Friday, February 19, 2010

ART IV ~ The Problem of the Artist

So far I have stupidly left out a huge piece of art: the artist. So, I shall discuss the artist, using the Catechism of the Catholic Church as my guide. So, once again, let's read CCC 2501:
Created "in the image of God," man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works. Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being's inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man's own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God's activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man.
Let's analyze this, breaking it down sentence by sentence...
1. Man is created in God's image; he expresses that in the beauty of art.
2. Art is specifically a human endeavor; it is a generous expression of the riches in a human.
3. Art arises from talent and effort, and it unites knowledge and skill in a form of practical wisdom for the purpose of giving form to the truth of reality in languages that we can see and hear.
4. As it is inspired by truth and love of beings, it is like God's creating.
5. Like anything else human, it is not an end, but it has order and nobleness from the end of man.

As you can see, there are some very important connections being formed here. First let's consider the one stated in sentences One and Four: 1. That man's making art is like God's creating man 2. because both are inspired by truth and love of beings, and 3. that this relationship is expressed in the beauty of art.

Adam in the Garden of Eden

1. Man's making art is like God's creating man- we are created in God's image, and the art that we make somehow reflects us. An effect always is similar to its source, or cause, because it has nothing of its own but what came from the cause. Even when an artist says a painting took on a life of its own, the painting is still coming form the artist, just in very unexpected and surprising ways.

Painting by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel, showing God creating Adam

2. Both God's creating and man's making art are inspired by truth and love of beings- Love naturally spreads to include more and more people, which is evident in how a family begins as man and wife and spreads to include children. God did not need to create anything, but being love, He wanted to extend love to more beings. as the Catechism says in paragraph 1, "God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life." God's love for us, and the truth of His love, and the Truth which God gives us because He loves us continues and will continue for all time; that is "God's activity in what He has created." Art comes, more or less, from the artist's observation of truth within or outside of himself, and for love of some being. This calls to mind two quotes from the Introduction of Caritas in Veritate by Pope Benedict XVI: 1. "love and truth never abandon them (all people) completely, because these are the vocation planned by God in the heart and mind of every human person." 2. "Truth should be loved and demonstrated."

Painting by Jack Hayes of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel

3. This relation is expressed by the beauty of art- As we said in 'ART III~ The Problem of Beauty', the more a things is beautiful, whether in a sensual or intellectual way, the more a thing is like God, who is the most beautiful. So it is in the beautifulness of art that the viewer, or audience, can grasp the profound relationship he, the artist, and all people have with God. It is through beauty that lies one of the clearest ways of leading our thoughts to God. God directly manifests Himself in the beauty of creation (also discussed in 'The Problem of Beauty'). People directly and indirectly, intentionally and unintentionally, manifest their Creator and their relationship to Him in art.
Then it seems that when art does not reflect this relationship in a good way, but rather distorts it and mocks it, it is a great sin. For the relationship between man and God is sacred.
Lucifer by Jackson Pollock
Further posts concerning sentences 2, 3, and 5 are on the way!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gallery I ~Ikons

I'm not just going to talk to you about art; I am going to show you some art. So here is the first Gallery post; subject matter: Ikons.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ART III ~The Problem of Beauty

There are two posts already on my blog that deal directly with art: 'What is Art?' and 'Art Is.....?' I am now going to continue my discussions of art, dealing with this question: in the first post I said, "Beauty and Truth are far from always agreeing. But in art they are shown as sisters." Then, in my second post I had a huge quote from the CCC, and one of the things it says is: "Truth is beautiful in itself." The problem is, are truth and beauty opposed or is truth beautiful in itself?
As always, the best place to start is to define our terms. Truth is a correspondence of reason and reality. Beauty is... And this is where we run into problems. As we all may attest, I am sure, the wonders of creation lead us to consider the greater wondrousness of the Creator.

3 [...]let them know how much the Lord of them (fire, wind, stars, the sun, etc.) is more beautiful than they: for the first author of beauty made all those things. 4 Or if they admired their power and their effects, let them understand by them, that he that made them, is mightier than they: 5 For by the greatness of the beauty, and of the creature, the creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby. ~Wisdom 13:3-5

And that is the closest thing I know to an actual definition of 'beauty'.
So, beauty was made by God with the purpose of showing by it His own beauty, and so reveal Himself. In human works, beauty has the mission of showing some truth. In creation, beauty has the mission of showing the Truth.
We observe beauty through two things: the mind and the senses. As it says in the definition of beauty at, '
The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.' (emphasis added) This is where the whole problem of defining beauty comes up, I think. Because when we think of what is beautiful, we tend to think of things like this:

Or like this: Rapsodia Romania (op.2) by George Enescu
These are all beauties that reach to the senses, and can lead us higher than the senses ever will be able to. It was in thinking of these sensual beauties only that I wrote that beauty and truth were often opposed. I was thinking along the lines of, 'A lie may sound perfectly marvelous, but it isn't true. It may be true that someone is dead, but that isn't beautiful.' And so I cam e to the conclusion that beauty and truth are often opposed. If the only sort of beauties that existed were the sensual kind, then I am right.
However, there are also things which are beautiful, and whose beauty only the intellect can grasp, things which may even repel the senses. For example, suffering and death. How can they beautiful? Although it seems almost impossible to see these as beautiful, they are, because they can lead one closer to God.
As the senses have 5 faculties, so the mind has 5. One of these is the intellect, which has the ability to sense what is beautiful, even of the senses cannot or will not. Consider again the definition from
'The quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.' (emphasis added) One cannot see, hear, taste, feel, or smell truthfulness. But one can sense when what they see, hear, or feel is true- with the intellect's sense for what is good, true and beautiful.
So, now that we have explored what beauty is and how truth and beauty can be opposed of one is only thinking of sensual beauties, let us find how they correspond, when thinking of both sensual and intellectual beauties.
As Wisdom 13:3-5 shows us, sensual beauties that are created by God, such as fire,wind, stars, and the sun, can and should lead us to God. Thus they correspond to Truth. Sensual beauties made by man- clothes, paintings, sculptures- are an imitations of the created; others like photos and videos are ways of holding the created from the changes of time. These can lead us, indirectly, to the Creator. The purer they are of sin, the more they do this.
Intellectual beauties, both created and made, correspond with truth and the Truth because God is beautiful. We know God is beautiful because, as said in Wisdom 13:3-5, the beauties of earth reflect that. If He were not beautiful, He would not be able to have made anything beautiful. Also, all that is the best is in Him, so if there is beauty in creation (there is), then He is the most beautiful (He is). (There is a slight distinction I will make before going on: the beauties of the earth are a means for us to reach Him, mentally and actually. The beauty of God is an end to be contemplated and enjoyed here and forever in heaven.)
Now, God is beautiful and God is Truth. As He is all perfect, there cannot be anything contradicting in Him, so his beauty and Truth must perfectly be in agreement. Thus, the Truth is in itself beautiful. Going down now in thought, from greatest to least, we may conclude that the more a thing is like God, the more it is true, the more it is beautiful, and the more these two qualities agree and compliment each other. And the less a thing is like God, the more sinful and low, the less it is true and beautiful, and the less these agree.
Specifically, on the example I gave of an intellectual beauty- death. Death is the way that, because of sin, we have to pass through to get to heaven. But the end of all things, God, has purified and made holy our only means of actually reaching and being with Him eternally in His full glory. So, death not only has beauty in that is a way to the greatest beauty; it now is a beauty in itself, a sanctified way, and when we go through it we are following in the footsteps of God.
Finally, if even death, the greatest effect of sin- ugliness and lies- can and has been sanctified and so made good and holy and true and beautiful, then we can know that truth and beauty are not opposed. When they seem opposed, it is probably because one of them is either lacking or impure, or our senses intellects are dulled and warped by sin and so we cannot see or think correctly.
And now, I big thanks to you, my reader, for having read that humongously long post!