In Grand Rapids, Mich., we await the beginning of ArtPrize tomorrow, the world’s largest free, open-entry art competition. Those of us familiar with ArtPrize know that the entries (remember, ANYone can enter) range from the incredibly ridiculous (bunny mannequins in the Grand River, anyone?) to the breathtaking and beautiful. There is always a subjective nature to art, even among art considered by most to be “great” (you like Picasso, I like Renoir.) As we seek out great art, it is important to look past the art and ask, “What can art do?” Can art help save the world?
Beauty, whether that of the natural universe or that expressed in art, precisely because it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God. Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality.
“A path towards the transcendent.” Meaning art can lift us up out of the mud and dust of everyday life, and show us the way to God. It can prompt questions like, “What is man for?” and “What gives life meaning?” Art can make us reflect on beauty (or lack thereof) in our own lives, or the world around us. It can prompt us to seek out beauty, and to create it, even in humble ways.
Mako Fujimura, an artist hosted by the Acton Institute during ArtPrize explains it this way:
Art is a faithful way of knowing the world.
In this way, art and sciences share our journey toward knowledge. Science recognizes the boundary of the closed natural world, and then attempts to understand the mechanics of how things work. Art, in some specific ways, goes beyond those boundaries. When Carter Ratcliff notes that “art is inexhaustible,” I think he is referring to art’s role in breaking open boundaries, a core of art experience that is truly generative. Art can substantiate the “invisible” realities, beyond what the data shows. But both art and science can begin with a commitment, and a faithful covenant, to knowledge.
Someone once said that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. In the same way, the opposite beauty is not ugliness, but blindness. We become unable to recognize the transcendent qualities of objects and people around us. We become numb, losing our sense of vision.
Art, in and of itself, will not save us. Only God saves us. But the true beauty of God is all around us is nature, and we humans – the most sublime of God’s creation – imitate Him in our attempts to create beauty. Listen to the music, tend the garden, click the shutter, meditate on the painting. God is there, asking us to see Him. His beauty can help save the world.