I had hoped to write these musings sooner, but instead allowed my thoughts to simmer after the initial epiphany and its afterglow yielded to a more contemplative ‘dwelling with” in the platonic sense. Still, a blog hardly affords one the space to develop ideas to an adequate extent, and so what follows, as will inevitably be the case henceforth, is like an intellectual iceberg in a vast sea to which I’ve taken to exploring with an ice-pick.
To the point, I was recently struck by two related thoughts– the first while enjoying a walk on a beautiful fall day in my neighborhood of Park Slope, the second while reading one of Timothy Gallagher’s books titled “Spiritual Consolation: An Ignatian Guide for Greater Discernment.” The first introduces the question “what is art?”, while the second “what is beauty?”. As this post will only take stock of the first occasion, I mention the second simply to denote the presence of an ensuing post or two that will make further light of these initial undercooked comments.
While walking around Park Slope, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude infused by the contemplative receptivity towards my beautiful surroundings. Such a growing ardor not only filled my vision with an inner light that spread itself out like a luminous mantle upon all the eyes beheld, bathing the world with wonder, but it seemed to demand a response from me, in much the same way that when one is given a present, particularly when it is a surprise, one should immediately respond with a resounding “thank you!”. In the spiritual world, this thank you would be directed towards God and would entail the two-fold response of love: prayer and service (circumincessive contemplation and action). Analogously, this is no less true with art and philosophy.
As is usual with sudden epiphanies, the flash of light experienced leaves one with a concentrated kernal with which to spend at least the next several days (and years, depending on the gravity of the epiphany) unpacking and contemplating. The more condensed form of this latest realization is that art, in a broad sense, is precisely the creative response manifesting contemplative gratitude for the beauty of being (and hence nature) through visual and aural representation, and which takes on heightened specificity within the various “fine arts”. By extension of similitude, I realized that philosophy is essentially the response arising from gratitude at the truth of being. In each case, philosophy or art, the necessary precursor is a contemplative wonder and grateful receptivity to the givenness of being. More simply put, art is the love of beauty, in much the same way that philosophy is the love of wisdom (truth), in which love demands a response, in fact already contains a response within it to an extent– a resounding “thank you” to the gift, with each discipline manifesting their concretized responses in their respective ways.
There are serious and far-reaching ramifications in extending what seems to be a rather simple but somehow generally overlooked intuition, at least as I see it, most of which would require a more serious essay or book to discuss. Of note would be a less constricted view of “art”, a more robust interpretation of the classical phrase “art imitates nature” and Aristotle’s poetics (even while retaining points of disagreement), serious divergence from some of Gilson’s viewpoints in his “Arts of the Beautiful” (and many other books for that matter), the re-introduction of the ethical question in art that has been too cursorily dismissed, a stern appraisal of most modern art as largely adolescent (exhibiting ingratitude and bad manners, if not outright rebellion), etc etc. Least of all it would entail the salvaging of the true nature of the philosopher and artist from the wreckage of their current reductionist incarnations as meaning, more or less, “thinker” and “fabricator”, however unwitting the acceptance of their narrowing or loss of multi-dimensionality.
In short, without a genuine gratitude towards Being (and hence the givenness of Being in nature) exhibited in the two-fold dynamism of contemplative receptivity and creatively lived response– if either aspect of the dynamism is seriously impaired or lacking– beautiful art and true philosophy are impossible.