Unartistic notes on Art

The essence of art is the just rule of the elements brought under the artist’s dominion.

The most important thing is purity and simplicity.

From that simplicity great insight can grow.

A great work of art never loses its simplicity, but grows from a seed mighty enough to extend its harmony over great spaces of thought without ever entering into tyranny.

The greatness of a work of art is the extent of the harmonizing power of the artist.

A work of art to grow draws into itself all that surrounds it, then filters it to transform what can be transformed into itself. Only by knowing what it is can the work of art succeed in this transformation.

Tyrannical art extends its reach beyond its capacity to harmonize. Consequently, it forces elements into submission that were better left to flourish on their own. Every element that submits freely to the harmonizing reach of the artist flourishes in this submission because its integrity is honored, it is brought into sound relationships with other flourishing elements, and it has the resources of its own flourishing in and around it – and neither the element nor the resources come under any threat in any way. A great work of art is a sort of Utopia.

But the greatest artist makes no attempt to rule beyond his reach. He resurrects all that he is able to resurrect, giving it new life in the world he is creating from the old world around him.

The artist is therefore a second creator, a second redeemer, and a second king. Perhaps his primary function is to redeem the time – to buy it out of its slavery, to restore its value, to enable it to become what it was meant to be, to assist its flourishing. At the very least he sets a pattern for this redemption in a work of art that nourishes a seed to fruitfulness by transforming the world around him into a fruitful tree. Perhaps formal salvation is more important than we have wanted to acknowledge.

As a critic, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come,” at least by analogy in the most secular work of art, or more formally in an artifact produced by one whose soul is filled with the life of the world to come, who is himself in the process of resurrection.

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