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The Dynamism of Art

Desire.

It quickens the heart, tickles the mind, fires up the imagination. The object of our desire which is (at least in all the ways our instruments can measure) “merely” physical somehow engages with and attracts the soul. We want to revel in the experience, immersing in the object of our desire, through every sense we possess: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch.

A 2×4 piece of wood is a static thing; it was made impersonally. That same piece of wood, worked over a lathe, lovingly handled by an artist, and crafted into a sculpture, is no longer a mere piece of wood. It is more.

Beauty is necessarily dynamic. Ideally, beauty requires the engagement of two living souls, but it can also be the connection between one living soul and the object of a creative act.  Beauty is alive, because desire is not a static thing – it must be constantly in motion, an ongoing swirling and fluxing attraction. Even if the beautiful object is static (think of the Mona Lisa), the observer is not. He studies her carefully, noticing different aspects, fascinated in turn by what happens under different lighting, or when he is in a different mood. More than this: I think the Mona Lisa is attractive because the painting has had its creator’s soul poured into it – and that ensoulment is itself not static.

This is the power of art: something in which a creator has poured themselves. We see, in that thing, the expression of the creator’s soul, their spirituality poured into something which, if it were to be described using purely physical language, may be nothing more than sound frequencies, the way a person moves their body, or the result of paint smeared on a canvas.

When someone invests in creating a poem or a piece of music or art, that creator has invested their soul into that object, creating something that can be deep and rich and hypnotically attractive; think of G-d’s creations in the stunning world around us, as well as His creation of mankind. And man’s creations, in partnership with G-d are no less beautiful (albeit in a different way): think of a symphony, or a Mona Lisa, or a cheerful and engaging toddler.

Of course, not all creations are beautiful just because they have been created: we can make garbage at least as easily as we can create something that is attractive. The challenge is to keep growing, to use our creative powers to advance down a mystic path, instead of merely to create a graven image, a pale imitation of G-d’s own creations. Our challenge is to make something that has never existed before.  That thing is the best kind of beauty of all. It is the kind of art that can touch and inspire and enthrall millions.

This is not mere imitatio dei. G-d has already created the world. Remaking things that have already been made is not human progress; it is mere repetition, like marching in big circles (think of all the pagan conceptions of the world as nothing more than a wheel).  So when we make things, we are not supposed to imitate nature, G-d’s own work.

Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.  (Deut. 4:15-18)

If we make these things, we would be stuck in a repeating pattern, an ultimately static existence.  And without dynamism, there can be no beauty. So true beauty requires us to do what G-d did: create things that never existed before.

Holy creation is creating something that opens up doorways, growing in new areas of personal or communal development. So we are to create things that never existed before, or to procreate, making new people who can in turn improve their lives, the lives of their families and friends, and the world at large.

Comments are welcome!

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