Wednesday, March 26, 2008

art and the space between us

"The alternation between substance and nothing, between tangible hands and a void, between words printed and the blank page, between musical notes played and silence, is the aesthetic embodiment of the breath-stopping dread we feel between life and death."

"A Meditation on the Joint and It's Holy Ornaments" by Wayne L. Roosa is a very thought-provoking and inspiring piece of analysis, concerning art and also the apprehension of the Divine -- and by the way, let me clarify that by "joint" Roosa means a place where things or people meet in relation:

"At heart, the observation is that wherever a "joint" exists between the meeting of two things there arises in the human psyche a need to mark that place of encounter. Apparently the human eye is not satisfied by simple, blunt juxtapositions. Nor is the mind willing to leave such encounters alone. It must offer some "ornament," some "finish," some mediation or transition. The "joint," it seems, is too naked. It causes discontent in the human mind. The mind wants to clothe it."

"This is abundantly clear in architecture. Where the plane of a wall meets the plane of a roof, the blunt encounter feels unresolved. Without jambs and moldings, the opening of a doorway through a wall feels like a gaping hole. The great architect Louis Sullivan said that such bare-bones structures amounted to buildings that were "nude." For thousands of years the nudity of the "joint" has been clothed by the softening transition of cornice, entablature, molding, jamb, and pilaster. These mediate, reconcile, unify, negotiate. The mind likes a weaving together of the parts. Such ornaments are like the gracious hostess who softens the awkwardness between strangers at her table by naming people they know in common. In this way, she mediates the social gap between them, her words creating a transition between strangeness and friendship. Like the rows of jamb figures at the cathedral's door, her introduction allows strangers to pass with dignity through the portal into communion."

It's a long article, but worth reading, both to mine out a compelling definition of the function of art and as comment on the distance between our "selves" and God.

"In the "grounded" spiritual traditions of monotheism, to say that God is unknowable, or Mystery, is not at all the same thing as Theosophy's claim that God is "abstract." Nor is the unknowable vague, general, and self-invented. But it is also the case that to dare to say "God" does not entail the arrogant human wielding of dogmatic theology that claims to speak for God and impose his will on society. Distance and relation is a theological mystery. The artist interested in what Annie Dillard has evoked as Holy the Firm must use language that achieves a concrete precision and a rich contingency all at once. This, it seems to me, is the sort of difficult "ornament" engendered by the "joint" felt at the seam between God and our selves. In Christianity at its best, the distance between God and humans is infinite and unbridgeable, but the relation between them is immediately at hand and available."

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