O’Leary: What, specifically, do you recommend that people do, to recover art from the fact/value split? We all know about it, but in my experience, one of the effects of such a split is to render such subjects undiscussable. There was a time when, for example, poetry was public to the point that technical or science ideas were advanced therein (cf Hesiod’s Works and Days or Dante’s Paradiso ). Today, it is a purely private affair and almost all evaluation of works of art, literature, or music is experienced as an exercise in prejudice. It must be experienced that way, of course, when all norms are rejected in principle.
For the arts, is there actually a way out of this mess?
Pearcey: The way out is to recognize where those ideas come from. The subjective view you describe so well arose from Romanticism. The key thinker was Hegel, who taught a kind of pantheism—an Absolute Spirit or Mind unfolding dialectically over history. What was important was not the outer realm of physical nature, but the inner realm of the spirit or consciousness. Art was redefined as the expression of the artist’s inner experience.
This was a historical novelty. From the dawn of Western culture, art had been defined in terms of reflecting or representing reality in some way. Leonardo da Vinci said, “The mind of the painter should be like a mirror.” Given this definition, the main criterion of a work of art was its truthfulness. Was the mirror faithful to the original? Did it offer a true representation? Not necessarily literal truth, but truthfulness to lived experience.
Beginning with the Romantics, however, the metaphor of a mirror was replaced by the new metaphor of a lamp casting forth its own light to illumine the world. In other words, the artist’s consciousness would create its own meaning, then impart it to the universe. Given this definition, the main criterion of art was not truth but sincerity. Did it match the artist’s state of mind? Was it a genuine expression of his inner life?
Artists no longer recognized a responsibility to be true to nature, but only true to their inner self. Art was no longer measured by objective standards of skill or craftsmanship, but by sincerity.
Saving Leonardo takes readers through some of the most controversial movements in modern art to explain the philosophies that motivated them. This is an approach that speaks to a wide audience. It makes ideas concrete by turning them into images.
As we learn how to “read” those images, we will be equipped to understand the ideas that shape the way people think—and to develop biblical answers to the questions they are asking.
Over to comments.
Next: (Exchange #3, In your view, has deconstruction affected the sciences, and if so how?)
Previous: (Exchange #1, “Why bother saving Leonardo?” is here.)
Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.