Recently, an artist friend and I have been discussing art, specifically the differences between abstract art, modern art, and classical art. We have been asking a lot of questions about what ought to be in art. What are the limits of the artist? And “What does the artist need to be aware of when producing art?” Our conversation led us to consider the idea of the embodied logos as it relates to creating things, in our case, paintings and drawings.
On this blog, we have discussed the idea of embodied logos before, as it relates to mimetic teaching and other ideas that are central to classical education. As I reflected on this principle more and more, it has led me to consider its implications in other areas of my life. I wanted to know, how do I know I am embodying truth, goodness, and beauty in my art. I personally also wanted to know whether abstract art is okay to create and love. I have heard opposing viewpoints on the matter, and I wanted to sort through the tension for myself.
Last night, my friend sent me a link to the article ‘The Pictorial Metaphysics of the Icon’ (Don’t let the title scare you). While the article is more specifically talking about icons, the author presents some principles and ideas that apply to all art.
Through reading the article, I began to see the beauty in abstract art, which I have been extremely drawn to lately, especially abstract landscape paintings. The whole idea goes back to an incarnational view of reality. That all things have essences and are endowed with truth, goodness, and beauty. The truth that you, I, and our children are the image of God. These transcendent qualities of truth, goodness, and beauty have to be embodied for us to perceive them. At the same time, if we are overly concerned with what we can perceive with the senses, then we can lose sight of the truth that there is more to the world than what we can smell, see, taste, and hold in our hands.
I am going to need to read this article a few more times, and think about it a lot more, but here are some of my favorite quotes so far.
“For as St. Maximos the Confessor says, “He restores me in a marvelous way to myself, or rather to God from whom I received being and towards whom I am directed, long desirous of attaining happiness.”
“Indeed, crass naturalism is problematic since it, ironically, falsifies. It pretends to capture truth while it deceives with fleeting appearances.”
“It in fact lives up to the negative connotation of its other name ̶ illusionism. It relegates reality to fallen nature, untransfigured, and presents this mode of existence as the only true reality.[xxi] Moreover, as noted earlier, the current notions of “realism” as pictorial ideology ignore, if not completely deny, that art is in fact ultimately symbolic and communicative, aninterpretation of reality that carries a worldview, and not merely a neutral mirror of the world. It is then not such a surprise to find Erwin Panofsky aptly titling his legendary and influential work, Perspective as Symbolic Form.”
“All we’ve said so far shows that when it comes to pictorial form, traditional icons generally keep a tension between abstract and naturalistic qualities. This is because reality itself consists of intelligible (noetos) and sensible (aisthetos) realms. These spheres of being are symbolically conveyed by abstraction and naturalism respectively. We can then perhaps say that an attempt at pure-abstraction can imply a disregard, if not utter disdain, for things of sense or matter, while an overemphasis on naturalism is an obsession with corporeality, sensuality, or empiricism.[xxvi]”
“Similarly, the icon is a liturgical expression of “mingled worship”, the harmonious coming together of the intelligible and sensible in praise of God. Therefore, returning to St. Maximos, in the icon “abstraction”, as an act of “drawing out”, rather than being an “escape” from Nature, is in fact truly “realistic” for it is a peering into and unveiling of the mystery of the inherent goodness of beings, their grounding in divinity and transfiguration ̶ that is, the attainment of their true incorrupt Nature.”
“That is why Ouspensky says that in the icon, “Colors do not imitate the colors of the object,” [xxx] for the aim is not the duplication of a sensual apprehension but, rather, the articulation of a pictorial idea in conformity with the spiritual meaning, thelogos, of the subject at hand.”
“Rather, he is actually symbolically re-presenting what he has apprehended noetically, with eye of the heart.[xxxi] Without stopping at the surface he reaches for the foundation. The aim is not illusionism, neither an escape from Nature, but the unveiling of Reality.”
Thank you for thinking with me.
Expanding Wisdom, extending grace,