A Reflection on the Mystery of Art as a Capacity of the Human Soul

Blog-09-01I can neither draw nor paint and have always marveled at how some can take an empty canvas and bring it to life with form, color, depth, and shadow. Little by little, from the painter’s brush and soul, a picture emerges. So, too, with sculpting: with each blow of the sculptor’s tools, a block of marble becomes the form of a human being.

Some years ago, there was a show on PBS called “The Joy of Painting,” featuring Bob Ross. Over the course of half an hour, Mr. Ross would paint a picture, describing what he was doing as he went. And though I watched that show almost every week for a number of years, observing what he did and listening to him describe his techniques, I never ceased to be amazed by the mystery on display. How did he do it? Yes, he explained his methods, 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 some have it as a special gift.

Michelangelo once 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.”

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 arts of painting and sculpting seem to be unique capacities of the human soul. Animals neither draw nor sculpt; they do not even appreciate art. It is a special gift to the human person to be captivated by beauty; it is also a gift that beauty, once seen and experienced, can emerge from the soul in expressive praise. There are special glories and a unique gifts given only to the human person, mysterious gifts to be sure. It is all caught up in our desire for what is good, true, and beautiful; it is 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 “performance painter” David Garibaldi at work; watch for the surprise ending:

Here’s a video from an episode of Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” show. In this brief clip he teaches us how to paint a mountain (and does a little philosophizing as well):

And finally this video shows the remarkable transformation of a block of marble into the image of a human face:

3 Replies to “A Reflection on the Mystery of Art as a Capacity of the Human Soul”

  1. ” . . . just as art work presupposes a work of nature, so does a work of nature presuppose the work of God the creator.”–St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, Chapter 65, Paragraph 6

    Thought you might like that one.

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