It is [a] simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man. - G.K CHESTERTON
Never has humanity been absent of art, mankind devoid of poetry, or a single human being found without the blatant appreciation and imitation of beauty. Show me one, and I’ll show you where he hides his finger-paints. For truly, as one otherwise uninspiring naturalist managed to cough up, “art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail”. It is the product of living a human life, with all it’s up’s and down’s; as integral to us as our feet. Which – by the way – are absolutely fantastic devices for getting you to church this Holy Week.
One of the more ridiculous results of public education, nestling comfortably alongside the Scantron test, is the specialization, nay the simplification, nay, even worse, the stupidification of our attitude towards art and poetry. It is too late in school that we realize art is not only paintings. And it often never arrives at all, the realization that poetry is not confined to poems, that it is as much a cup of coffee as written words. Along with these silly thoughts, we are given the habit of labeling art as “that done by artists”, when in reality artists are merely those who manage to get paid very small amounts of money for doing what humanity has always done; create art. Poets are only those who write poetry and wear lumpy hats, in the minds of most of our educated children, when in reality it is our children – and we ourselves – who are poets every time we walk, go to mass, marry a girl, watch a baby crawl, an otter roll – we attach meaning to the mundane, emotion to the physical; we are poets in the highest sense – we are human beings. These are the days when that which is integral, obvious, and innate to the human heart must be stated aloud, and so have my statement; that art is only articulation.
|I love this 30000 year old painting particularily
because we like to pretend that we humans
have recently gotten good at things, that we
would put our forefathers to shame, when frankly,
I couldn’t draw that.
What this all amounts to is this – to live like a human being, love beauty. It’s what we’ve always done. If an understandably befuddled and hairy man from 200,000 years ago shuffles to your front door and invites you to play, accept – for the event will be unlikely to repeat itself – and bring chalk. He will not be impressed with your iPhone apps, nor your link to my blog. But with some blank pavement and bright colors, you will be united. You will be two children at play, nothing less. For the earliest discovery of ‘cavemen’ revealed one thing, and sadly, it was not that they beat women over the head with clubs, or were even remotely concerned with being free of morality, sexual taboos and everything else modern man labels the “natural man” with to justify his awkward immorality. No, they were found – in bright colors, on the walls of dark caves – to make art. Shock and surprise! Uproar and panic! Man has always been man.
But sir! the polite amongst you wil cry out in protest, and but pretentious douche! all the rest will. If humanity naturally appreciates beauty, then why are you arguing with air? Why – in your overblown effort to remind humans to be humans - are you reminding us to do that which we do?
Well, listen, and maybe then I wouldn’t have to write what I think you’re thinking into my own writing. Man doesn’t always act like man. The world, having adequately rebelled against God, realized – perhaps with the intake of breath of one who wakes up and realizes his cubicle job is killing any will and spirit he once had – that they could have not chosen a more boring rebellion, and are now busy rebelling against themselves. Come! See the guillotine our culture builds for it’s own neck. Pornography replaces the appreciation of beauty with it’s degradation, the cherishing with the diminishing, love with exposure. For the first time, the height of all poetry – the love between a man and a woman – has been debased to the most base of all prose – vicarious sin. Nakedness is not cherished for it’s beauty, but for it’s ability to be abused, the fascination in a high thing fallen. Modern art replaces the appreciation of beauty with the condescending appreciation of concept, with pride. No longer is it about making beauty, it is about making oneself on a canvas, making that which “has great meaning to the artist”, but none to God, and none to anyone else. A square on a canvas sold for a million dollars is not the imitation of beauty, it is the denial of humanity. It is this proud and atop an altar cry, “I! I am no puny human who loves women, who draws horses and trees, battles and legends! I do not imitate, nor appreciate; I create from nothing! Where there was but a vast, formless wasteland I have created a square! All hail then, to the squares!” I could go on, but it is the idea behind these crappy modern inventions that must be cut down, the snarling idea behind plastic surgery, suburban development, mountaintop mining, MTV, mega-churches, 60′s architecture, the glorification of violence, and a few besides; that the appreciation of beauty is not integral to man.
|A few things. First of all, this is a great look at
what our world offers in place of beauty. Secondly.
the cave painting was better.
As for us fantastic-Catholics, atheists and Protestants too, we who have always thought modern art was stupid, darn it; we are not somehow beyond the influence of our culture, incorruptible products of a time before modernism. Daily we deny our propensity to appreciate beauty. Our lives are manically fast and full. Perhaps I am projecting; my life is manic. That’d be fine, if so much beauty did not demand so much time! Reading Quo Vadis, studying a Michaelangelo, listening to Mozart, holding an infant, watching a storm gather; all this requires a pause, for these are not things glanced through, but beauty to “stay our minds on and be staid”. That’s a beautiful part of the Catholic mass, and of liturgy in general. It demands of us this certain pause, whispering “Sit amidst beauty and do not move!” I begin to realize the wisdom behind the popish requirement, to never intentionally miss mass on Sunday, lest you sin. The Church is truly our mother, and her command can equally be framed thus: Come and listen, lest you only ever run and speak. Our heads rush as much as our schedules: we spend an average of one minute on different websites, we watch TV shows that get resolved in twenty minutes, our intake of media is monstrously choppy and short. So used to beer commercials that average less than two seconds per shot, perhaps cinema like this seems boring:
So there it is. What ways do we deny our humanity, running from beauty like the law? I am thinking of four more, but this post must end somewhere, I will add an afterthought post later. What, may you ask, does any of this have to do with Catholicism? rightly holding me accountable to the name of my blog. It lies in this, a simple Lewisian-sounding bit of evidence for God I’ve been struck with: that were a father to build a garden for his children, you would recognize the children of the father by those who most appreciated the garden.