Prophet as Artist

Michael-Buesking_Ezekiel-Scattering-Hair“Ezekial Scattering Hair” by Michael Buesking.

The work is based on Ezekial 5:1-12 when the prophet dramatically acts out his warning for Israel about the coming catastropy. Here’s a statement Michael makes regarding his work:

The paintings in this section are examples from a recent series based on the symbolic actions of the Old Testament prophets. The series is titled, Prophet as Artist. As the title of the series indicates, I have reversed the order of the often-quoted phrase, “artist as prophet.” The trend in contemporary art movements toward action and performance art is partially responsible for a revision in the way I view the ancient prophets. Many contemporary art actions seem laden with ceremony and ritual. The strangeness of some of these contemporary art actions reminded me of some of the physical tasks performed by prophets like Ezekiel.

My review of several Old Testament prophets revealed a number of actions performed by the prophets at God’s command. Often, these actions were not your simple, every-day “visual aids” to help reinforce the message. They sometimes occupied the daily activities of the prophet for long periods of time, and also required some sacrifice on the part of the prophet. (Think of the obedience of Hosea, for example.)

The whole idea of the prophet acting as a voice to the people by artistic means was exciting to me. In addition, though the stories of the prophetic actions are found in one of the West’s most traditional sources of subject matter, the Bible, I was not aware of any iconographic tradition associated with them. This gave me the freedom to develop my own approach to the imagery.

The images are reduced to include only the prophet involved with the action so that the viewer becomes the witness to the event. This treatment of the image also moves the image further from illustration of a Bible story and closer to archetypal or metaphorical imagery: man scattering hair, man tying sticks together. I have also limited or conflated references to a specific time period so as to make the paintings less illustrative and more symbolic.

Soon after beginning this series of images celebrating the symbolic actions of the prophets, I decided to use the self-portrait as a basis for the prophet. This decision had the advantage of making the prophet figure less of a generalized, non-specific personality, certainly less idealized, and placed the prophet more in the realm of real people. It enhanced the physical nature of the action as having been an actual event. It also enabled me to identify myself strongly with the monotheistic ideology of the Old Testament — in stark contrast to the resurgence of polytheism evident in much contemporary (“ritual”) action art. The prophet of the Old Testament, laboring in a time of spiritual declension, sought a way to communicate effectively to the people of his day. So now, by quoting or re-imaging their symbolic actions, I align myself with their ideology and restate their messages.

There is an instructive aspect to my work. Most who view this series on the actions of the Old Testament prophets do not recall the events and are encouraged to go back to the Scripture to review the context for the actions. I also believe the actions of the prophets to be timeless in the sense that they were acting out symbols that depict one facet of the relationship between God and man. I want my artwork to be relevant in some way to society, perhaps providing an opportunity for reflective thought in terms of the history of God’s dealing with man.

3 thoughts on “Prophet as Artist

  1. Too bad this work wasn’t around when I was formally studying such things. However, I was definitely aware of the concepts he so eloquently expresses, since I mentioned similar things in essays at the time.
    Currently I “carry” something of his research methodology and discovery in my danceworks… archetypal metaphorical imagery, symbolic actions, living the message, the fusion of sacred and mundane in ritual communication, blah blah blah
    Thanks for posting this, Matt 🙂


  2. Ezekial, as far as I know, was the name of science-fiction writer Jerry Pournelle’s computer. He used to write about it in “Byte” magazine about 30 years ago. Definitely not a prophet or a son of a prophet, and not even a pruner of sycamore trees.


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