Saturday, January 21, 2006

Further Reflections on Art, Beauty and the Spirit

Small artists can flourish in an age which is not fit for heroes to live in.... It is only the greatest kind of artist who presents us with experiences that we recognize as fundamental and as in advance of anything we have hitherto known. --J.W.N. Sullivan, Beethoven: His Spiritual Development

For the spiritual aspirant, art and beauty are not merely entertainment or worldly distraction, but an occasion for vertical recollection of the higher world. Beauty is the splendor of Truth, a quaint truism no longer recognized in the mechanistic desert of higher criticism. It is an ingression of the divine plenitude from the nonlocal into the local mind.

Although art emanates from a realm that is suprahuman in nature, it requires an agent to manifest locally. Apparently, the universe is filled with these empty fields of pure logos awaiting a nervous system sophisticated enough to evoke their potential and give them concrete form.

The problem with much contemporary art is that it is merely human--it is wholly man-made, severing the divine-human partnership that is required to produce truly transcendent art. Part of this has to do with the relatively recent emergence of the individual self on a mass scale, which has only been going on for perhaps 400 years now.

That is, human individualism was only gradually wrested from the more primordial group mind, and although it is a necessary stage in human evolution, there is obviously a dark side to the ontologically isolated ego, as it brings with it spiritual inflation, self-aggrandizement, rebellion against the divine order, and the illusion of self-sufficiency. Instead of cooperating with God, artists have by and large attempted to replace or become God. (For the same reason, museums are the temples of our highly cultivated but spiritually bereft Last Men.) As Fritjof Schuon noted, the type of deviant art produced by and for such individuals should properly be called "subrealism" rather than realism or surrealism, for it operates on a level below the realm from which true art arises.

Art is literally divination: it is to discover or locate, as in "divining" water. However, it is also to make divine, to divinize. It is a kind of real magic, a communion between the inner being of the human Self and the inner being of whatever medium the artist is working with: sound, stone, words, color. How can sound convey something that isn't sound? How do words express states that are so far beyond words? How can color be the medium through which a noetic light far beyond color passes through?

Indeed, why is the world so beautiful? Why does it "speak" so endlessly to us? Who is speaking? Why are cloud patterns moving across the sky or the changing conditions of the sea so fascinating? Where is that beauty? Is it in the world? Why? Or is it in us? How?

Could it be that the human mind is a membrane through which the infinite passes through the finite, the meeting place of time and eternity, the interior of the cosmos contemplating its outward aspect? Is divinity so thoroughly entangled in the cosmos that the outside is in and the inside is out?

Yes, art imitates nature. But it is equally true that nature imitates art. And our greatest artists are mirrors--better yet, the windows--through which the logos shines. Through art, an unknown quality of ourselves is given birth and returned to us.

In a way, spiritual work is very mundane. It involves nothing more than cleaning windows, so that what is invisible can become visible. At the same time, a channel is opened through which the immense reality of the human soul is revealed from behind the veil. Who is the dreamer who dreams our dreams? Surely not the ego, which is an object the dreamer employs like a bit actor in a play. Who is the artist who dreams the art? Surely not the little man with the paint brush.

The cosmos is not merely what it is. Nor are we. Everything is perpetually passing beyond itself, revealing more of itself in the fulness of creative time. From the first cave paintings 40,000 years ago to the Sistine Chapel--and everything in between--is but a day's work in the interior life of the divine imagination.

As Petey has often muttered under his breath, "Give us this day our daily crock, that we might dip it into the sacred river and trundle back with some portentous bloviating to post this morning."


Anonymous said...

The problem with much modern art is that it is merely human--it is wholly man-made, disavowing the divine-human partnership that is required to produce truly transcendent art. Part of this has to do with the relatively recent emergence of the individual self on a mass scale, which has only been going on for perhaps 400 years now.

garcia marguez
(running out of room here)
bad art

elvis, van morrison

and I guess

James Joyce

= good art

my head is spinning

but it is the wknd so i may just be confused

Gagdad Bob said...

Reading carefully probably wouldn't overcome your compulsion to argue: "much" modern art, not "all" modern art.

If you have no problem with much modern art, then I think we've identified your problem.

Anonymous said...

much "art" is junk

by definition

the stuff from 400 + yrs ago you get to have access to is around for a reason

much of the other stuff was junk and not preserved and is certainly not prominently displayed in books and museums

and believe it or not many intelligent folk see little difference between the bad art in a modern art gallery and the music of the clash or whomever

neither is likely to be around in 400 yrs imo

Anonymous said...

last one before i go

ig u think the clash belong on a list pf musically great artists with mahler any more than andy warhol belongs on a similar list with matisse


"houston we've got a problem here"

Anonymous said...

Although my muse has been in hibernation for a while, I know the creative process well. I can remember those sessions when it was on me. Sometimes it meant staring at a rough stone for hours until I saw into it like looking at one of those stereograms. Suddenly I had x-ray eyes to see the form hidden in a raw chunk of alabaster.
I could hear it singing under the rasp, and I danced to that song as I moved around the tabled stone roughing out a shape. I remember sweating like a surgeon aiming the long drill. It was easy to make the bit go in right here, but quite another matter to make it come out exactly there. I had good aim with the long drill.
It was a lot of work.
I used to wonder why I did it.
I mean- I was a good artist, but not a great one. I got displayed in the company of many other very good artists, but I never had any illusions that I was the next Henry Moore or something. I did it for the love of it.

An observation on the art world.
If you were to walk around any of the exhibits in which my work was featured you would notice a lot of beautiful stuff. Beautiful stuff.
You'd see painings that you would want in your home. You'd see sculpture that you'd want to own.
If you talked to any of the artists they'd tell you that creating beauty was what they did. They would talk at great length about the process.

Now. Visit the "Gallery Scene".
What are you going to find?

Installations: assorted junk in a room that is supposed to convey a message.

Minimalism: the less said, the better.

Politics: no further comment.

Ugly. You see a whole lot of ugly. You see paintings that would poison any room you hung them in. Gross, macabre, scatalogical sculpture that would probably kill your appetite if you were trying to eat in the same room.
You see a whole lot of stuff that makes you say to yourself, "How can they call this crap art?"

Talk to the artists involved, and they will go on at great length about the need to convey a message through their art.

On the one hand, nasty looking art that comes from the artist's head, and on the other hand, beautiful art that comes through an artist's heart.

It's all out there. Fill your soul with whatever makes you happy.

Note to trolls: Yes I know I'm making a broad generalization that may break down in the instance of some particular artist or other. So what?


Anonymous said...

note to Liquid Life Hacker:
(if you're around)
Thanks for that M.Mcluhan link the other day. That just cracked me up.


Gagdad Bob said...


Exactly. Very well put. Call it what you want, but if you're not channelling something beyond yourself, then it's likely something less than art. You're an artist. It's a Platonic thingy, isn't it? Liberating the whatchamcallit from the thingamajig, and what not, eh?

CUD_LO said...

U might enjoy this:
All the best...

Anonymous said...

after spending the afternoon at your rock music afficiando's house listening to his choices as "the best of the best", true art..

"You (hear)a whole lot of stuff that makes you say to yourself, "How can they call this crap art?"

then you go home and put on some artistic music tested by centuries:
bach and vivaldi

Anonymous said...

I said it in another comments thread, and I'll say it again because JWM and Gagdad have put into words what I could not after coming across this gem:
The high mission of any art is, by its illusions, to foreshadow a higher universe reality, to crystallize the emotions of time into the thought of eternity.

We can make excuses for anything and everything that hangs on a gallery or museum wall or is spread out like garbage on the floor. We can arrogantly justify this stuff as 'making a statement' or of 'being provocative' and smugly call it art when it is no such thing.

The Last Men and all those of the species Homo Novusiorqus Tempus will continue to fool themselves and haughtily condemn the rest of us with discriminating views and taste as Philistine Jesus-landers. What these people will never understand is that art is never about the individual self which is what most of today's product seems to shouting, but it is about something higher and more important. The emotions channel the divine spark into what becomes transcendant thought. The difference between classic art and contemporary musings is the fact that today's is self-indulgence and self-absorption, whereas the classic encompasses humanity.

Anonymous said...

gang of one


now google for info on reviews of:

the first impressionists
exhibitions in europe

joyce's ulysses, faulkner's as i lay dying

i could add to the endless list but i think u get the point

see if you don't find words similar to yours

artists smash boundaries
sometimes successfully other times not

still listening to rock n roll as art btw ?

Is the multimillion selling "left behind" series of novels junk ?

etc etc etc

Gagdad Bob said...

Gang of One--

That's a big ten four, good buddy. Just pull the plug on that troll.

Anonymous said...

10 -4 x 2
we know what real art is , even if these idiots don't

Anonymous said...

anonymous states:

"the first impressionists
exhibitions in europe

joyce's ulysses, faulkner's as i lay dying

i could add to the endless list but i think u get the point"

The point you seem to be trying to make is that big names got no respect. I guess you would call that the Prophet-in-his-own-land Syndrome. I would call it the shock of something new and different, if I had to actually label it. I would be very surprised if James Joyce or any of the impressionists stated that their intentions were to smash boundaries and push the envelope. But you get my point.

"artists smash boundaries
sometimes successfully other times not

This is your whole argument. You are welcome to believe that art is supposed to be iconoclastic first and artfull second. It reminds me of the tabloids in Mexico that would declare that some sultry, Latina actress has a "new, sexy look" as if being sexy were something you purchased off the rack. It ain't; you either have it or you don't. It's the attitude, stupid [not you, Anon, the actress]. Almost every artiste I have met has this same need to be the art instead of merely the producer of art. It is nothing more and nothing less than inflated ego and deflated talent.

"still listening to rock n roll as art btw ?

Is the multimillion selling "left behind" series of novels junk ?"

OOOOOH! Snark! I heart snark ...
In fact, I never listened to rock as art because it is not art and as a semi-pro bass player, I know from what I speak. Rock, as popular as it is [in the actual sense of popular], is just an extension of the English literary tradition embodied by Whitman, Wordsworth and all the other post-Enlightenment Rousseauian sentimentalists. Rock and its following is as Robert Pattison eloquently wrote: a triumph of vulgarity.

etc etc etc