Solar Flares and Loony Tunes
Of the five senses -- sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell -- only the first two are associated with art and with aesthetic beauty. There are no olfactory artists who produce timeless smells, nor are there artists of touch.
Some might say that a gifted chef is an artist, but food is too closely connected to biological survival to qualify as art. Food may delight or entice, but it provides a kind of vital pleasure that is quite distinct from the pleasures of art. As Stephen Dedalus says in P of the A as a YM, eating provokes kinetic desire as opposed to aesthetic arrest. And there are some beautiful smells -- certain incenses, for example -- but they simply "are what they are," and don't point to or reveal anything else.
Why is this the case? First of all, how can two such diverse modes -- sight and hearing -- equally create the thing called "art?" Or, perhaps more to the point, what is art that it can express itself in two such diverse modes? Why are a painting and a symphony both called art? And why are the other senses excluded?
One of the classic definitions of art is that it combines, wholeness (integritas), harmony (consonantia), and radiance (claritas, which is similar to Plato's "splendor of truth").
Thus, painting and music can obviously embody wholeness and harmony, but it is difficult to imagine how the other senses could do so. For example, touch is inherently fragmentary; one cannot "touch the whole," nor can the fingers perceive radiance. And no one imagines that truth can be tasted or smelled (except in a subtle, analogical manner).
Let's go back to Joyce, who is speaking through Stephen: "An aesthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space."
The "mysterious instant" of aesthetic reception occurs when "the supreme quality of beauty... is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony." There is in "the silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition which... [is] called the enchantment of the heart."
Schuon, who wrote extensively on the spiritual dimension of art, notes that of the five senses, the eye lends itself to a "particularly adequate correspondence with the Intellect," since it is more detached and objective, the least bound up with vital sensibility.
I'm not so sure about this, since for men especially, sight is the vehicle of the female form. 'Nuff said.
But in any event, he says that sight corresponds to the intellect in its "static and simultaneous" mode, while hearing reflects it "in its dynamic and successive mode."
He adds that the latter may be thought of as "lunar" in relation to the solar centrality of sight. This makes sense, since they say that females are more sound-oriented from the get-go. They are also more interpersonally connected, and yakking is the vehicle of this connection.
We all know that light and illumination are the universal symbols of divine knowledge and its acquisition, just as darkness connotes ignorance, stupidity, and tenure.
But here again, sound is not far behind. For example, in Vedanta they posit the primordial vibration of existence as AUM, while in Christianity it all begins with the Word. And this Word must be heard.
Perhaps vision conveys the image of eternity, while sound is the moving image of eternity. As Schuon says, aesthetics is "the science of forms," and music presents us with temporal form, or architecture in motion. But the form must convey what is non-formal, i.e., the supra-formal light -- and truth -- from another world. It is limitlessness expressed by a limit, or divine radiance expressed through wholeness and harmony.
Interestingly, Schuon writes that "ignorant and profane aesthetics places the beautiful -- or what its sentimental idealism takes to be beautiful -- above the true..." This leads to idolatry of beauty, and of "art for art's sake." But beauty should be for truth's sake. If it is not subordinate to something higher, it will be appropriated by something lower.
Without this element of truth, beauty has no intrinsic value. It is reduced to "subjective enjoyment -- a luxury, if one prefers" (Schuon). Contrary to postmodernism, which is the nadir of subjectivism, beauty "is objective, hence discernible by intelligence and not by taste."
This is no trivial matter, for if man's environment is filled with corrupt and deviated images, "he runs the risk of 'being' what he 'sees,' of assimilating the errors suggested by the erroneous forms among which he lives." In this sense, everything becomes pornographic, which simply means that it is drained of any and all spiritual content.
Sri Aurobindo says something similar in a letter to a disciple, that through sound or image, "in a moment mysteriously, unexpectedly, there is a Presence, a Power, a Face that looks into yours, an inner sight..."
However, "so long as one is satisfied with looking through windows, the gain is only initial; one day one will have to take up the pilgrim's staff and start out to journey there where the Reality is forever manifest and present."
Or, one must follow the light to the sun and sound to the moon, for "in a certain sense, the sun makes known space and the moon, time" (Schuon).
Any other Pharoah Sanders fans out there? Probably not. He's definitely among my top 10, desert island artists. Like Van Morrison but few others, he always plays from the Source. Audible and visible sOlar flares: