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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Canon Law

Life as a work of art

Thu, 06 Oct 2011 14:34:00 +0000 Published in

If art is a vocation at the service of beauty (John Paul II), is not human life a call to beauty?

Let us look successively at the value of beauty, art and its ethics, and life as a work of art.

1. First of all, what is beauty? According to the sages, the beautiful says more than the true and the good. For Plato, "beauty is the splendor of truth" (Banquet); and "the power of the Good has taken refuge in the nature of the Beautiful" (Philebus).

Experience confirms that beauty manifests reality with a special vigor, through a form, by the clarity and splendor of its perfection. On the other hand, the false beauty (corresponding to a materialistic or consumerist aestheticism) ends in the emotion or the ephemeral pleasure it provokes and on which it focuses, unconcerned about the quality of its "content" about the world and reality. It is the attitude of someone who, faced with a fire, exclaims: "How beautiful!", without worrying about the wounded or how to stop the damage. Instead, what is it that attracts us in the gestures and attitude of Teresa of Calcutta?

For St. Augustine, the beautiful is what we can love. That is why the highest beauty is the highest love. And in this way the wisdom of Greek beauty (the harmony and order of forms) is assumed and surpassed by the transcendence to which beauty opens.

The medievalists linked the beautiful (from the Latin bonicellum, small good) to the good: the beautiful is a small or brief good, which is given to us through form(formosus, the beautiful). According to the Judeo-Christian culture, the eternal Word became the "abbreviated" Word in a man, who began as a child.

Soloviev (19th century Russian Christian) says that beauty results from a partnership (synergy) between subject and light. While the coal absorbs the light, the diamond reflects it, lighting even the color spectrum. Beauty becomes like the embodiment, in sensible forms, of truth and goodness. By itself, a truth can become isolated and hardened, transforming itself into mere ideology. On its own, a good can become enclosed in the form of moralism and even fanaticism. Indeed, both, without beauty, can become spiritualisms that turn against man; the absence of beauty results in impotence of that truth and that good to unite and be authentic.

Another Russian, who died in the 20th century, Florenskij, defines beauty as realized love. That which is transformed by love becomes eternal, it does not die. Beauty is the radiance that comes from dying to oneself and being reborn as a person in communion with others. This is why the greatest beauty is found in the Church, a communion of persons around God, and is expressed particularly in the liturgy.

2. If this is what beauty is, what and how is art? Is there an ethics of art?

In his lectures at the University of Munich, Guardini observes that we speak of art when we encounter a work of a free being that goes beyond its immediate existence in the context of nature and produces something beautiful.

From Plato to Romanticism, it is emphasized that art supposes not so much the "creation" of the artist, but rather his finding of a pre-existing beauty, imitated by nature, and then captured and captured by the artist. Thus we find again the two elements of beauty: the attraction of the form and the reality that manifests itself. To say that only the "how" he does it is important, would be similar to saying about a scientific theory that what is important is not the knowledge goal that it demonstrates, but only the method (something that interests above all the specialists, but it is not the first thing that normal people ask themselves).

But what does "goal" consist of? Aristotle points out that art has a liberating, "cathartic" (purifying) or maturing function: through art, man moves away from animality and takes possession of reality in a deeper way.

Guardini answers: "Early art is by essence religious". The most ancient poetry is a song of praise or invocation to the divinity. Cave paintings in the caves of France and Spain depict hunting scenes, but that hunting is related to sacrifices offered to the divine. Greek tragedies are conceived as an occasion for spectators to experience and renew the meaning of their lives. The Homeric singers had a relationship with the divine and their representation was considered as a form of worship. Even today in the East, shadow or puppet theater is often introduced with some religious reference letter (remember the film "Living" by Zhang Yimou, 1994).

For biblical spirituality, the artist is worth more than all works of art; he is nourished by prayer and rejoices and suffers with the events of his people. Hence the Christian liturgy can itself be seen as a work of art.

From all this, Guardini deduces that there is an ethic proper to the artist, however difficult it may be to outline: the artist must serve reality, not manipulate it; he has a responsibility before others, which prevents him from taking two extremes: to let himself be carried away by what he wants, or to pay attention only to the ends that others try to impose on him (political, religious, etc.); he must, above all, accept himself in his reality, and not rebel by means of rancor, nor take justice into his own hands.

3. Finally, the question arises: Is it possible to make one's own life a work of art?

In his Letter to Artists (1999), John Paul II writes: "Each person is entrusted with the task of being the artisan of his own life; in a certain sense, he must make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.

Benedict XVI, who called the Church "the most beautiful gift" (at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, September 22, 2011), gives artists a good committee, which is useful for all those who wonder how to make their life a work of art. Since beauty derives from the symphony between truth and good or love, it is a matter of never separating creativity from truth and love, never seeking beauty far from truth and love:

"Make the truth shine forth in your works and do so that their beauty arouses, in the eyes and hearts of those who admire them, the desire to make existence, every existence, beautiful and true, enriching it with that treasure which never diminishes, which makes life a work of art and every man an extraordinary artist: charity, love" (speech 4-VII-2011).