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Sunday, September 28, 2003

The Art of Being Human

Every year, our town holds an art festival. This year we went. As art festivals go, it was fairly typical. There were lots of formless kiln-fired clay lumps, sticks arranged so that they looked like... well... sticks, and framed examples of what happens when you drop paint on a canvas from a great height. The prices approached that of my first car, now twenty years gone.

Driven out of the adults’ area by ugliness, we discovered the children’s area. Here, among the face painting, the clay play, and the soap bubble blowing, we found a children’s community mural in progress. The children always enjoy painting, so we stopped to get them paper plate “palettes” and let them daub away.

As they worked, it occurred to me that this single activity summed up all that was wrong with what the ignorant elites term “modern art”.

The term “ignorant elites” is specifically chosen, for their ignorance is of a very specific nature. They are not ignorant of art. Many, if not most, of the self-styled avant-garde who buzz like flies around art’s decaying corpse are quite knowledgeable about various periods of historical art styles, the masters of each style, even the techniques used to create them. Neither are the idolized artists always bereft of talent. Most of the exhibits we had abandoned contained at least one piece that implied the possibility of beauty, except.... except they had not the knowledge.

Ignorance is not necessarily damning. As Will Rogers once observed, everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects. The artists and their “sophisticated” followers lacked only one fact: the why. That was enough.

Like the man born blind who understands form but cannot identify color, today’s sophisticate knows the form of man, but not his color. They don’t know what he is made to do. They see man is natural, an animal like other animals. They conclude there is nothing more. Herein lies their ignorance.

Nature cares not a whit for anyone or anything. It maims and kills without remorse. According to evolutionary theory, over eighty percent of the species that have ever existed were wiped out in the pre-Cambrian explosion, long before man ever came on the scene. This is nature’s form.

But, though man has nature’s form, he is beyond it. This “beyond” is typically referred to as man’s “supernatural” aspect. Man is supernatural because he is what nature is not - he is a person. We have the power to act as persons. That is, we are capable of forming relationships nature cannot form. A person loves, preserves, cares for, other persons. Consequently, a person will even preserve and care for the things of the world, knowing that these things are necessary to the existence of other persons.

When we act supernaturally, we act as persons. We imitate the color, that is, the spirit of God. Christians generally agree that God is three Persons, but they rarely remember the three Persons of God are distinguished only by their relationships. That is, God is three Persons only because there exists within the Godhead exactly three kinds of relations: He who begets and He who is begotten, He who breathes and He who is breathed. Father breathes/begets Son, Son is begotten, Father and Son together breathe/beget Spirit, Spirit is breathed/begotten by Father and Son. One God containing but a communion of interpersonal relationships, and man in His image.

Consequently, man, unlike nature, is always attempting to build personal relationships in the world. Absurdly, we often try to do this even towards non-persons. We put sweaters on dogs, “baby” our cars, and protect threatened owls. But adults are perfected by successive iterations, successively closer steps towards the reality of perfection. As we become better at recognizing and loving persons, we become more like God.

True art is about personal relationships. It teaches children to move from crude drawings of relations between things toward successively greater perfection, more accurate expressions of relationships.

Conversely, sophisticated avant-garde art strives for chaotic crudity, it is purely natural, maiming and killing our proper understanding of ourselves. The painters on a community mural paint without regard to who has come before them, ruthlessly painting over whatever was originally laid down. The work is ephemeral. Like those lost species of the pre-Cambrian explosion, most of what is created is destroyed without ever really being seen. In that sense, the mural expressed the chaos of the natural animal, not the order of the supernatural man.

Children know this is wrong. When a child creates, that creation is meant to be permanent: put on the refrigerator, hung on the mantle. They instinctively know art reflects something that should be eternal, unchanging, true, real and most of all, beautiful. Children paint Mommy, Daddy, Brother and Sister. They know art ultimately expresses personal relationships, that true art perfects our ability to participate in divine, eternal, personal love.

Ultimately, that’s how we got our children to leave the mural. We told them they could bring the paints home, create, and hang their work on the mantle. They abandoned the mural immediately. They understood what was wrong.

1 comment:

cliff said...

I am thoroughly enjoying the discovery of your blog. This post on art is one I will email to my second oldest son who himself is an aspiring artist.

One thing though - I have run across your sparring with Mark Shea and have this humble advice to offer...

It is best not to argue with idiots, because your audience will not know the difference. Ignore him. Please.