Art and Scholasticism by Jacques Maritain


[*a] And he must be a man also in order to be an artist. In this respect -- but by reason of subjective causality -- art itself is in a vital relation with the morality of the artist. Cf. further on, pp. 89-90, 91-98; and Frontières de la Poésie et autres essais ("Dialogues").

[*b] Fantasies which are by no means barbarisms, but achievements in modesty, evidencing the most profound care for rigor and purity.

[*c] Especially when, for example, it is a question of determining the exact measure of two virtues which must be practiced at the same time -- firmness and kindness, humility and magnanimity, mercy and truth, etc.

[*d] By "radiance of the form" must be understood an ontological splendor which is in one way or another revealed to our mind, not a conceptual clarity. We must avoid all misunderstanding here: the words clarity, intelligibility, light, which we use to characterize the role of "form" at the heart of things, do not necessarily designate something clear and intelligible for us, but rather something clear and luminous in itself, intelligible in itself, and which often remains obscure to our eyes, either because of the matter in which the form in question is buried, or because of the transcendence of the form itself in the things of the spirit. The more substantial and the more pro-found this secret sense is, the more hidden it is for us; so that, in truth, to say with the Schoolmen that the form is in things the proper principle of intelligibility, is to say at the same time that it is the proper principle of mystery. (There is in fact no mystery where there is nothing to know: mystery exists where there is more to be known than is given to our comprehension.) To define the beautiful by the radiance of the form is in reality to define it by the radiance of a mystery.

It is a Cartesian misconception to reduce clarity in itself to clarity for us. In art this misconception produces academicism, and condemns us to a beauty so meagre that it can radiate in the soul only the most paltry of delights.

If it be a question of the "legibility" of the work, I would add that if the radiance of form can appear in an "obscure" work as well as in a "clear" work, the radiance of mystery can appear in a "clear" work as well as in an "obscure" work. From this point of view neither "obscurity" nor "clarity" enjoys any privilege. [1927]

Moreover, it is natural that every really new work appear obscure at first. Time will decant the judgment. "They say," Hopkins wrote to Bridges apropos the poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, "that vessels sailing from the port of London will take (perhaps it should be / used once to take) Thames water for the voyage: it was foul and stunk at first as the ship worked but by degrees casting its filth was in a few days very pure and sweet and wholesome and better than any water in the world. However that may be, it is true to my purpose. When a new thing, such as my ventures in the Deutschland are, is presented us our first criticisms are not our truest, best, most homefelt, or most lasting but what come easiest on the instant. They are barbarous and like what the ignorant and the ruck say. This was so with you. The Deutschland on her first run worked very much and unsettled you, thickening and clouding your mind with vulgar mud-bottom and common sewage (I see that I am going it with the image) and just then you drew off your criticisms all stinking (a necessity now of the image) and bilgy, whereas if you had let your thoughts cast themselves they would have been clearer in themselves and more to my taste too." Letter of May 13, 1878, in The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, edited with notes and an introduction by Claude Colleer Abbott (London: Oxford University Press, 1935),pp.50-51.

[*e] I feel today that I must apologize for the sort of thoughtlessness with which I adopted this phrase here. One must have little experience of created things, or much experience of divine things, in order to be able to speak in this way. In general, formulas of contempt with regard to created things belong to a conventional literature that is difficult to endure. The creature is deserving of compassion, not contempt; it exists only because it is loved. It is deceptive because it has too much savor, and because this savor is nothing in comparison with the being of God. [1935]

[*f] Is this so very certain? I fear that Chateaubriand may have been inserted there to balance the sentence or because of some old prejudice. I should have said, and of this I feel sure: Mallarmé also is logical, and Claudel is logical (and even formidably rational). And in an order which no longer contains anything rational, from which the idea is deliberately ousted to make room for the sole architecture of dream, Pierre Reverdy also is logical, with a nocturnal logic unconscious of itself, incarnate in the spontaneity of feeling. The poems of a Paul Éluard obey the same law, as do the "surrealist themes" when they have poetic value. Chance itself is logical in the heart of a poet. (Is that any reason to abandon oneself to it? Let us not take for the normal conditions of poetry the experiences which strive to reduce it to the impossible in order to test its resistance, leaving to survive only a final germ gleaming on the threshold of death.) [1927]

[*g] Or rather by denying the conditions which distinguish Painting from Art taken in its generic concept only. I wrote these lines almost ten years ago. Today there is no longer a Cubist school, but the results have not been lost; whatever the theories, the Cubist reaction, by recalling painting to the essential exigencies of art in general, did in fact render the immense service of recalling painting to itself. [1927]

[*h] I specified in the note to p. 28 the sense in which this "radiance of a form" is to be understood. It is not a question of the clarity or facility with which the work evokes objects already known, ideas, feelings--things. The very things evoked, the feelings, ideas and representations, are for the artist but materials and means, signs still. To insist on explaining the power of poetry by the musicality of the sounds is to exhibit a very crude hedonism. A beautiful verse takes hold of the soul by the spiritual correspondences, inexpressible in themselves, that a birth truly free of the work of words uncovers. Whether it be "obscure" or "clear" is therefore secondary.

Nor should it be forgotten that "the obscurity of a passage is the product of two factors: the matter read and the one doing the reading. It is rare that the latter accuses himself." (Paul Valéry, in Frédéric Lefèvre, Entretiens avec Paul Valéry, Paris, La Livre, 1926.) Few great artists have escaped being accused of obscurity by their contemporaries. Many minor ones, it is true, make themselves obscure to compel esteem. In any case, if "Hamletian" subjectivism has more devotees today than when Max Jacob wrote his Art Poétique, the fact remains that in its deepest tendency modern poetry, far from seeking obscurity for itself, "fumes," on the contrary, "at not being understood." [1927]

[*i] I am sorry to have spoken in this way of Stravinsky. I knew as yet only the Sacre du Printemps, but I should have already seen that Stravinsky was turning his back on all that shocks us in Wagner. Since then he has shown that genius preserves and increases its strength by renewing it in the light. Exuberant with truth, his admirably disciplined work affords the best lesson of any today in grandeur and creative force, and best comes up to the strict classical rigor of which we are speaking. His purity, his authenticity, his glorious spiritual vigor, are to the gigantism of Parsifal and the Tetralogy as a miracle of Moses is to the enchantments of the Egyptians. [1927]

[*j] A condition affecting what we called above the remote matter of art.

[*k] The distinction between Church art or sacred art and an art that is religious not by virtue of its intended purpose but only by virtue of the character and the inspiration of the work, is only too evident, for what is most lacking nowadays in a great number of works of sacred art is just precisely a truly religious character. But it is the practical importance of this distinction that I should like to point out here. The public -- lay and cleric -- too often overlook it. Hence the deplorable habit of evaluating every work of religious inspiration by "situating" it as if it had to decorate a church or serve some pious use. Yet many works of religious inspiration do not necessarily have this intended purpose, even when their subject matter is a religious one, and are made to be seen or heard elsewhere than in temples and for another end than the devotion of the faithful. This is precisely the case -- and for reasons it is not difficult to perceive -- with some of the most beautiful modern works which originate in a sincere and sometimes profound religious feeling, and which do not satisfy the proper conditions and proper decorum of sacred art. One would spare oneself many rash judgments and sometimes unnecessary indignation by not considering these works from the viewpoint of a religious use for which they are not intended. Conversely, it is not because a work of art with a religious subject possesses an extraordinary artistic merit and has been executed with faith, that it necessarily satisfies all the exigencies of sacred art and can serve the use of the faithful. [1935]

[*l] It is clear that I am concerned in this lecture with art that is religious by virtue of its intended purpose, in other words, with sacred art or Church art. On the important distinction that must be made here, see above, note to p. 64.

[*m] Since I referred to T. S. Eliot in this letter, allow me to quote here somelines of his that I have read since then with particular pleasure: "That is one of the dangers of expressing one's meaning in terms of 'Romanticism': it is a term which is constantly changing in different contexts, and which is now limited to what appear to be purely literary and purely local problems, now expanding to cover almost the whole of the life of a time and of nearly the whole world. It has perhaps not been observed that in its more comprehensive significance 'Romanticism' comes to include nearly everything that distinguishes the last two hundred and fifty years or so from their predecessors, and includes so much that it ceases to bring with it any praise or blame." (T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, London, Faber and Faber, 1933, p. 128.) And again, referring to Henri Brémond's book Prière et Poésie: "My first qualm is over the assertion that 'the more of a poet any particular poet is, the more he is tormented by the need of communicating his experience.' This is a downright sort of statement which is very easy to accept without examination; but the matter is not so simple as all that. I should say that the poet is tormented primarily by the need to write a poem. . ." (Ibid., p. 138.)

[*n] It must be added that the "concept" for Kant is a form imposed on the sensible datum by the judgment, and constituting this datum either as an object or science or as an object of voluntary appetition.

[*o] Cf. on this point some very remarkable pages by Baudelaire, in L'Art Romantique (Calmann-Lévy edition, pp. 213 et seq.). Apropos the reveries evoked in him by the Overture to Lohengrin which startlingly coincided with those which the same piece had evoked in Liszt, as with the program directions drawn up by Wagner of which the poet was ignorant, he points out that "true music suggests similar ideas to different minds." -- Whether "true music" is an "expressive" and ideological music in Wagner's sense is quite another question.

[*p] The capital error in Benedetto Croce's neo- Hegelian aesthetics (Croce, too, is a victim of modern subjectivism: "Beauty is not inherent in things. . . .") is the failure to perceive that artistic contemplation, however intuitive it may be, is none the less and above all intellectual. Aesthetics must be intellectualist and intuitivist at one and the same time.

[*q] Cf. G. Mattiussi, "II Veleno kantiano," in Scuola Cattolica, II, 1902.

[*r] The angels delight in the beautiful because they possess intellect and will. A being which, against all possibility, would possess intellect only, would have the perception of the beautiful in its roots and in its objective conditions, but not in the delight through which alone it succeeds in constituting itself. To give delight in knowing is not simply a property of beauty, as Gredt teaches (Elem. Arist.-Thom., I, c. 2, ^5), but a formal constituent of it. (It is the fact of stirring desire and awakening love which is a propria passio of the beautiful.) My position differs therefore from that of Gredt, but it differs much more still from that of Father de Munnynck, who gives the placet of "quod visum placet" a wholly empirical and sensualist interpretation. (Cf. later, n. 66.)

[*s] See in the Journal (June 6, 1851 ) the suggestive parallel between Poussin and Lesueur, and the very just praise of the latter.

[*t] It may moreover not have applied too well to the case Philippe de Champaigne had in mind, for in the narrative in Genesis the camels play a part which is not simply accessory or picturesque, but essential to the main action. "And when he had made the camels lie down without the town near a well of water in the evening, at the time when women are wont to come out to draw water, he said: O Lord the God of my master Abraham, meet me today, I beseech Thee, and show kindness to my master Abraham. Behold I stand nigh the spring of water, and the daughters of the inhabitants of this city will come out to draw water. Now, therefore, the maid to whom I shall say: Let down thy pitcher that I may drink. and she shall answer, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let it be the same whom thou hast provided for thy servant Isaac: and by this I shall understand, that thou has shewn kindness to my master" (Genesis, XXIV, 11-14).

[*u] It was therefore not only a "form" spontaneously apprehended in the real, but also an artificial "ideal" unconsciously impregnating his mind and vision, that Ingres sought to manifest. This explains why Baudelaire, judging an artist's intentions by his works, attributed to, Ingres principles entirely different from those the painter professed: "I shall be understood by all who have compared the different ways the principal masters have of drawing, when I say that Ingres' drawing is the drawing of a man with a system. He thinks that Nature ought to be corrected and amended; that successful, pleasing trickery, perpetrated to delight the eye, is not only a right, but a duty. Hitherto it had been maintained that Nature ought to be interpreted, translated in its unity and with all its logic: but in the works of this master there is often deceit, guile, violence, sometimes cheating and trickery" (Curiosités esthétiques, "Exposition Universelle 1855").

[*v] Maurice Denis, Théories. We cannot insist too much on the importance of this principles very simple one, but often forgotten since the Renaissance, and which Maurice Denis has made one of his leitmotifs -- that expression in art proceeds from the work itself and the means employed, not from the subject represented. The failure to appreciate this principle, to which the image-makers of old were so spontaneously faithful, and to which their works owed at once such boldness and such nobility, is one of the reasons for the chilly decrepitude into which modern religious art has sunk.

[*w] Le Voyage du Condottiere. Vers Venise (Paris: Emile-Paul Frères, 1924).

[*x] Perhaps the proper expression in this case, as Severini observes, would be construction or reconstruction rather than distortion: in any event what is here important is the spiritual infallibility of art and not the loose approximation of taste and sensibility.

[*y] It is from the point of view of the necessity for such information that Dürer's observation possesses an acceptable meaning: "The art of painting cannot really be judged except by those who are themselves good painters; but it is verily hidden to others, just as a foreign language is to you." Understood simpliciter, this remark is true of the judgment concerning the operative habitus itself, not of the judgment concerning the work made.

[*z] Raïssa Maritain, The Prince of This World. Translated by Gerald B. Phelan. Toronto: The Institute of Mediaeval Studies, [1933], pp. 19-21.

[*aa] "Grandeur et Misère de la Métaphysique," in Les Degrés du Savoir.

[*bb] Cf. Henri Massis, Réflexions sur l'art du Roman (Paris: Plon, 1926); Frédéric Lefèvre, Georges Bernanos (Paris: La Tour-d'Ivoire, 1926).

[*cc] Frédéric Lefèvre, op.cit.