Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Of Arts and the Animal 8

A Christian Essay in Aesthetic Value

caritas et amor

The act of self-communication is not an act of love in some detached or indefinite manner, but has three objects: the artist himself or herself as the image of God in whom the good to be communicated is seated, the subject which the artist strives to comprehend in his or her perception of its beauty, and the audience which the artist seeks out so that he or she might love them ‘as himself’ or ‘herself’. The audience is a necessary term in understanding the nature of the arts; the Rodgers sisters’ song rightly states that “It takes three to make music” and “the folks who listen” are as much a part of the equation as composers and performers. The artist is motivated always by the urge to share the goodness found in the inner depths with others, and to have that goodness apprehended and understood, and then to have that understanding reflected back – the artist finds fulfilment in drawing others into himself or herself and projecting himself or herself into their essential being in a communion reflective of that between the divine persons of the Most Blessed Trinity. Mark Rothko is quoted (by the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art and Artists) saying about his communication of the basic emotions that “The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience as I had when I painted them”, showing his instinctive knowledge that the self-sharing of the artist is always a religious act. God is a party to that communion of souls because they meet in this divine image and in ‘caritas et amor’.

Slate Blue and Brown on Plum
by Mark Rothko

The opposite of “Ubi caritas et amor est, ibi Deus est” is equally true; where charity and love are absent, God is excluded. Thus, a work succeeds or fails to the extent to which it performs an act of love; a work that fails to engage an audience fails to mediate the artist’s desired relationship with that audience whether the failure lies in the intent, the execution, or in a technical choice regarding medium or form. We may judge the quality of engagement offered by a particular work. The relationship of love is not simply a two-way relationship between the individual in the audience and the artist; the work also mediates a communion between audience members who are drawn into becoming an audience, a defined body rather than a collection of disparate individuals, and who find a community of interest in sharing the reception of the work – we fall in love with fellow concert-goers, woo with poetry, and bond over books. Social relations grounded in charity and love, of course, exist upon many bases other than the arts, most notably family relationships and the bonds established through a shared religion. Works, media and forms which do not unite but divide, which catch the individual in a net woven of images and intellectual projections, trap people within the conscious constructs of shallow minds, separating them from not only the reality of the subject addressed by such works, but even the reality of their own lives; these things are not art but its opposite. A family sitting in close proximity but not ‘together’ in any meaningful sense or, worse still, with separate screens in different rooms as they ‘watch the box’ is a horrible sight, a terrifying vision borrowed from Dante’s frozen inferno of ice and isolation. When work of a genuinely artistic purpose is made for broadcast broadcasters will often thwart that purpose, adding their insensitivity to the shortcomings inherent in these media.

By Prayer Crusader St Philip Howard

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