Reason as the Leading Motive

A Vindication of Art through a Work of Art

Posted by Jerry on October 10, 2005

Last night, I had a strange experience… It was about 1:04 am in the early morning, and I was walking back to my apartment on Halsted st. I was walking alone by myself, lost in my own thoughts… I love these moments when I’m walking all alone and I’m thinking to myself… usually, I’m thinking out loud, and it seems like I’m talking to myself, having a conversation with myself, asking myself questions and then answering them (yea… I know, it’s wierd… but it’s the best thing in the world… now, who was it who said, if you feel incredibly lonely when you are alone, you’re not in good company….?? — Or something like that. It’s so true) .

So, I was thinking about Art. And I was thinking about the role and function of Art. And I was thinking about what Art should and should not be. And I was thinking about why ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is NOT Art. These were my thoughts:

One can understand Art in evolutionary terms as having very crucial survival value. Art fulfills the spiritual needs of humanity just like food satisfies the physical needs. And just as advancement in food production technologies are almost always correlated with strong survival potentials for certain societies, development of Art in a certain direction correlates with the spiritual grown and sustenance of certain societies.

If one notices the progression of civilization across history, one can see that cultures that promulgated Art, dabbled in innovative perspectives in Art have known to have nourished their collective consciousnesses and progressed in other areas as a civilization.
Western civilization, in a huge part because of the patronage of the Catholic church, has been the locus of intense Artistic activity and creation.

Originally, Art was almost always seen as a means to bring humanity in tangent with the Divine. Art was appropriately seen as the manifestation of the highest heights, of the most valuable values, of the most idealistic ideals, of the aspirations of all that is human to become all that was associated with the Divine. Art brought the sense of immortality of spirit into the consciousness of human mortality. That was the purpose of Art. It was spiritual food and nourishment for the human mind.

The works of Art created by the Greats like Da Vince, Raphaelo, Giotto, Beethoven, Michaelangelo, all have one common theme running through them, they lead the human mind to visions of greatness, to the idealization of the human form and of the human condition — while that greatness was perceived to belong to or come from Divine Beings, nonetheless, the invariable consequence of focusing on such greatness was to create a desire within feeble humans the urge to get as close as possible to that sense of the highest height.

All those great Artists did precisely that. They showed values that were the highest ideals, the perfect human form, the most beautiful manifestiation of grace and love, the most uplifting and joyful sense of life in music. The mind was guided to reach higher, the think beyond, to aspire, to dream, to wish, to want, to achieve. These Artists, through their Art, nourished the human consciousness with STRENGTH (not weakness), with BENEVOLENCE (not malevolence), with a vision of IMMORTALITY (not death).

And so, that is what Art is and what Art should be. Art is spiritual nourishment for the human consciousness. And just as you would not feed your body foul and rotten food that is infested with worms, you should not feed your mind and your consciousness with foul creations of charlatans masquarading as Artists. You have the right to insist that Art be as nourishing to your mind as the food you eat is to your body.

And so, I was thinking, how did we regress from that wonderful vision of high ideals being recorded in Art, to the rubbish being splattered across our faces today, to the trash being piled up in front of our yards as Ready-made Art, to the jibberish being recited in our schools, to the maniacal gyrations of modern hip-shakers?

If history can give us any indication, the nature and sophistication of Art in a civlization gives great predictions to the future of that culture, since I believe Art does have evolutionary survival value. European and western civilizations have flourished the most with its Art indicating idealistic representations of the Human individual form, of Human life and endeavors, of Human achievements, while African and South Asian civilizations in particular have grotesquely disfigured the Human form, idealizing the cow or the snake over the human form.

And we can see that evidence of robust thinking minds are primarily in cultures that have nourished their spirits with the visions of greatness in their own human images, what they perceive to be “God-like” images. Infact, the judeo-christian culture made God look like Man, in Man’s image and in Man’s creation, and thus elevated Man itself to the status of God.
This must have obviously served as a great boost to the human ego, allowing Man to gain such tremendous self-confidence in his ability to know more and become more like the God he created.

This self-identification with God Himself allowed Humans to perceive the Universe with the Intelligence that was only thought possibile to gods. Primitive man did not understand the Universe nor did they seek much to understand it. They merely bowed their heads and worshipped it.
The consequence of the Christian movement was to elevate man’s pride in being Human, and thus seek to perceive the world as God would. In what was truly man’s greatest act of conceit, he captured all the greatest notions of his God and manifested that in the body of ONE HUMAN BEING, which meant that the Human body was idealized to withhold the essence of the fully Divine.
The representations in the Art forms that resulted from such a boost of human ego, I believe, captured that human-divine idealization, which also spurred the nourishment of the Human consciousness that was pulled to elevated levels of aspirations, which increased the level of our own assessment of worth and intelligence and esteem… finally, resulting in the amazing and enlightening evidences of human genius in other spheres of science and philosophy.

On the other hand, evidence of mal-nourished minds are also closely associated with mal-nourished cultures and societies. They have plenty of hissing snakes and meandering cows to worship, but very few thinking minds that have a vision to look up to.

ANd so, I am afraid of what might happen to our culture now if we permit the unrestrained assault of all that rubbish being dished out as art to the sanctity of our minds. Are we deliberately permitting the poisoning of our spiritual food? Will we be witnesses to the fall of our own civilization, to the stagnation of mal-nourished minds, to the vile odor of decaying consciousness?

So that made me worry. I worried about how Art came down from what it used to be and what it has now become. It made me sad. And then, as I was walking down on this street (incidentally, this part of Halsted st. is rowed with numerous “Art” galleries… I suppose that explains why I was thinking all of this)… and suddenly I stopped in my tracks!
It was dark outside, and it was dark inside this store-front room that I happened to glance into. And from the dark darkness inside, all I could see was an apparition! Atleast, that’s what it seemed to be like. An apparition of a tiny, petite little angel, all whit and glowing in the dark, suspended in mid-air! It was such a beautiful sight to hold. I stopped, and looked more closely.
It was a small but powerfully beautiful sculpture of a young girl caught in a position mid-air as if she jumped and stayed up there. It was hoisted up on a very thin, barely visible metallic stick.

That, I thought, that was Art. It was an uncanny experience to actually see that statue just at the time when I was lamentaing about the state of Art in our culture today. It was almost like a re-assuring sign that gave me some hope again, that there are still human minds out there that reach for the highest height, admire it, and aspire towards it, that wish to reach it and convey its sense of life and joy they feel in the things they create… that there were still some people out there who did not worship the dirt, that did not seek to dig their graves in advance of their death, that did not hold contempt for this world and for all its wonders.

It was a vindication of the role of Art in human consciousness, given to me by a work of very inspiring and uplifting Art itself.


8 Responses to “A Vindication of Art through a Work of Art”

  1. I love you.

    Way back when you asked me how on earth I was not atheist since we think exactly the same…

    well- I say how the hell are YOU NOT Catholic? (Maybe you don’t realize this, but you think like one. LOL!)

    “Ex-Catholics make the worst sinners.”

  2. hehe, I know something you don’t know.


  3. [lol, oh! I think by worst he means, they’re not so good at sinning in a carefree way, ie, they think too much, can’t escape their catholic-ness]

  4. Tyrel said

    ok, I’m starting to get jealous here!

  5. Ergo Sum said

    What’re you talking about? What does my ideas about Art have anything to do with being Catholic?!? And what is it that you know that I don’t know? Huh?? Oh whatever… you know you want to be an Atheist… you just can’t bring yourself to admit it yet. Take it slowly.. in time. It took me 4 years! 🙂

  6. lol

  7. innommable said

    This is such a very good and very succint Objectivist assessment of the history of Art. Well done!

    In a few short paragraphs you said what I spent four hours trying to tell you. Notice what great influence religion has had on Western Civilization!

  8. Ergo Sum said

    Now that I think about it… I do remember Innommable briefly mentioning… or more accurately, I should say, alluding to a similar idea that I have here detailed.
    Innommable, you had mentioned something to the effect that Religion (and you said specifically, Christianity) gave humans the concept of THE IDEAL, the desire to rise and emulate those IDEAL Beings, the desire to SEEK and have KNOWLEDGE like the immortal omniscience of God…
    That was your argument for why YOU thought western civilization has progressed/advanced scientifically and in other areas.
    In other words, you had connected that aspirations for the heights with the result of technological advancement in civilization…

    And maybe, I would concede, that your points may have inspired my own thoughts.

    However, my analysis gives a different probable cause to the advancement of western civilizaation. I say that the act of subsuming DIVINITY into HUMANITY (which is the essence of CHRIST being God and Man) gave an impetus… a boost to the self-image of Man himself… an elevation of his self-worth…

    While the Artists of that time tried to capture the metaphysical appearances of the Divine (God) in the human body of Jesus and Mary and other figures, they were inadvertently also revealing a NEW PERSPECTIVE OF THE HUMAN FIGURE ITSELF. The physical Human body now looked serene, beautiful, robust, colorful, benevolent, passionate, Glorified, Deified…

    All that helped the human consciousness believe that such representations of the Human life and the Human condition were INDEED POSSIBLE and worth ASPIRING TOWARDS. All that prolific christian Art that was meant to inspire faith and adulation for God, I think ended up mostly influencing the psychology of the Human Ego.
    The idea that God took the Human form was very dramatically and persuasively conveyed through those works of Art.
    If one also looks at the early Greek societies and their mythical gods, they were all gods made created out of the ultimate conceit that GODS could be represented in the HUMAN form.
    The greeks had their gods represented in the MOST IDEALIZED images of the Human body…. and where the human body had inherent failings, the greeks substituted an inter-species fusion of the best attributes, still maintaining the pre-dominance of the Human image, and thus elevating their status psychologically up to the levels of what they considered “Gods”.

    Whew! Anyways… in short, the creation of Gods in the Human form (as opposed to purely snakes or cows like other societies have done) allowed for the idealization of the Human form, which was represented in works of Art, which in turn nourished the Egos of human consciousness, which in turn evolved to levels of higher perception and intelligence because of heightened self-esteem and self-worth, which in turn spurred technological advances in these societies!

    Hmmmm… notice a new divergent thesis in my comment above! Self-esteem leads to improved intelligence? People with high self-esteem are mostly also very intelligent because they have high self-esteem or is it because they have high intelligence they have high self-esteem???? Hmmmmm! New theory… new idea… who’s gonna test this??

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