Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Art: a response in the discussion with Jenna St. Hilaire and Mr. Pond

"Oh tell us, Poet, what do you do? ~ I Praise.

But the dark, the deadly, the desperate ways,

How do you endure them ~ how bear them? ~

I Praise."

   ~Rainer Maria Rilke

We are discussing Art. What is art, what is non-art. Can there be a created thing that fails to be art? Can there be a thing that has so completely lost it's beauty, it's truth, it's goodness that it is in no way Art, that it crumbles and will not endure? As I understand her, Jenna is saying that there is no such thing - all our communications, banal to beautiful, blessings to curses - all are art.  I can't agree. 

I'd like to be mistaken, I'd like her to mean that all of life has the potential to call forth Art, that for the artist, the smallest thing has riches that can brought to light. I would agree. It is the way in which we fling ourselves into experience, into the light and darkness of life that makes the experience artistic, the ability to "say them more intensely than the Things themselves ever dreamed of existing" that turns the Thing to art: absorbing, nourishing, growing, and then making the experience anew - so that it touches beauty and endures- which makes Art.

It is only for God that every communication is Art, and that is because, for Him, all of eternity is "a great recognizing, seeing-again, and being welcomed." All of life is one great intimacy, and in all His works runs the beauty of the Divine imagination. Some of His art fails, because it is living art, with a will of it's own, and runs from it's beauty, but the Artist has not failed to make art. For us it is different, our communications fail, we fail. We are not intimate enough, with ourselves and with our world to call forth it's beauty. When we are able to take an experience and make it intense, alive, and enduring, then we make art; but not all of our words are living, and none are the Word: none are Beauty incarnate, we have no certainty that what we produce is Art.

John Paul II reminds us that "not all are called to be artists," though all are called to craft their lives in imitation of Christ, there is a distinction. The artist is not only called to, but also given the gift of an ability to "respond to the demands of art, and faithfully to accept art's dictates." (Letter to Artists). That art makes demands which must be accepted by the artist, enforces the fact that art is more than a passive thing - nothing more than communication, demanding nothing: not talent, not discipline, not devotion from the artist. Communication is an essential aspect of Art, but not the only aspect. Objective beauty is also an essential aspect of art, and if beauty, the "visible form of the good" cannot be found, the work is not art, for "beauty is the vocation bestowed on [the artist] by the Creator" (LtA).

In so many ways, art is like faith, "a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world" (LtA); it opens the door to faith. Through beauty it reveals truth, and without both truth and beauty, art cannot exist. It would be wrong to assume that all communications, even those lacking both beauty and truth could be art in anyway, it does a disservice to truth, and to the human soul, which longs to be nourished on a beauty that "will save the world" (Dostoevsky).  It inserts relativism into the understanding of art, a relativism which, by refusing to distinguish between art and non-art, steals away all the value and meaning of art, by making it passive, a simple act of existence - people must communicate - instead of what it is "a battle for Life" (Rilke).


  1. It is an interesting corollary to your thoughts to think about intentionality. If one intends to make something beautiful, even if one is a small child with a few crayons to work with, there is at least an aspiration to art in the result. If the result is not skilled and excellent, we would still say it is in the realm of craft, of immitating the creator. But if one intends to make or portray something vile, no matter how photorealistic it is, I don't think we could call it 'art'. Also if something beautiful or useful happens to be created by 'accident', I would attribute that result through the laws of physics to the Creator. Humans do not always immitate the creator. Sometimes we rebel against him.

  2. I like what you're saying - a lot: craft does cover a good deal, and in a way, "raise up" what isn't art, but what is "an aspiration to art"! Really beautiful thoughts - how are you doing???

  3. So I keep trying to respond to this, and keep failing. Partly because I feel like I answered half of it in the comments on my post before I saw it. But I liked some of Mr. Pond's synthesis, and will try to get some response together for next Monday. Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  4. ....and probably should have linked Mr. Pond's synthesis as well, for visitors.

    Word verification: eestersh. That sounds like something you say when you see how packed the church is on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. :P

  5. Hi, you don't know me but I am a friend of Jenna's and couldn't help but comment on this topic. I could not agree with you more, Masha. I think that due to lack of faith we are seriously lacking in art in our era. Just like most things in life there has to be a standard, I believe you can't have an attitude of anything goes, even in art. I could go on but my baby is crying...maybe another time.

  6. Hey there Dearie-I am most extremely well. If you remind me of your current mail address I will even write you a note!

  7. Ooh, I would love a note! I'll send that along to you right away!

  8. Sarah~

    Thank you so much for your response! I'm glad you liked my post. I Do have a lot of trouble with the idea of accepting anything in Art, or Faith, I see them as decidedly linked, and when we allow for "bad 'so-called art'" as Thomas Merton puts it, we lessen our ability to discern True Art, and "the effect is grave" both in our artistic life and our spiritual life.

    Enjoy your baby! I'm looking forward to meeting mine within the next couple weeks!