Sunday, June 24, 2007

Religion and the Mission of the Artist

"To me, the expression, "Mission of Art," rings false. Art, with a capital letter, is one of those official allegories which we have inherited from the nineteenth century and from Romanticism (with its admiration for Wagner and Baudelaire), who were condemned and fined by our forebears. This allegory marks the existence of a sort of "religion of Art," born of the romantic sects and brotherhoods - the preRaphaelites, the symbolists, etc. - which in our time has lost its sacred vigor; but which subsists nevertheless under the form of a very widespread prejudice, amongst the Philistines, the middle class (la bourgeoisie), in Hollywood, and in inaugural addresses. Art, with a capital letter, is something ideal, something distinguished, vaguely en rapport with the Infinite, not useful for anything; respectable, interesting women more than men; the business of certain specialists allowing escape from the too real cares of daily life, elevating souls and softening mores - in short, resembling closely the conception which most contemporaries have of the Christian religion. It is not serious if we admit with Talleyrand that "whatever is exaggerated is lacking in seriousness." No serious artist says that he makes "Art," unless it is to defend himself against the tax collector or the suspicious policeman.

On the other hand, the word "art" is a serviceable term, which denotes the ensemble of srtistic activities and the objects which result from them.

In either case, whether it is a question of romantic exaggeration or of a generic term, it is evident that Art, with or without the capital, cannot have any "mission." Neither a false god nor a word can have a mission. Only man is capable of receiving one.

In the next place, I have some doubt about the adjective, "creative," as it appears (in relation to art as an expression of the human spirit).

The use of the verb, "to create," in relation to human activity is, I believe, rather recent. This manner of speaking of the human act, by comparing it, or even equating it, to the divine act, not only comes from a synergist doctrine which demands examination, but coincides historically with the impoverishment or loss in the modern epoch of the belief in a Creator God. I am not at all sure that man is capable of creating, in the true sense of this term: that is, of producing an absolute mutation, an absolute novelty in the universe. That which is currently called today a "creation" is in reality only a slightly different arrangement of elements already known according to laws known or knowable. Therefore it is a composition. Before Romanticism, we were content to say that a musician composed an opera, that a painter composes a picture. But today, we say that he "creates" a symphony, that he "creates" forms. No one can prove that a man creates something, because no one can know the totality of existent things with their structures and their rapports. We shall limit ourselves, therefore, to the classical term, "composition," when speaking of works of art." - Denis de Rougemont, as found here.

Do not forget to contrast de Rougemont with Charles Williams' master-study for a balancing perspective.

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