January 6, 1861, in Ghent, Belgium.
Art does not merely imitate nature. Art imitates grace perfecting nature.
Contemplation ultimately reminds us that every point of the finite is open to the infinite. And if the two can and do fully interpenetrate, then the old maxim that art imitates nature (in the analogical sense) can be more profoundly understood and restated as art imitates grace perfecting nature. The role of art thus becomes a visual safeguard of gratuity over-against every functionalism or reductionism or essentialism, a continual reminder that everything is gift, and that our every response should be one of gratitude (for art is essentially a response of gratitude for creation arising from a love of beauty). It is here that sacred art and architecture are called to bear specific witness by calling the individual and the community to a universal act of gratitude in the imitation of the Christological form through the highly personal, specific, ritualized form of the liturgy.
Some recently discovered links I came across with some interesting connections to topics on Theology, the Imagination, and the Arts:
The Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts (ITIA) at St. Andrew’s, Scotland (St. Mary’s College)
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. Continue reading
A friend of mine forwarded this recent publication in First Things: On the Square by David Hart, one of my more recently discovered favorite authors. However, in this comparative evaluation of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, while I agree with many of Hart’s points, loving both Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, I yet find myself diverging in several places, most notably at the more basic point of aesthetic theory which he uses to differentiate their artistic ranking. Here, I have recapitulated my essential response to Hart’s essay from On the Square, but have taken the opportunity to expand a little on the issues I touched upon there.
I would certainly agree that it is possible to “rate/rank” authors/artists to a certain extent, and yet one often has the feeling that, at a certain point, as a friend of mine is want to point out, comparing the relative greatness of, say, Bach and Mozart and Beethoven, begins to get a bit dicey. I do not ascribe to the relativistic stance that simply fulfilling the aesthetic aim which one has set out to achieve creates an equivalency between artists, since it still leaves the more basic question of whether or not the objective beauty which was achieved was greater in one artist than another as well. Just because Michelangelo and Rothko were attempting to do different things with their art, and both were proportionately successful to their aim, it does not follow that somehow Rothko was as great an artist as Michelangelo, because the final result of Michelangelo’s art is, simply at a glance, infinitely more beautiful than Rothko’s. Continue reading