ART, ITS DUTIES AND ITS RIGHTS
Because of his objective and hence total intelligence, homo sapiens is necessarily homo faber; he not only has the gift of speech, he also has the gift of mental and artistic creation. It is natural for man to imitate nature, for being "made in the image of God," he has the capacity and the right to create; but it is not natural for him to imitate nature in a total fashion, since he is man, not God.
This is what is ignored by naturalistic art, which by wishing to imitate living beings in an absolute manner, reaches a dead point where the work becomes something useless and no longer fits into any spiritual context; it is a kind of sin in that it promises what it cannot fulfill, since it is incapable of animating bodies that require life.
Art has a function that is both magical and spiritual: magical, it renders present principles, powers and also things that it attracts by virtue of a "sympathetic magic"; spiritual, it exteriorizes truths and beauties in view of our interiorization, of our return to the "kingdom of God that is within you." The Principle becomes manifestation so that manifestation might rebecome the Principle,(1) or so that the "I" might return to the Self; or simply, so that the human soul might, through given phenomena, make contact with the heavenly archetypes, and thereby with its own archetype.
In our vital experiences and in our artistic productions, the influx of the celestial Benediction is conditional upon the sacrificial element; on the contrary, in totally naturalistic art — since it exhausts the creative trajectory — nothing spiritual is left, nothing sacred, hence no longer any radiation. It is true that a naturalistic work may have an interiorizing effect through its content, but in this case it is the model that has this effect and not the work as such; the naturalistic contradiction between the appearance of life and inert matter can only harm the message.
But there is something else: the notion of naturalism is rather loose because it expresses not only an excess but also a tendency that is legitimate and on the whole logical: when a work imitates nature by observing certain principles, that is, by insisting upon what is essential and not what is merely accidental,(2) it may be called naturalistic without this term having to evoke the faults of total naturalism. The work of art is then valid, not because it copies nature, but because it does so in a certain manner.
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Independently of any question of naturalism, it frequently happens in modern art — as in literature — that the author wishes to say too much: exteriorization is pushed too far, as if nothing should remain within. This tendency appears in all modern arts, including poetry and music; here again, what is lacking is the instinct of sacrifice, sobriety, restraint; the creator completely empties himself, and in so doing, he invites others to empty themselves as well and thereby to lose all the essential, namely the taste for the secret and the sense of inwardness, whereas the work's reason for being is contemplative and unitive interiorization.
Without wishing to be too systematic, it can be said that with most traditional artists, it is the element "object" that determines the work; with the majority of modern artists on the contrary, it is the element "subject," in the sense that the moderns — individualistic as they are — intend to "create" the work and in creating it, wish to express their altogether profane little personality; whence ambition and the pursuit of originality. To be sure, the non-modern artist also, and by the nature of things, inevitably expresses his personality; but he does so through the object and by his quest of the object. Conversely, the modern artist — we mean "modernistic" — is necessarily preoccupied with the object, but within the framework and in the interest of his subjectivism;(3) the apprentice artist no longer has to learn to draw, he has to learn to "create"; it is the world turned upside down.
It is significant that in extra-traditional art(4) valid works — which may be masterpieces — are necessarily accompanied by a flood of meaningless or subversive productions, and these often by one and the same author; this is the ransom of an excess of liberty, or let us say of an absence of truth, of piety, of discipline based on spiritual foundations. Unquestionably, this is the drama of all modern "culture" and has been so since its beginnings; and let us add that this culture ends by destroying itself, precisely owing to the contradiction between the rights it claims and the duties it ignores. Semitic iconophobia seems to be aware of this implicitly, even though its principal motivation is the danger of idolatry; this danger, in any case, contains in a certain manner and secondarily that of the cult of "genius" and of "culture."
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It is necessary to distinguish between an idolatry that is objective and another that is subjective: in the first case, it is the image itself that is erroneous, because it is supposed to be a god; in the second case, the image may pertain to sacred art and it is the lack of contemplativity that constitutes idolatry; it is because man no longer knows how to perceive the metaphysical transparency of phenomena, images and symbols that he is idolatrous.
Grosso modo, the Aryans and the Mongols are iconophilic; the Semites and Semiticized peoples are iconophobic. The conflict between the iconodules and the iconoclasts of the early Church is explained by the fact that a Semitic religion was superimposed on an Aryan mentality; thus it was necessary to make a choice, and the Aryan spirit prevailed in the end. Protestant iconoclasm was independent of the question of mentality; it is to be explained solely by the return to Scripture, which de facto is Semitic.
If in the early Church it was the icons that won the case, it was obviously so — as in the case of alimentary prescriptions — because the right solution imposed itself thanks to a revelation: it was Saint Luke, an apostle, who created the first icon of the Virgin; and it was Saint Veronica, with the Holy Shroud, who was at the origin of the image of the Holy Face. The very principle of the "sacred portrait" is expressed in this Buddhist saying: "The Buddhas also save by their superhuman beauty."
But not only is there the iconophobia of the Semites of nomadic origin, there is also the absence of images among most of the shamanistic Mongol peoples, notably the Red Indians; in this case, the divine image is absent, not because of a theological principle concerned with preventing given abuses, but because virgin Nature is itself "divine image"; because it is for the Great Spirit, and not for man, to furnish the image-sacrament of the Invisible.
As regards sacred art, it must be said that painted and sculpted images also have God as their author since it is He who reveals and creates them through man; He offers the image of Himself by humanizing it, for if man is "made in God's image," it is because God is the prototype of the human image. If virgin Nature is the image of God, then man, who is situated at the center of this Nature is so as well; on the one hand, he is witness to the Divine image that surrounds him, and on the other hand, he is himself this image when God, in sacred art, takes on the form of man.
It is clearly the deiformity of the human body that has inspired sacred nudity; discredited in the Semitic religions for reasons of spiritual perspective and social opportuneness — although it has been manifested sporadically among contemplatives disposed to primordiality — it is still the order of the day in India, immemorial homeland of the "gymnosophists." Krishna, in removing all clothing from the adoring gopis, "baptized" them so to speak: he reduced them to the state before the "fall."(5) The path of liberation is to rebecome what one is.