Oh dear, I really have to stop being so self amusing with my titles.
A note to the reader: good luck.
Most recently I got myself into a discussion, as I have a most curious way of doing, about the absoluteness or relativeness of aesthetics. My friend and I got to discussing the effects of frame of reference on the understanding of a work of art. We both agreed that it was possible for an artist to create something that is excellent in his own culture and “artistic language” and horrid in another. Where my friend and I differed, or perhaps, ironically, where we were unable to properly resolve our misunderstanding, was on the conclusion that should arise from such an axiom. The reality is that while a work of art is not absolute, what a work is about is. I may have been less than clear about this in my discussion.
What makes a work of art excellent is not that it is universally understood in all frames of reference, no work is, but rather that what it means is absolutely good. That is, if art is bound to language, then of course its quality is relative and temporal, but its content need not be. If I were to write the sentence “God is good” on a sheet of paper and mail it to someone in China, I should not reasonably expect the recipient to have the faintest understanding of it, but that doesn’t mean that God is not Absolutely good, that He is good here in America but not in China, it simply means that most people in China don’t speak English. This example might seem rather trivial, but it is, I believe, the very heart of the issue.
We live in an age where Indian music is just a click away, African dance can be seen on TV, and Hispanic cultures are flourishing in our own neighborhoods. What used to be an incalculable expanse of mystery and wonder, the earth, is now a small collection of stimuli that can be accessed right from our living rooms (or at least it seems this way)†. But the truth of the matter is that we no nothing about Islamic sacred art, though we often might think we do. Just because people in Japan find things to be beautiful that we do not doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as beauty, but rather, as I’ve been telling you all along, that Virgil is a pagan.
Every tribe and nation has a language and an art, and within that art and language they can say lovely things and horrible things. But the art itself is not the lovely thing or the horrible thing, it is merely a means of communicating that thing. Good art tells the story of God in mortal words, bad art doesn’t; it’s that simple˚. But no art is God. We may call a butterfly ‘beautiful,’ but only a pagan would worship a butterfly; in reality, the butterfly is not beautiful, but is rather a reminder of that which is beautiful, that of which we all know deep within our hearts but are yet to see face to face. Butterflies are like Virgil.
In the classical world, it was less practically important that this distinction be made, but today, society stands no hope without this understanding. As the world continues to progress in its complete accessibility, we draw perceptibly nearer to the end of time, “La cima del purgatorio,” and it becomes necessary for humanity to choose between art and beauty, Virgil and Heaven. The world has always been full of Pagans, but never has Paganism posed so great a threat to the heart of mankind as it does today. In classical times, paganism was among the most useful tools for building the church–for causing the “Word to become flesh.” This is why Dante’s guid is so important to Him. God built the church by transposing, as Lewis calls it, his fractal truth into something that could be held in the mortal minds of humanity. He used language and art, pagan faculties, to communicate that which is immortal. But now we are coming to the point where those faculties have served their purpose and are no longer needed, where “the word of the Lord has reached every nation.” Mind you, I do not wish to say we are quite there yet, nor do I wish to comment on how close the end of time is (though it has always been very close), I merely wish to point out that this is the direction in which we are moving.
Please do not misunderstand me, La cima del purgatorio is much more than an artistic movement, but like most things in the scope of reality, it plays itself out over and over again in all different ways and on all different levels. In art, we are reaching La cima del purgatorio where the mountain that sits below us is a symbol of the work we have done to understand language. We are now coming to the point where we no longer need to believe that a work of art is Absolutely good or bad, but rather that Beauty and Goodness are Absolute and art is but the mortal expression of those immortal, Divine characteristics. Our model of aesthetics has reached a new level of purity. This is what the purgatory analogy is all about: we humans work and work to refine our models, our relationships with God, and our very beings, for this is good for us to do, even with our knowledge that all our toil does not even begin to close the gap between us and Heaven (the doctrine of sanctification). But there soon comes a point where we no longer need to work and God reaches down through His son and carries us home.
Reality is fractal, that is why, while our older models are true within their own scopes (thanks to the complex), they can always be “refined.” We are essentially stretching their scopes. It’s as if I thought my family was out of orange juice and so I told someone that I was going to go to the store to get some, but when I looked in the fridge I realized that we had orange juice but were instead lacking milk and went to get that instead. If after returning from the store with milk a family member asks me if I had gone to the store yet or if we had orange juice now, I may report that both are true and create for them a function accurate model of the truth; however, that model may further be refined if I told them the whole story. In this example, the whole story is a finite set of facts; in the case of reality, the whole story is fractal. Therefore, part our purpose as humans, while were here this short while, is to continue to refine our models–not so they can encompass the “whole story,” they never will, but rather because it is simply Good, in an Absolute sense, for us to do this. It is an exercise of our finite love for God. After all, it is out of this finite stuff that He is going to make us infinitely refined beings in Heaven; it is our duty to have faith the size of a mustard seed.
If good is infinite, it should not surprise us that there would be infinite finite ways to worship Him. If God is Absolute, it should not surprise us that there would be ways to not worship Him.
† This is a good example of why paganism must now die in a sense that it has not hitherto: the earth used to seem so beyond Human comprehension that one could get away with worshiping it or casting their worship of the true God onto the earth out of their ignorance of His name. Now as the earth ‘shrinks,’ paganism begins to pose a new threat to humanity.
Art is trying to do the opposite, see “A Timeless Shakespeare”
˚ “There are two kinds of music: good music and bad music” -Louis Armstrong