The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

On Ugliness and Catharsis


There is a sense in many conservative cultural circles that all forms of modern art are somehow decadent or contrary to traditional ways of looking at the world. Beauty, in simple terms, seems to be under siege for many, and the weapons that are attacking it are hard rock, Webern string quartets, Joyce novels, Dylan Thomas poems, Picasso paintings, and the sculptures of Richard Serra, to name a few. For many conservative Christian theorists, to portray the ugly, the subconscious, and the dissonant is a very modern obsession that forms part of the anti-Christian revolution started at the Renaissance. It is deemed that such obsessions were not part of a classical and more human aesthetic.

Upon reading some texts of the fourth century Neoplatonic pagan philosopher, Iamblichus, it would is necessary for me to revise this view in saying that in many circumstances, the ancients viewed the representation of disorder as a fundamental part of their religious and philosophical conceptions of the world. Those familair with the thought of Frederich Nietzsche would recognize this as the balance between the Dionysian and Apollonian realms of expression and consciousness. An explanation of the thought of Iamblichus can further shed light on the German philosopher's suppositions.

Iamblichus in his work, De Mysteriis, writes an apology for the pagan cult against the accusations of another philsopher, Porphyry. Like the early Christian writers, Porphyry was uneasy with various unseemly forms that pagan religion took. Iamblichus at one point addresses one of his concerns, that of the establishing of large phalli in cultic rituals, and from there expounds the idea that the invoking of the base and unpleasant is a fundamental part of philosophical liberation and catharsis:

But I am of the opinion that the obscene language that then takes place [at the erection of phalli], affords an indication of the privation of good about matter, and of the deformitiy which is in material subjects, prior to their being adorned. For these being indigent of ornament, by so much the more aspire after it, as they in a greater degree despise their own deformity. Again, therefore, they pursue the causes of forms, and of what is beautiful and good, recognizing baseness from base language. And thus, indeed, the thing itself, viz. turpitude, is averted, but the knowledge of it is rendered manifest through words, and those that employ them transfer their desire to that which is contrary to baseness.

In the Iamblichean system, then, the representation of the base in art and religion reflects the longing of matter for the immaterial and the infinite. The only way to conquer the aethetically unpleasing is to confront it by showing what it is.

This exposure to the unseemly also can prove as a vaccine against the passions, as Iamblichus further writes:

The powers of the human passions that are in us, when they are entirely restrained, become more vehement; but when they are called forth into energy, gradually and commensurately, they rejoice in being moderately gratified, are satsified; and from hence, becoming purified, they are rendered tractable, and are vanquished without violence. On this account, in comedy and tragedy, by surveying the passions of others, we stop our own passions, cause them to be more moderate, and are purified from them. In sacred ceremonies, likewise, by certain spectacles and auditions of things base, we become liberated from the injury which happend from the works affected by them.

Thus, the bias of the Platonic system against matter is in a way nuanced, for it is not through escape from the unpleasant results of materiality that brings liberation, but rather their use in a type of catharsis that longs ever for the things beyond physical appearances. Even though many modern artists do not have this conception while conceiving their creations, we can view them ourselves in this manner. Whether it is listening to Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, reading a Sylvia Plath poem, or viewing a Jackson Pollock painting, we can see how far things have fallen from the beautiful, and how in their ugliness, they long for it again.


For me, there is also very much a cultural aspect to this unwillingness to accept the darker side of humanity in our own religiosity. As I wrote in another post, there seems to exist the idea in the Anglo-Saxon world that the best way to deal with existential catastrophes is to either ignore them or deal with them in a sterile way that never really accepts the human condition as it is. This may be due to the more affluent state of the faithful in these parts of the world, and also to the idea that the expression of suffering and pain is inappropriate for the public sphere. That is why religious art in churches here can be so clean and often without the feeling of a Spanish saint or a Baroque crucifix.

This is also the reason that I have criticized the idea that Byzantine iconography or medieval relgious art is somehow superior to other religious art forms because they are more "objective" and "sober". To exclue the reality of what occurs in the world under the guise of wanting to "transfigure" it can be escapist in the wrong cultural context. In the context of Ottoman Greece or Czarist Russia, such religious art may have avoided these pitfalls. (Though most of these places also adopted the "Italian" style alongside more traditional Byzantine forms, so speaking of distictions here is very complicated.) Thus, in our American religious culture that has no roots in apostolic Christianity, to argue for primitive iconography as purer and less scandalous to the eyes could merely be taken as aesthetic Protestantism carried out by other means.

I am not arguing here that one religious style is superior to another. What I am arguing is that some cultures may approach the world in a more wholistic way, and ours may not be one of them. That which is ugly, unseemly, and causes us discomfort may in the end be good for us. It may stir in us a longing for something that transcends this vale of tears. In religious art, especially in such forms as the Spanish baroque, it can inspire us to realize how much God emptied Himself in becoming man, and it can remind us about how people continue to suffer in our human condition, and that the most beautiful moment is when this suffering is overcome and transformed into redemptive love.

42 Comments:

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Footnote: This is not to ignore the beauty that modern artists create on its own terms. It is merely to say that even in places where they deviate from aesthetical norms, they are still expressing the beauty that is inherent in the cosmos. In a way, there can be beauty in ugliness as well. It can be conceived as another form of order, one which we are not accustomed to seeing.

 
At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Calvin Broadus said...

Have G New Year. You are the best spiritual website and you are WESTCOAST.
May 2008 be as good as the chronic.

 
At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can the chronic, or any other drugs expand consciousness and amplify or cause a spiritual experience?

Don't the Mexican Indians eat mushrooms?

Isn't peyote a sacrament akin to communion?

Artie, you are at Berkeley man so help us.

Didn't some of your Iamblichus and mystery religion Greeks and Mediterreana folk use psychotropic substances?

 
At 11:52 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

I think maybe you are too hard on the SSPX parents (I am NOT SSPX) and those trying to ascend to the Middle Class.

YES, you do make some good points about equating theology with culture, and moral imperatives with manners--but I think calling your students "wierd" and questioning the intentions of middle class Christians is exxagerated.

Your critique of Anglo Catholicism and the Middle Class is similiar to my thoughts on Opus Dei. I like Opus Dei. I think it has some good schools, some very educated people, some genius psychological and sociological constructs and practices--I also think it is from God and orthodox in theology and traditional (in the best sense) in spiritual practive and devotion (even you have commented that devotion to Mary is a sign of sanctity and St. Escriva certainly was devoted to Mary) Many of the members and those attracted to it are serious and people trying to delve into the spiritual mysteries of the Catholic faith.
HOWEVER, I think there is also a cult of success around Opus Dei and an uber-capitalism and almost Calvinistic tendency.
You are more accepted based on your education or material measures.
This is also how I see many in Traditional Catholic circles (not all) that it is very white (not by exclusion but by cultural reflex and just no outreach and being who they are) but also that there seems to be a high value on material success (not that that is bad per se) and among some a certain monarchist and desire for the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and mentions of this von Habsburg or that at this convention etc (not diminishing the good points of the Austrian monarchs or the von Hapsburgs themselves but it tends to be unrealistic bordering on ridiculous or at least irrelevant in US political realities)

I do think Traditionalists (and Opus Dei--although Opus Dei could not be properly defined as Traditionalist) have a better sense of beauty generally in art, architecture, music (sacred), and liturgy--it can be sometimes to exlcusivistic. I love looking at the images of Daniel Mitsui at the Lion and the Cardinal but it is hard for me to believe that Medeival art is the epitome of sacred art or understand the nuances of the time changes of Late Middle Ages to Rennaisance or that most people know that or that it is important for Salvation. I also grow tired of Daniel Mitsui's and many Traditionalists diatribes on Pope John Paul II. I like the art of Salvador Dali as an example.
I do not care for Picasso but do like Guernica--but it is not a political statement for me on the Spanish Civil War as I side politically with Franco--but it is an academic point, prudential, and not necessary to be Catholic.

There is a joke with a friend of mine that we like Tradition but not Traditionalists.
This does not mean that many are not saintly and have very valid points about art and beauty in the Church today and even worse in our current society.

Arturo, your words are many times beauty to me and help me become closer to God.

 
At 7:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arturo:

I think this post is less of an argument than a shotgun blast - you've thrown out so many different things and asserted arguable commonalities between them that it is difficult to know where to begin.

But if I were to say one thing only, art is communicative. Like all faculties of communication, it was given to men by their Creator that they might use it to speak the truth. Truth can be as ugly as a dance of death or as beautiful as a vision of heaven, and honest art (which is the same as good art) reflects this.

The problem with modernism is that it doesn't say much of anything at all. Even you admit this when you write:

Even though many modern artists do not have this conception while conceiving their creations, we can view them ourselves in this manner.

In other words, we have to project something foreign onto the art to make it say something true. As art, that is a failure - as much as it is a failure of language to create a page of randomly generated letters and demand that those reading it think poetic thoughts while doing so. If the actual artifact is inconsequential, why bother with it? Maybe it is interesting as a sociological datum, but that doesn't make it good art.

-Daniel Mitsui

 
At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I also grow tired of Daniel Mitsui's and many Traditionalists diatribes on Pope John Paul II."

I checked my archives. In 1055 posts over 2 years, I have mentioned the man a grand total of 3 times, all brief. Is there some "diatribe" that I forget having written?

-DM

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Rob said...

-the idea that the expression of suffering and pain is inappropriate for the public sphere.-

I'm a gringo married to a Honduran woman, so we experience conflict over this every day. My instinct upon beginning to suffer is clam up and take it silently.(keep a stiff upper-lip, old boy!) My wife wails about everything. Living among the poor in Latin America for three years I noticed the same thing. Very different ways of handling and accepting suffering.

However, it is even more nuanced than you suggest. I, myself, may believe in suffering in silence, yet my favorite crosses are the bloody Spanish crucifixes like you display here. And I certainly participate in many aspects of Latino culture without experiencing any incongruity with the rest of my life. And I may depict my wife, and all her paisanos, as a bunch of whiners, but these same people would keep their mouth shut about all sorts of horrific suffering.

-This may be due to the more affluent state of the faithful in these parts of the world-

I think you are onto something here, but not 100%.

I remember my mother (a German-Irish nurse) complaining about the "Mexicans" at the hospital and how they would weep and wail when they saw their loved ones injured. She believed in keeping it quiet (and scolded me for crying after having my tonsils out!). Yet, she was not rich and her ancestors were not rich. And I think the Germans and the Irish were stern about things long before they became "affluent".

Yet, here we have another odd dichotomy of behavior. We know that the Irish could be quite close-lipped about centuries of suffering, yet this is the culture from which we get the word for 'keening', that long piercing shriek of grief that defies all the "repression" of suffering.

This is a topic any Catholic in the US should find interesting. I wrote somewhere that American Catholics are afraid of real Catholicism. I have heard the great distaste in their voices when they report little old women crawling to the Guadalupana on their knees. I think most would be appalled by the Crucifix you show. Why is that? Is it just wealth? The result of centuries of being surrounded by a dominant Protestant culture? (Another favorite saying of mine is "American Catholics are just Protestant lap-dogs.)

 
At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Robert Goellner said...

I can only remember one negative comment on the Lion and the Cardinal blog (blog does not do it justice) about Daniel Mitsui reading Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II but he was automatically biased against Pope John Paul II and was negative on him, his papacy, and the Theology of the Body. It was negative but not a diatribe.

I love to just look (rarely read) Lion and the Cardinal and Hallowed Ground (a vulgar analogy to sacred pornography)

I do not know about all the points made in the original post by Arturo or the responses. I certainly believe (even for non Catholics) that man made art as well as sacred art (Nature) are good to reflect on as they are (at least in my humble opinion) reflections of the Divine.
Certainly, the big box Churches that look like gymnasiums and are Protestant iconoclastic without statues, or beautiful tabernacles, circular seating, modern art etc---Certainly not all modern art (or artists) are bad but perhaps only obviously to me--the traditional art forms are superior.

Daniel Mitsui may not be the biggest fan of the John Paul II papacy but he did not have a diatribe. Without offending Daniel, I look at his website for eye candy (higher level to the soul hopefully) and not for the written content.

For children and non Catholics---you either get it or you don't---
Traditional Catholic Churches (not that traditional even late 1800s in the US or early 1900s) and the Medeival (and Daniel Mitsui may disagree) and Rennaisance are just amazing and beautiful and just obviously seem better than some of the wierd modern art and architecture currently. Being baffled by a big box or interesting circular design or bad modern art does not help me get closer to God.

 
At 1:59 PM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Daniel,

Bad art is bad art, regardless of the epoch in which it was made. This is not an issue of quality of the creation, but rather the ideas that are in the background of the genres of art. I would argue that they do not necessarily have to be "traditional" in order to make good art. St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco and Our Lady Queen of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles are both modern, but the former inspires, and the latter just looks like an over-priced parking garage. We cannot have a priori assumptions when confronting a work because someone has a "modern" ideology when coming to create, as opposed to a more traditional one that we are more comfortable with. Old does not necessarily mean beautiful, and new does not necessarily mean ugly. I know plenty of German Baroque paintings that I find distasteful, and many "traditional" religious images that just give me the creeps, and not in a good way, like this one.

I put the footnote in order to clarify that I don't think that in all cases we have to come to a contemporary piece providing the meaning ourselves. Maybe we do have to learn to appreciate in another way. I know in the case of music, listening to an Indian raga or an early piece from Philip Glass, one has to let go of the "narrative" idea within music. There is no "tune", no "hook" so to speak. This does not mean that these pieces are anti-musical, inferior, or that we cannot appreciate them. We have to learn to play by other aesthetic rules, and if we do, I would contend, we will be all the richer for it. The same can go for pieces by Messiaen or Alban Berg; if you expect going into the listening experience to hear Mary Had a Little Lamb or an Irish Catholic hymn, you are going to be dissapointed.

My main target for my shotgun blasts is the idea that a holy aesthetic has to necessarily match the aesthetic of bourgeois propriety; that idea makes the human spirit all the more poorer. And for all the talk of Roman Catholic traditionalists in particular of loving classical music, the vast majority of them could not tell their a#@ from doughnuts. Throwing away your Linkin Park CD's and listening to a little Palestrina instead does not make you cultured nor does it set you up as the supreme arbiter of what constitutes the decline of Western Christian civilization.

And as no one has addressed the main philosophical underpinnings of my argument, I suppose that I will just hope you will read this post again with more care.

The other chosen target is romanticism in general when applied in any of the areas of the humanities. Romanticism for me is the applying of categories and agendas of one's own chosing onto a past that did not necessarily share them. One can assemble as much data as one would like to the point that one is an expert in a particular epoch, but unless one finally lets go of various presuppositions one feels one has to prove, little understanding will ultimately result. Dom Gueranger and Jungmann come to mind immediately when it comes to liturgy; in the end, what went on in a church in the fifth century probably had little to do with either of their agendas. We must chose the ways to act and create in our own time, without having recourse to dreams of a past that never was.

 
At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are blood drenched statues found in Spanish churches, or does the Mexican practice owe something to the Aztecs?

 
At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Anup Coomaraswamy said...

Namaste,

In this of your Gregorian Calendar year 2008 bring the Blessings of our Holy Trinity Brahma, Vishnu, and your beloved Lord Shiva. May the Blessings of hospitality, a trait of your Mexican people and a virtue of your beloved Greek writers, from the great Ganesh be always in your home.

You speak well of art and I direct you to the writings of my uncle.
Hindu Statuary has spiritual power that can be discussed here.
Please visit some of the amazing Hindu temples here in the United States.
This may be close to you:
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
1430.California Circle,
Milpitas, CA 95035. USA
Tel: (1-408) 263 2277
Fax: (1-408) 262 1022

As the Mahatma (Gandhi) said:
I am Christian, I am Muslim, I am Hindu, I am Jew.
The multiplicity of form is in and from the oneness of the Divine.
Look at the great Hindu Temples from India to Bali and even in the United States. The statues of clear skill and form and philosophical principle of your Lord Shiva in the dance as I have seen in many museums of art in your country.

I think you should return to a Classical Hindu art form which even has influenced the Muslim Taj Mahal and the Sikh golden city and the amazing architecture and art.
This is the true objective nature of sacred art.

We here all love your appreciation for our beloved Ragas and the use of dance in interpreting and expressing the Divine. Your postings of the Dance of Shiva in it's sublime form now available on the YouTube is incredible. Your understanding of bodily form and movement in expressing Creation and even Destruction of the Universe and the multiple universes clearly demonstrates that your previous incarnations have taught you so much. You are clearly an adept of the highest spiritual power. Creation and Destruction are part of the universal cycle and destruction of Shiva should not be seen in a negative light. Even Kalli is part of the balance of the universe even in her darkest forms which reflect feminine reality and the cycle.

We also salute your Lord Jesus and all the prophets and incarnations of the Divine like Lord Krishna or the Jewish prophet Moses.

Your essays on art and the recognition of monastic life and poverty are very interesting.

I salute the Divine within you.

Anup

 
At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We cannot have a priori assumptions when confronting a work because someone has a "modern" ideology when coming to create, as opposed to a more traditional one that we are more comfortable with.

Modernism - as the term is understood in art - is not a neutral thing, but an ideology with positivist notions about what art should and should not be. Iconoclasm - the deliberate rejection of the inherited traditions - was its animating concern at the beginning, and it has never entirely shed that.

Bad art is bad art, regardless of the epoch in which it was made. This is not an issue of quality of the creation, but rather the ideas that are in the background of the genres of art. I would argue that they do not necessarily have to be "traditional" in order to make good art.

First, different ideas animated art in different ages, and the ideas dominant in times and places are simply lies. The salons of the early 20th century and the myopic contemporary art world of elitist academics really are not the best places to go looking for truth.

And I do think that all good art is traditional - in that it communicates in an understood language. The collective wisdom and poetry of a culture contained in a tradition is greater than any individual can hope to infuse into his work. The avant-garde is pretty much an attempt to increase power of expression by doing away with spelling and grammar - an experiment that anyone with the sense that God gave a caveman could predict to end in infantile, narcissistic gibberish.

I think that if you were to spend more time in the art world, you would be much less likely to take modernism seriously. More sloths, frauds, hucksters and pompous asses would never you meet.

As for the main philosophical thrust of your post, I guess I have not addressed it because I cannot find a way to read it that makes any sense. For example:

For many conservative Christian theorists, to portray the ugly, the subconscious, and the dissonant is a very modern obsession that forms part of the anti-Christian revolution started at the Renaissance. It is deemed that such obsessions were not part of a classical and more human aesthetic.

I mean, huh? The portrayal of ugliness starts at the Renaissance? Who thinks that? The last I checked it was the late Middle Ages that perfected the morbid and grotesque in religious art, and the Renaissance that suppressed suffering in favor of painless idealism and classical notions of beauty. And the despisers of the Renaissance are in favor of classicism and humanism, its very animating causes?

Sorry, but this just seems like a self-righteous tirade against those who make critical judgments about art and culture.

- Daniel Mitsui

 
At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that Arturo makes a good point that many so called Traditionalists do not know enough Latin to understand the TLM but promote it blindly and reflexively but do not take the time to actually study Latin.

I also think he makes a good point that many do not also know music and many of the 20 and 30 something almost exclusively white Catholics and some neo-Catholics put away their Cranberrys and Nine Inch Nails CDs and say the name Palestrina without knowing anything about him. I had some friends in college who smoked up to Gregorian Chant.

On art, I must side with Daniel Mitsui although I am probably more expansive in my tastes and less knowledgable about the subject and certainly less talented in the art.

 
At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Daniel. Most modern artists are narcissistic idiots with overpriced and little talent work.

Give me Traditionalists over Modernists any day.

 
At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini said...

We" and "I" are both from reason
That are used as ropes to bind
In mass of those who are drunk
Neither "I" is nor "We" to find

 
At 6:24 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Daniel,

"I mean, huh? The portrayal of ugliness starts at the Renaissance? Who thinks that?"

I would check the syntax of the original sentence again. What started in the Renaissance was not necessarily these artistic tendencies, but rather the theories behind them. It would be the contention of many that only the "humanist revolution" of the Renaissance made possible a world where a man could put a urinal on the wall of a gallery and call it art, or write a free verse poem. I think the sentence is quite clear in this regard.

I wouldn't argue that our age produces as much beautiful art in ages past. But then again, "de gustibus non fit argumentum". All I know is that I have been inspired by modern church buildings that were not entirely traditional. And I enjoy such musical works as those of Frederic Rzewski, La Monte Young, Louis Andriessen, and other avant-garde composers just as I would appreciate a Mozart, a Delalande, or medieval music. And an occasional e.e. cummings or Cesar Vallejo poem can be a real treat, not to mention some more contemporary gems. If you want to turn art into an agenda, be it a reactionary one, that is your prerogative. But all you are doing is the flip side of what you accuse your academic colleagues of doing. I don't think the solution is to circle the wagons and retreat into medieval romanticism.

So the original thrust of my post still stands: sometimes beauty will break through in some rather unforeseen circumstances, and that makes these cases all the more beautiful. The flip side of a society where women don't have to walk around barefoot and pregnant, where a large segment of the population is not enslaved, and where we don't all die from plagues at the age of thirty, may be a societal discourse that allows more open expressions of the darker sides of life. At times, we may not like it, but we might as well try to make the best of it and not long for an aesthetic totalitarianism where forms are always predetermined before one creates. The other side of Iamblichus' argument, not cited here, is that the gods (i.e. Ideal Forms) always transcend human discourse anyway and break through with their shafts of light, often opposing accepted forms. This is the divine madness that Ficino speaks about, and that will always be very much alive no matter where our society is headed.

So if you care to dismiss this society in toto, be my guest. I would just feel really sorry for you, In the end, I don't particularly care if what I wrote was a "tirade". I only care if the tirade was justified and made people think, shaking them from their complacency and prejudices that they had concerning the modern world.

Anup,

It says in the Holy Scriptures:

"Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD"

All the gods of the nations are demons, seeking the destruction of mankind.

 
At 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to turn art into an agenda, be it a reactionary one, that is your prerogative. But all you are doing is the flip side of what you accuse your academic colleagues of doing. I don't think the solution is to circle the wagons and retreat into medieval romanticism.

Arturto:

You seem to assume that my artistic opinions are the product of some predetermined assumption that mediaeval religion is better, and that therefore mediaeval art is better. I assure you that they are rather the product of years of intense study, work and practice - both manual and intellectual - to discern truth in art. If I may be perfectly blunt, I have studied more artists, and more art, and more kinds of art than you know exist and I have forgotten more about art than you have ever known.

But I have always thought critically about the work I have studied and made, never opting for the lazy argument-avoiding shrug of de gustibus, which pretty much renders the entire enterprise pointless and indulgent. I've engaged modern art long enough and intensely enough to know that I will find a preponderance of better work at a quilting bee than at the MCA show, and it is only snobbery and pretense (both of the pseudo-intellectual sort and the bad-ass anti-bourgeois sort) that makes people attend the latter rather than the former.

Nothing in the world is more banal than a general peppy enthusiasm about all kinds of art, and I weary of being told that I am closed-minded for paying attention to everything in the world and all its history except for a few myopic and incestuous subcultures of modernism, whose contents I have already explored in thorough and whose animating principles I understand well enough to see their fallacy.

So the original thrust of my post still stands: sometimes beauty will break through in some rather unforeseen circumstances, and that makes these cases all the more beautiful.

If you can find beauty in the ravings of a sadistic god-hating sexual pervert like Bacon, by all means do so when you are unexpectedly confronted with his work. Just know that actively seeking it out is the equivalent of low-risk moral slumming, and that you could find the same beauty beauty by visiting and conversing with prisoners and mental patients face-to-face, and perform a corporal act of mercy to boot.

Also know that in the current intellectual climate, the argument that is closest to rank relativism will always seem more charitable and magnanimous, but that does not make it correct.

-Daniel Mitsui

 
At 8:28 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

I guess that I hit a nerve.

I'll leave it at that.

 
At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the other nations gods are demons and there is only one LORD than why do you post dances to the demon Shiva and poetry from pagans and schistmatic Mohammedens.

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

Because they're pretty.

 
At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Shaytan said...

The Evil One can imitate beauty.

 
At 7:12 PM, Anonymous Thomas said...

Daniel,

I enjoy your website immensely.

I have a problem with some so called Traditionalists and/or the premise of what makes great art.

In terms of Sacred Art, it seems both from the point of view of skill/craftsmanship and vertical/transcendent nature of art that it is present in other traditional religions (Islam and Hinduism both come to mind)

I was recently looking at images of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic architecture (I especially like Persian) and it is clear that is "real" art and certainly can make the viewer think of something higher than themselves.

I think Daniel is in Chicago and you can find the Hindu Mandir (temple) of the followers of the Swamirama in Bartlett Illinois and I think the clearly beautiful from an artistic and architectural point of view Bahai Temple in the Northern Lakefront suburbs of Chicago.

While normally iconoclastic, the Presbyterian Church in Chicago's Magnificent Mile the hometown of the Lion and the Cardinal is clearly beautiful, artisitic, and sacred (despite modernistic and liberal theology and social positions--only speaking architecturally--thus traditional art and architecture is not always followed by proper or traditional theology, spirituality, or ethics)
The same is true for the Episcopalian St. John Chrystostom Church (I think on Dearborn or State?) between downtown and Lincoln Park--also very beautiful and classic--also very liberal although arguably Episcopilian (at least High) are not iconoclastic.
The point being that sacred art and architecture does not always create truth in other ways as evident by the beautiful architecture being used by clearly modernistic and even overtly homosexual Protestants.
At the same time Protestants (flawed in theology) can create great beauty as evident in at least these two Churches in your hometown (even if copying Catholics)

Beauty is not confined to the Middle Ages nor the Rennaisance--as great as some of that is.

The greatest art for me is true Sacred Art which is Nature--not to worship per se but to recognize He who made the art--which is the Creator. Sunsets, the Grand Canyon, Mountains, Lakes etc to me are a reflection of the greatness of God (Pope John Paul the Great suggested going in nature at least once a month especially for youth)

I point out the clearly sacred and beautiful forms of other religions not to be syncretic nor ecclectic but to make sure that beauty is not limited to one religion (that does not mean that one religion is not true as this is not a defense of relavistism) but that not all art and beauty are in the West per se (I think that Daniel Mitsui is Japanese and clearly some of the great Buddhas of Japan and classical Samurai castles or in other forms the attention to detail in the Shinto Tea Ceremony is great art and leads to a sense of the Divine even if flawed and incomplete)

I somehow remember a criticism of Salvador Dali by Daniel Mitsui (I could be wrong) and some of Dali's paintings, specifically: the Second Vatican Council, Columbus Coming to American and his Crucifix are very well done from a technical point of view and are clearly orthodox in theology and in my opinion (and others) are very spiritual (I don't really like his Last Supper though)
So Dali is a modern artist that is spiritual and not ugly in an aesthetic sense.

Clearly Michaelangelo's Pieta or Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa are some of the greatest in the history of the world--but good art did not end there and all churches do not need to have the same art.

There was a debate on the Liturgical Reform blog about the Baroque art of the Institute of Christ the King being ugly (I do not agree and like the Institue of Christ the King and the Baroque style but like Arturo am not a big fan of the Christ child images as some of them seem creepy and syrupy but there is clear devotion to them and it helps a certain spirituality that is certainly orthodox in theology)

I do think that some times some Traditionalists will not look at any other art and are somewhat ethnocentric in their artistic approach which has not always allowed more and more authentic artistic expression with more indigenous roots from let's say Mexico, or other parts of Central and South America, Asia, specifically the Phillipines etc.
I think that Arturo is somewhat scizophrenic in his approach to culture but I would at least theoretically side with the Jesuits on the Chinese Rites disputes or other expressions of culture as Matteo Ricci SJ did in China or Roberto di Nobili did in India or the Jesuit that Arturo writes about did with Incan culture. Certain forms, designs, and even symbols can, could, and at least sometimes should be used.

Beautiful art that leads us to God is not stuck in one time period.
One time period should not be constantly replicated (or I am becoming Orthodox or at least Eastern Rite and just will "write" icons) Catholicism, and especially Roman/Latin Rite Catholicism is so beautiful and attractive because it is not iconoclastic and does allow so much art and innovation. We should not be afraid of innovation as long as it is rooted in good theology (some of the post Vatican II art and architecture was bad theology as was some liturgy)
The non Christian art is so beautiful and authentically sacred because it points to something behind man, to something transcendent.

 
At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thomas:

1. I never denied that beauty is present in other religious traditions. It is present insofar as those religions are spontaneously traditional - which is not a specifically Catholic, but a human, thing to be. That has no nothing to do with modernism, which has no more produced anything worthy of Hindooism or Mohammedism than of Christianity.

2. All that proves is that Protestantism is less iconoclastic and more beautiful the more it resembles Catholicism and the less it resembles Protestantism. So what?

3. Of course beauty is not confined to the chronological limits of the Middle Ages. I'm weary of that tired scarecrow argument. However, I can wrack my brains for hours and not think of a bad and dishonest work of art produced by mediaeval Christendom; even at its humblest, its products are always at least interesting. The Middle Ages ordered their artistic principles correctly, and thus did not need to rely on the sporadic and extraordinary to perpetuate truth through human creation. Those principles are indeed most deserving of imitation. As for the Renaissance, I think humanist art is mostly lying shit.

And frankly, I do not see why the builders of Chartres Cathedral should be less relevant to a Catholic of 2008 than Iamblichus or Marsilio Ficino, or Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollack for that matter. They are all equally dead.

4. Nature is pretty but that has nothing to do with modernism either. Check out my drawings of butterflies sometime.

5. My cultural inheritance from Japan is basically nil, as my family has been in America for almost a century.

6. Orwell's criticism of Dali and his work, which I posted, is deadly accurate, and I suggest re-reading it and considering it with some sympathy instead of just dismissing it: here.

7. "Clearly Michaelangelo's Pieta or Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa are some of the greatest in the history of the world." That's not clear to me one whit, and I've never once read or heard an explanation for why they are so great other than that everyone keeps saying they are.

8. "Certain forms, designs, and even symbols can, could, and at least sometimes should be used." Yes, and certain forms, designs, and even symbols cannot, could not, and at least sometimes should not be used as well. Cultures and their products are not morally neutral, or universally equivalent, and modernism and its basic assumptions are very different from the various forms of paganism and their assumptions.

-DM

 
At 4:17 PM, Blogger Rob said...

Daniel,

Thank you for the link. That was a great article.

 
At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And frankly, I do not see why the builders of Chartres Cathedral should be less relevant to a Catholic of 2008 than Iamblichus or Marsilio Ficino, or Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollack for that matter. They are all equally dead." DM

 
At 4:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And frankly, I do not see why the builders of Chartres Cathedral should be less relevant to a Catholic of 2008 than Iamblichus or Marsilio Ficino, or Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollack for that matter. They are all equally dead." DM

1. What does that mean?
2. Forgive my ignorance but who is Jackson Pollack?
3. Was Salvador Dali really a necrophiliac?
4. I would only know Ficino and Iamblichus from this blog.
5. Don't most people think the Chartes Cathedral and the builders to are important?
6. I like the Pieta. What is wrong with it? I have only seen the St. Teresa of Avila in photos.
I think Daniel's parish Church of St. John Cantius has a Pieta.
7. What does Daniel think of the Baroque style of Christ the King?

 
At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. It means that an artist who died in 1950 is not, by simple virtue of chronology, more relevant to a contemporary artist than one who died in 1250. Mosebach referred to modern artists as endlessly repeating the senile avantgardisms of 1905 like an ossified ritual - something I have seen firsthand.

2. An abstract expressionist painter. Creator of apocalyptic wallpaper.

3. Whether he consummated it, I know not, but he certainly bragged about his inclinations at every opportunity. Then again, he would say anything for the sake of self-promotion (even the Creed).

4. Well, we all pick and choose what parts of the past we find interesting. I don't see why finding a preponderance of them in a certain era should always raise accusations of pining for a golden age that never was.

5. I cannot think of a single active stonemason, glazier or architect who has tried to truly understand and perpetuate its iconographic language.

6. There are thousands of better ones, ignored due to the celebrity of Michelangelo. His displays a typically humanist contempt for suffering, with wounds that almost disappear and a virgin deprived of any mark of sorrow.

7. I like the Shrine (mostly fopr the liturgy), but obviously I would prefer a revived Gothic to a revived Baroque. But they have to work with the architectural shell they were given, and I still give them money for the restoration from time to time.

I apologize for being harsh in my previous posts. A nerve was indeed hit, and I thank you, Arturo, for being gentleman enough not to pursue an argument.

-DM

 
At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salvador Dali, unlike Picasso, supported the Catholic Christian regime of Francisco Franco.
Dali was Catholic. Dali had good surreal and modern interpretations of Christian and Biblical scenes.
Dali, like most artists, was sexually warped. He was however, philosophically correct and Catholic. He was very talented and skilled. His art is beautiful (most of it)

 
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