Thursday, January 25, 2007

We can help Beauty to save the world

There is something of value in the thought that 'we read to know we are not alone'. I find great consolation in the words of John Paul II and particularly in his letter to artists. (See link on sidebar) Please, if you haven't looked at it yet read it through a few times, it has countless insights essential to an understanding of the nature and call of the artist in the world. One that speaks to me is a passage found at the end of the letter. I have been thinking about Beauty so much lately. I have been looking over the interview with Patrick Pye by Father Paul Murray, O.P. and what has struck me so deeply is that living in an age of intense ugliness, many are still haunted by the vision of Beauty. As the power of the Ugly increases, the vision of Beauty rises closer to the surface. Look at this quotation from JP II's letter: "Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: 'Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!'.(26)"

These words unsettle and excite me. They're unsettling to my comfort. But the status quo is to be put in its place in relation to the overall goal, our destiny. We can't forget that the gift of conceiving and bringing forth an image of Beauty is a gift and with it comes a responsibility to be a steward of that gift. Help it to grow and put it into action. Art is not about ideas. It is about passion, love. Its living in the tension between the spirit and the flesh. This passion is fueled by the tension between matter and spirit, the scandal of the Incarnation. We are all to be passionate about this vision of Beauty, it is a universal invitation.

I wonder if Eric Gill isn't on to something when he pondered that 'the artist is not a special sort of man, but every man is a special sort of artist.'

John Paul II's letter...
"3 . A noted Polish poet, Cyprian Norwid, wrote that 'beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up'.(3)

From this wonder there can come that enthusiasm of which Norwid spoke in the poem to which I referred earlier. People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that 'beauty will save the world'.(25)"

One insight I find so illuminating is Kierkegaard's that "the prevailing failure of modernity is not the depth of its sinfulness, but its lack of passion. The problem with the often superficial and self-congradulatory language of modern agnosticism is that it reveals not a genuine humility before a radically new awareness of cultural pluralism but a 'determinaiton to live within defining consciousness to grasp only that over which the mind can imperiously rule."

Look at the images that modern culture thinks are inspiring. I think of the scene in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle when the dwarves can't see the beauty and reality of Narnia because their pride blinds them; they mistake the disgusting for delicacy and reject the delicate as disgusting. If Beauty will save the world, artists who desire it better get to work!