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Art: Evolution of Understanding

I recently visited a museum in Barcelona that covered ancient Art and wanted to share this excellent quotation from Octavio Paz (Peace) that I came across.

Religious dogma quashes Life
Religious dogma quashes Life

Art survives the societies in which it is created. It is the visible tip of the submerged iceberg that represents every civilisation. It is often said that understanding is an illusion; that what we feel, when confronted by a relief from Palenque, is not what the Maya experienced. True enough. But it is also accurate to say that our feelings and thoughts about the work are quite real. Our understanding is not an illusion, although it is ambiguous. This ambiguity is presented in all our views of works from other civilisations even in those views of works from our own past. We are not Greek, Chinese or Arab; neither can we say that we fully comprehend Romanesque or Byzantine sculpture. Our only recourse is to translate, and each of our translations, be they of Gothic or Egyptian art, is a metaphor, a transmutation of the original.

In pre-Colombian art, beauty was not a separate value; in some cases it was tied to religious values while in others it had a utilitarian value. Art was not an end in itself; it was a bridge or talisman. A bridge, because the work of art transports us from the here and now to another time beyond. A talisman, because the work of art transforms the reality we see into another reality. The work of art is a medium, a transmission channel for the sacred powers and the alien forces. The purpose of art is to open the doors that connect us to the other side of reality…

From “Pre-Colombian Mexican Art”, Ritual Arts from the New Continent by Octavio Paz.

Must mysticism necessarily be religious or theistic? And is art, or ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’, capable of elevating our souls, such as we can understand the concept within the coralled sand-box of our meagre language?

Mysticism is unfashionable, uncertain and often forgotten altogether. It is therefore antithetic to our age of provable reason.

A stable society depends on interactions between rational agents, which of course we’re not, but which we now closely approximate. Personal spirituality (as opposed to dogmatic obedience) among the people is an unacceptable threat.

But are we led inexorably back towards a ‘higher level’? Does our physiological/ metaphysical nature drive life into the stony spaces our modern discourse invariably attempts to create?

naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret (‘You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she will always return.’ Horace)

I hope to contain a sense of the sublime, unknowable beauty of the world in my personal photographs. Words are never enough.

Holy Water Fountain, Westminster Cathedral
Holy Water Fountain, Westminster Cathedral
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