Tag: The Bible

Artist and Mystic Experience

Share this artwork:

Artist and Mystic Experience

Now these are precisely the points of view which the teacher of religion also is constantly seeking to induce. He too calls people from their pursuits and practical ambitions to enjoy the communions of the spirit. He also summons men to leave off for a moment their doing that they may devote themselves to seeing. He also is persuaded of the inadequacy of mere thinking, claiming the possibility of a more nearly immediate experience of reality.

If this is anything like the truth, it is a strange thing that the professional schools for priests and prophets abundantly supply instruction that is intellectual and moral while very meagerly offering any tutelage of the imagination or any instruction in the discipline and development of the emotional career or in the technique whereby the minister of religion may become a proficient master in these areas. This will one day be changed so that every trained leader of religion will be more aware of the universal hunger for beauty and more capable of utilizing this almost unlimited asset for the religious ends of his task.

We are accustomed to thinking that the world of religion is willing to recognize this kinship with the world of the arts more readily than is the critic of the arts. The contrary is true. One is more likely to find the language of religion in the writings of the art world than to discover an equal intelligence amongst religious writers concerning the critique of the arts. When Bernard Bosanquet says that “the mind of man has its own necessity, which weaves its great patterns on the face of the whole world. And in these patterns–the pattern of life itself–the fullest feeling finds embodiment,” he is discussing the impulse and the necessity of the artist toward the same experience as the mystic.

Artist and Mystic Experience

William Temple in discussing some of the noblest works of art, writes: “In the presence of such transcendent Beauty, we realize the hope of mysticism. In a single impression we receive what absolutely satisfies us, and in that perfect satisfaction we ourselves are lost. Duration vanishes; the Now these are precisely the points of view which the teacher of religion also is constantly seeking to induce. He too calls people from their pursuits and practical ambitions to enjoy the communions of the spirit. He also summons men to leave off for a moment their doing that they may devote themselves to seeing. He also is persuaded of the inadequacy of mere thinking, claiming the possibility of a more nearly immediate experience of reality.

If this is anything like the truth, it is a strange thing that the professional schools for priests and prophets abundantly supply instruction that is intellectual and moral while very meagerly offering any tutelage of the imagination or any instruction in the discipline and development of the emotional career or in the technique whereby the minister of religion may become a proficient master in these areas. This will one day be changed so that every trained leader of religion will be more aware of the universal hunger for beauty and more capable of utilizing this almost unlimited asset for the religious ends of his task.

We are accustomed to thinking that the world of religion is willing to recognize this kinship with the world of the arts more readily than is the critic of the arts. The contrary is true. One is more likely to find the language of religion in the writings of the art world than to discover an equal intelligence amongst religious writers concerning the critique of the arts. When Bernard Bosanquet says that “the mind of man has its own necessity, which weaves its great patterns on the face of the whole world. And in these patterns–the pattern of life itself–the fullest feeling finds embodiment,” he is discussing the impulse and the necessity of the artist toward the same experience as the mystic.

William Temple in discussing some of the noblest works of art, writes: “In the presence of such transcendent Beauty, we realize the hope of mysticism. In a single impression we receive what absolutely satisfies us, and in that perfect satisfaction we ourselves are lost. Duration vanishes; the’moment eternal’ is come. The great drama proceeds; the music surges through us; we are not conscious of our own existence. We hear and see; and when all is done, we consider and bow the head.”S * He is writing as an art critic but in the language of religion. Again in discussing one of the lectures of Mr. Arthur Balfour, he writes: “The past and the future vanish; space itself is forgotten: whether or not mysticism is, as Mr. Balfour fears, the only possible philosophy of art, it is beyond question that the aesthetic experience is a purely mystical experience; that is to say, it is the direct and immediate apprehension of an absolutely satisfying object.”

I have somewhere read in a writing of Archdeacon Freemantle, the following: “Art becomes a binding link between men and draws them together toward God. It forms a society which must properly be called a Church. Its yearning toward the ideal is worship, a prayer. The sharing in artistic impressions is a genuine form of worship. It is destined to occupy no mean place in the full redemption of human life.”

The religious feelings relate to life as a whole. They are the response of man to the presently realized existence of divinity. They reach out to grasp the Universal and the Absolute. The feeling for beauty is usually not universal. But it is a feeling for being, for that which has existence. Every work of art says, Notice this fact, this bit of life: be a lover of life as you see it here. Religion says, Be a lover of Life as a Whole, God’s Life, love God. There is a profound identity of attitude between these two.

Religion is not merely thinking and feeling, it is also right doing. The moral issues of religion are ever the concern of healthy human life. We will have nothing to do with a religion which is ineffective in the practical world or weak in its increasing enthusiasm for a thoroughgoing application of its ideals to every phase of life, industrial and political as well as personal. These are the vast problems of the hour. We shall have no future religion at all if they are not manfully and courageously handled.

It is too commonly assumed that at this point the arts must part company with religion. Many have felt that to be interested in Beauty while the world is suffering from inhumanity is an ignoble thing. Unfortunately, both the conduct of artists in general and many critics of the arts have tended to foster such a view. Mr. Merton Stark Yewdale sets forth a correct note on the expressive desire of the aesthetic experience and then completely spoils the picture by separating that experience from practical life.

“We have a sensation of an enhanced power, a compelling desire to rid ourselves of a certain state of tension, eagerness to reciprocate the force which the artist exerts toward us.”So far so good. Then something extremely bad: “As our faculties are again assembled we see once more that life is the great delusion and Art the supreme counter-agent to existence.”

How could anyone write that who had ever read Emerson’s “Compensation”? There are in fact no real barriers between the world of Art Life and the world of Common Life. The artist marks off a bit of the world and harmonizes it and sees that it is good or beautiful. Religion rises to see that all creation is good. It will admit no barriers. It would glorify all life.

The very nature of artistry is activity. Works of art are described as creations. Whatever may be said about the appreciation of Beauty, art is the production of Beauty. Artistry is expression, release, liberation, outgoing effort, authorship, origination. Its results are not called thoughts of art or feelings of art but works of art.

And the artist not only creates new forms of material beauty but also new persons. The very essence of the thing that happens to people when they are impressed by beauty, either of nature or of art, is increased vitality. They are literally remade, increased in strength of body and strength of mind.

Still a third practical effect of the artist’s work is the result in the world of the enhanced power developed in the aesthetic experience. This is the point least clearly intimated by writers on the subject, and denied by many. It is the point of disagreement with Mr. Yewdale. Even Professor Hocking in his profound discussion of art and religion in the volume, “Human Nature and Its Remaking,” does not sufficiently get away from his suggestion that the world of art is an arena in which man may make his conquests more easily than in the world of fact.

“Art is the region which man has created for himself, wherein he can find scope for unexpressed powers, and yet win an absolute success, in testimony of his own reality… It has but feeble contact with the more pressing problems of the ‘common man.’ It fits no one for dealing with the as yet unharmonized aspects of experience. Its tendency would be to seclude itself, build for itself high garden walls, and in the midst of a world small enough to be perfectly controlled, forget the ugly, the squalid, the disordered, the just causes for warfare and rebellion.”

There are undoubtedly many facts which bear out this view. And with the facts coincides the oft-repeated description of the experience of beauty as being a feeling of power coupled with the paradoxical feeling of repose, a sense of great energy but of no demand to exercise it. The aesthetic moment is by everyone described as the moment of perfect satisfaction.

Tags : , , , , , , , ,

The Unity of Religion and Art

Share this artwork:

The Unity of Religion and Art

Art and religion belong together by identities of Origin, Subject Matter, and Inner Experience. Religion and art were one and the same thing before either of them became consciously regarded as a distinct human interest. The principal subject matter of the world’s artistic treasures is religious. The experience of faith and the experience of beauty are in some measure identical.

In these three ways there is displayed the unity of religion and art. I am not here interested to elaborate them, but the numbers of religious leaders who have no interest in the arts, and the numbers of artists who have no participation in the life of definite religion need all to be made aware of these facts.

The beginnings of religion and of art alike lie far back and hidden in the immemorial life of primitive man. In the earliest historic times they were interwoven and no one can say which was first, for they were not two, but one. The painted stick or bunch of feathers which as a fetish was utilized for its magical powers was also in some sense a work of art. The dances and pantomimes of early tribal life were attempts at the magical control of nature or nature divinities. Exercises in frenzy were both religious and artistic, primitive forms of ritual, primitive forms of drama. “This common emotional factor it is that makes art and ritual in their beginnings well-nigh indistinguishable.”

Religion has been historically the great fountain source of art, and the art of worship the mother of all arts. “Ritual and art have, in emotion towards life, a common root, and primitive art develops emotionally, at least in the case of drama, straight out of ritual.”

It is sufficient for our purpose to accept the judgment of anthropologists that in one way or another most of the arts–music, dancing, sculpture, poetry, drama, architecture –were developed out of exercises and objects originally devised for the magical control of divinities, the celebration of seasonal feasts or the production of ecstasy for its own sake or for power in war–all exercises of primitive religion.

“Art will then never arise and develop among men unless it has a foundation in religion. Art absolutely profane in origin, art born to satisfy the aesthetic taste of the spectator, art which seeks for expressiveness rather than for the material utility of its products, even if this be a spiritual utility, is inconceivable in human history and has absolutely never existed.” *

This is perhaps a too sweeping claim, but something very like it is true. An adequate discussion of it would involve a long study not enough pertinent to our present work to make. It is difficult for us with our reflective and analytical habits of mind to throw back our imaginations into the early time when life was just life, single and undivided, without religion or art or any other category as such. It is not impossible that such a unity of experience is a goal ahead of us as well as a forgotten history behind us.

The second consideration in noting the unity of religion and art is the fact that in all human history the principal subject matter of the arts has been religious. “All the art of the human race is essentially religious art; from the Chaldean to the Egyptian, from the Mycenaean to the Greek, from the Assyrian to the pre-Buddhistic Chinese, from the Mexican to the Peruvian, there is no exception.”

The three things which most attract Americans to cross the sea in search of the riches of the old world are the Greek temples and statues, Italian paintings, and Gothic architecture. With a very few exceptions all of these incomparable treasures were created by religion. The histories of the older oriental empires and of Egypt display the same facts. Literary art also, considering the Greek dramas, Dante, and Milton, at its high points if not at its lower, has been chiefly religious.

Tags : , , , , , ,

The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci

Share this artwork:

The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci

The Renaissance artist was a master craftsman with a refined understanding of the materials of his art. The need to learn about materials was one of the reasons for the lengthy apprenticeship of the fledgling artist. Each artist had to master a finite range of substances used in his particular specialty.

He dealt with simple materials used in combination, but because of a lack of knowledge of their chemistry, a good deal of his work was empirical in nature. Much guesswork and many mistakes were part of even the most sublime Renaissance paintings and sculptures, just as they are in the best modern works.

The Renaissance artist’s practical, clear understanding of the nature of his materials was complemented by his marvelous sense of their potential. From their earliest training, artists were taught to think of form and material as being totally fused, parts of a single whole. The great frescoes, panel paintings, and sculptures of the Renaissance are as much about material as they are about form or subject.

When he designed a fresco or a free-standing statue, the artist understood, from long years of experience, that its various forms had to be made a certain way to realize the potential of the chosen material. He knew, for instance, that he could extend a marble arm just so far; he knew that groups of figures in a fresco had to be arranged to allow them to be painted on a series of fresh plaster patches; and he knew all the characteristics of a certain blue pigment he wanted.

Tags : , , , , , , ,

God Appearing to St. Mary Magdalena and St. Catherine of Siena, circa 1508 (Giclee Print)

Share this artwork:


God Appearing to St. Mary Magdalena and St. Catherine of Siena, circa 1508

bible figures, christianity, fine art, fra bartolommeo, Giclee Prints, god appearing to st. mary magdalena, italian art, Renaissance Art, The Bible

Tags : , , , , , , , ,

Virgin and Child with St. Catherine and Mary Magdalene, circa 1500 (Giclee Print)

Share this artwork:


Virgin and Child with St. Catherine and Mary Magdalene, circa 1500

bible figures, christianity, giovanni bellini, italian art, Renaissance Art, The Bible, virgin and child with catherine and mary magdalena

Tags : , , , , , ,