It is true that we have many similarities to primates and, really, to all mammals. But the similarities stop there.
At the level of the soul the differences could not be greater! Animals do not compose symphonies; they do not write great works of literature or create magnificent art. They do not build cities or form bicameral legislatures. They do not pass laws or even ponder right and wrong. They do not punish crime or reward virtue. They have no museums or libraries to collect their great works. They do not invent telescopes to look to the stars; they have not been to the moon and back or even wish to go there. They do not speak or sing, not because they lack a larynx, but because they have nothing to say, nothing to sing joyfully or to lament. They may suffer physical pain but they do not cry out in anguish, “Why?” They do not have cemeteries or religious rites. They may form packs to hunt but they do not form brotherhoods to assist the widows of dead members. They do not send their children to school to learn and they do not desire something greater for them. They do not ponder the Pythagorean theorem and its relationship to music theory. They do not build hospitals, theaters, or sports arenas. They do not hold contests or celebrate weddings. They do not debate rights or justice or have courts. They do not have armies or go to war.
The gulf between animals and humans is enormous. Clearly the existence of the human soul, and more specifically that aspect of the soul called the spirit, is evident in abundance in the chasm between man and even the highest primates. Our lives and experiences are wholly different from theirs.
Consider art, specifically the fine art of painting. I cannot draw or paint, yet I have always marveled at how some can take an empty canvas and bring it to life with color, form, depth, and shadow. And, little by little, from the painter’s brush and from his or her soul a picture emerges. So, too, with sculpting. A mere block of marble, with each blow of the sculptor’s tools, comes to resemble the form of a human being or some other reality in nature.
Some years ago there was a painter on PBS (Bob Ross) who would, over the course of half an hour, paint a picture and describe what he was doing as he went along. I watched that show almost every week for a number of years. And though I watched him, saw what he did, and even heard him describe the techniques, I never ceased to be amazed by the mystery before me. How did he do it? He described his method and technique, but there was some deeper mystery at work, a power of the soul, a gift. He claimed that we all have it. But I am more inclined to think that some have the ability to paint or sculpt as a special gift.
Michelangelo famously said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Yes, but how does he see it? How does he set it free? Indeed, another great mystery and faculty of the human soul of some.
As with music, the art of painting and sculpting seems a unique capacity of the human soul. As I pointed out, animals do not draw; they do not sculpt; they do not even appreciate art. It is a special gift to the human person to be captivated by beauty, and for that beauty, once seen and experienced, to emerge from the soul in expressive praise. There are special glories and unique gifts given only to the human person, mysterious gifts to be sure. It is caught up in our desire for what is good, true, and beautiful; caught up in our soul’s ultimate longing for God.
Perhaps Michelangelo should have the last word: “Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come.”
Here’s a video of a painter at work on a speed painting. Be sure to watch all the way through to the surprise ending.
Here’s a video of Bob Ross from the Joy of Painting show I mentioned above. In this brief passage, Bob teaches us to paint a mountain and imparts a little philosophy as well.
And finally, this video shows the remarkable transformation of a block of marble to the image of a human face.