Perhaps I go too far in thinking, or hoping, that art leads to God. It is ultimately about seeing and showing the good, the true, and the beautiful, whether clearly or through inversion (our delight at Miranda’s “brave new world,” or our shudder at Kurtz’s “the horror, the horror!”). There are exceptions; I think immediately of Mozart’s Don Giovanni , which leaves me feeling a bit guilty for having enjoyed this golden bowl of rotten fruit. Yet that experience of putrid beauty in art offers a glimpse of the libertine’s mingled pleasure and wretchedness, and is arguably more powerful for it. Showing how we think (or rather how we feel), in all its shoddy splendor, can be a path to truth and goodness.

In Paul’s words, transcendent reality— whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence —is from God and leads back to him. With that musing in mind, I was interested to read this reflection from Roger Kimball, in his TLS review of Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution :


Granted, art and religion describe different realms of endeavour and experience. But there are good grounds—including good Darwinian grounds—for regarding them as mutually supportive enterprises. The interpenetration of art and religion seems especially prominent in humanity’s past (a leitmotif of David Lewis-Williams’s The Mind in the Cave , 2002). It is telling, for example, that “aesthetics” is an eighteenth-century coinage, a product of the Enlightenment when the arts, like many other human activities, emancipated themselves from their explicit service ad maiorem Dei gloriam . The careers of art and religion have long since diverged. But it is curious how the craving for transcendence continues to haunt art. “In the absence of a belief in God”, Wallace Stevens wrote, “poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.” The religious impulse has turned out to be far heartier than many observers had predicted. Perhaps this has a root in mankind’s prehistory. But, as with art, to appreciate its contemporary significance we need not only to look back to what we were, but also to look forward to what we would become.

For more on The Art Instinct , look for Zbigniew Janowski’s review in the May issue of First Things (subscription required).

Articles by Amanda Shaw

Loading...

Show 0 comments