It is most common, in the music compositional world, that upon meeting a new person and discovering some of his or her thoughts or attitudes about art, one quickly finds that he or she is the sort of person for whom music is an outward action possessing little more personal connection to the self than the physical appearance. I do not wish to overly condemn the use of the physical appearance as a means of communication. Though I am utterly appalled at the modern, superficial obsession with the body and all things temporal, I do not object to, but, on the contrary, encourage, the use of the outward appearance as a means of conveying the inward, and therefore it is even appropriate that the physical appearance should, at times, be considered a part of the entity that we call a mortal human being. It should, however, never be forgotten that all this is merely the mortal expression or embodiment of an everlasting splendor. That being the end for which we have the outward appearance, we must consider how one should ‘design’ such a faculty.
Consequentially, it seems to me quite clear that the physical appearance should be among the least important parts of the embodiment. While the way one carries, dresses, or takes care of one’s self physically does say a small thing about him or her, it is, doubtlessly, among the most impersonal of his or her means of expression. It is also, therefore, the most barbaric and inhuman. Thus, to hold art in a similar fashion seems to me utterly absurd, and even irresponsible, considering that it is capable of so much more. Rather than holding it at such a distance, we should let it contain our very hearts in much the same way that our bodies contain them physically. Not that it is our ultimate love, but that it is among the most intimate embodiments of ourselves. Art is not something that exists outside of us, that we may sit around drinking tea and making rhetorical comments about˚. No, art is the embodiment of the human experience; it is something that we are all invited to become a part of.
The acceptance of that invitation is an act that requires great courage and sincerity. It is no small task to become a part of the human experience, the mortal beginnings of the immortal body of Christ, but that is the very thing that art demands of us. We are not to be observers but members of art. There should be no human scope which exists outside of the scope of a work of art–art is to be real.
It is for this very reason that great courage and sacrifice is required of the artist additionally. No man should call himself an artist who creates a mere bit of light entertainment. Art is not merely entertainment, an “escape from reality,” but rather the fuller realization of reality–there is a big difference between craftsmanship and artistry. The artist is demanded to exist and to allow his existence to beget his art–thus making the perfect imitation of God’s creation of us. He should, in fact, feel as though he has lost a part of himself into the work he has created†.
Indeed, there is no act of greater intimacy with the soul than that of artistic creation. It is the act of stripping the spirit free of its mortal clothing leaving behind nothing but bare, naked humanity–or so is its goal. Just as every other act done on the face of the earth, the act of art is incomplete. It is the striving for freedom from mortal limits, but those limits remain ever in place until the end of earthly living. We have but ‘la cima del purgatorio’ to await, and then too shall our souls be free of the outward appearance.
This is why John Milton so classically describes angels as being free to put on whatever physical form they desire at any given moment. It leaves the soul (or, equally, the will) entirely exposed, bound to no immutable appearance, but entirely expressed in its every quality.
˚ The irony is that I am writing this post about art and actually drinking tea throughout the entire process! To be technical, the remark is more about the treatment of a work of art rather than of the subject of art in general. Additionally, this point uses the notion of ‘the mockery,’ a concept about which I will likely post in the future (so tune in next time!).
† Art is much like the “tithing of the soul” in that it is an opportunity for the artist to give his soul back to God, to whom it belongs anyway (much like money), and in so doing display his absolute confidence that God will continue to provide.