arts organization in North America. He has received about 90 awards and exhibitions. Need I say that it was an honor for Covenant College to have him lecture and exhibit his work?
Knippers's modest treatment of nudity contained nothing immoral. There was nothing lewd about his work nor were the few images of Christ in his terrible suffering and shame irreverent. My own position in regards to the artistic treatment of nudity is congruent with the positions of every Reformed scholar who has published thinking on the arts in the last half century including Francis and Franky Schaeffer, Seerveld, Rookmaaker, Woltersdorff and Walford. Martin Luther numbered Lucas Cranach, who painted a great many explicitly nude figures, among his dearest friends, and made him the godfather to his children.
The issue in nude art comes down to the question of what is being said about the subject and whether such treatments are respectful and appropriate to that subject. I know of no critic, secular or Christian, who has accused Mr. Knippers's art of irreverence or inappropriateness. In fact, Gene Edward Veith, Cultural Editor of "World" magazine, in his book State of the Arts, a book in the Turning Point Christian Worldview series edited by Marvin Olasky the editor of "World" magazine, states that Knippers's art is "explicitly, confrontationally Biblical" and "eminently evangelical."
The art exhibited did not violate the second commandment. Given our own stained glass images of Christ in the chapel we must guard against the selective application of the Larger Catechism's prohibition of such images. In the interest of the ongoing reformation of the church I think that Covenant College should take a stand against what some of our own theologians call an intrusion of the Docetic heresy in our secondary standards by, as an institution, taking exception to this prohibition of imaging Christ.
The exhibit of Knippers' art was not contrary to the Covenant College's statement of purpose.
With regard to the apology of the college of those offended by the exhibit I have yet to learn the name of any offended student. If there was someone whose faith was threatened or weakened it would concern me very much. The remarks I kept hearing from students and others who saw the exhibit were actually just the opposite. There were comments suggesting a deepening of faith and of having been powerfully moved by the reminder of the sufferings of Christ. It is my present opinion that those students who thought they were offended, if there were any, confused their uneducated tastes with sound aesthetic judgment, the novelty of the experience with offense.
Thinking there might be some students troubled by the exhibit, I placed a variety of relevant and helpful readings on reserve in the library. Information about these readings was publicly posted on the Wittenburg Door. After several months and at the end of the semester I discovered that not a single reading had been checked out. It is important to note that of those who saw the exhibit, not a student, faculty member, or administrator has spoken to me as having been offended by the exhibit!
I would like to conclude by stating a few facts about the actual works included in this exhibit of "nude images of Christ" as it was heralded across the Presbyterian Church in America by those who never saw the exhibit. There were 12 works on paper exhibited. Seven of the 12 works were based on Old Testament themes like Jehu, Jezebel, Gomer, David, Job, the prophets of Baal and Elijah. Two of the 5 New Testament themes were of Stephen stoned and Gethsemane_a composition with small figures in a night landscape. The remaining three works, all of which were torn up by the vandal, included: 1) "Our Lord chided by his half brothers" which shows Christ from the waist up and reveals less flesh than the Christ figure in the chapel window!; 2) "Christ answers our doubts," a work in the tradition of Michelangelo who made several nude Christs in sculpture and drawings, but where his works are detailed, Mr. Knippers' are expressionistically vague. And the last, 3) "Our Lord Beaten," an image of tremendous artistic strength that should move us to tears as we are painfully reminded of what suffering and shame our fully human and fully divine Savior endured for us sinners! You students who had the privilege of seeing this art, please do not miss this message of Christ's suffering so powerfully communicated. If you miss this, which should drive you to prayer and praise, you are indeed the loser.