Grace & Necessity Four
"God and the Artist"
Chapter No. 4
Personal works & inspiration.
What is Truth?
'Grace and Necessity' threw me for a whirlwind, quite literally. I think I can safely say that I've never felt more conflicted yet satisfied yet completely off balance than with any other text. However, without a doubt, my largest takeaway from this book is the simple yet extremely complex question of "what is truth?" It is an age old question that I believe will continue to challenge and frustrate humans for centuries to come. This frustration will continue on because we ( as pure mortals ) can never fully answer the question posed. Is knowledge truth? Is reality truth? Is art truth? Is God truth? The way in which Williams makes the reader ( and artist ) think about their own stance on this question is non-comparable.
Although we may not have an exact answer for "truth", 'bad art' is far from the truth. I couldn't continue this post without bringing up William's definition of 'bad art'. I'm so, so very happy that Williams provides a definition, because how he stated what 'bad art'' is, is what I have been trying to comprehend for years. You can tell when a work of art is 'bad' you just can ... but how do you put it into words? You can only critique someone's craft or technique to an extent, and even knowing the artist's worldview doesn't quite constitute us to judge. Williams explains it like this: "bad art is art that does not invite us to question our perceptions or emotions, that imposes an intrusive artistic presence, that obscures both the original occasion of encounter, the original object in the world, and its own concrete life ( by drawing attention to its message or willed meaning ). Shit, this is profound. Ending on the note of what 'bad art' is goes perfectly into our next text, "It Was Good, Making Art to the Glory of God", in turn posing the question of "what is good"?
Below are short descriptions of what my journey was like through 'Grace and Necessity' paired with quotes that aid in the processing & answering "what is truth"?
Comprehension : The challenge to reflect & understand that there is indeed a substantial difference between what is "truth" and what is "beauty."
"Beauty is not, therefore, a single transcendent object or source of radiance. It is a kind of good, but not a kind of truth — that is it provides satisfaction, joy, for the human subject, but does not in itself tell you anything." ( pg. 12 )
"Yet beauty is not at odds with truth, nor is it an accidental extra in the process of artistic labour. The delight of the subject is in the recognition of what Aquinas calls 'splendor formae' a sense of the work achieved as giving itself to the observer in an 'overflow' of presence, the 'radiance' already mentioned." ( pg. 13 )
"The production of beauty cannot be a goal for the artist. If the artist sets out to please, he or she will compromise the good of the thing made. If it is well and honestly made, it will tend towards beauty — presumably because it will be transparent to what is always present in the real, that i the overflow of presence which generates joy." ( pg. 14 )
A tearing apart : Coming to the realization that I haven't been living out my philosophy through my design practice.
"An artistic product is an object made in the chosen medium, not an imitation or reproduction of something else; consequently it is a mistake to aim at beauty as if it were anything other than the effect of the work's integrity." ( pg. 47 )
"The truth is that prudence aims at the true good of human beings, but that true good includes, crucially, happiness. And 'happiness is the state of being pleased with things." ( pg. 49 )
"( Art is the ) one 'intransitive' activity of human beings, the one thing not designed to solve predefined problems." ( pg. 53 )
"The whole active presence of the object is being re-presented by the artist — not simply the reproduction of aspects of its appearance ( since the artwork may not in fact be significantly concerned with reproducing 'qualities.'" ( pg. 62 )
Questioning : Made me question what exactly I believe "truth" to be. Am I satisfied with the definition? Am I satisfied with how I reflect it?
"What matters is the search for the internal necessity of a work." ( pg. 97 )
"The event that disrupts and questions and changes the world is precisely what obliges the artist to try and recreate it from scratch." ( pg. 100 )
"It is primarily just that every human desire or disposition signifies, and so is worth narrating, worth transubstantiating into the words of narrative. Explanation is reduction; it is trying to contain another in your own identity." ( pg. 122 )
"A strategy for truth, not a flexing of the artistic muscles for its own sake."
Coming to terms : Taking a step back, an awareness that in order to reflect truth you simply need to make -- however hard that may be.
"But truthfulness unfolds — it doesn't happen all at once — and makes possible different levels of appropriating or sharing in the activity that is the world" ( pg. 173 )
"Art, as has been suggested to us at many points of our inquiry, is unintelligible if it is not what we might call an acute case of knowledge in general. It is that form of intellectual life in which the generatively of the world we encounter and experience is allowed to work in ways that are free from many of the requirements of routine instrumental thinking." ( pg. 141 )
"The artist struggles to let the logic of what is there display itself in the particular concrete matter being worked with." ( pg. 142 )
Grace and Necessity, Page 170.
What I can conclude from 'Grace and Necessity' is that we all have a long way to go. I don't believe that anyone, even artists, will achieve what real "truth" is ... but we must try to get there. We must continue to strive and reflect the divine, for the divine is unable to truly reveal itself in form. We are made in God's image, and therefore are obligated to reflect that, and what a beautiful duty it is for artists. I would argue that everyone, in their own right, is an "artist" but people who wholly devote their lives to creating and "making" — those are the people that can obtain the title Artist. And I take great pride in that.
Take heed, make art, reflect truth -- this is what I have gathered from William's words. The notion that we must reflect truth, but work to reflect truth. Not working to reflect beauty, because beauty will in turn be reflected through truth. As I'm sure you ( the reader ) has gathered from my reflections on 'Grace and Necessity' thus far, it's been a wild read for me. I've gone from being completely and utterly satisfied with William's words, to questioning my entire practice as a designer, to endless questioning, to strangely being satisfied with not having all the answers, to being content once again. God works in miraculous ways, and he definitely showed me that I have a long way to go but that I am indeed where I need to be. At the end of chapter four I wrote a final thought that I think sums up my experience with this book: "In conclusion, art must have integrity. But, I feel the conversation of "what truly is art" will continue to bewilder people & keep them thinking for ages to come. This was a profound and inspiring book. I was quite torn up because of it. Rowan is a genius for tackling such an intense topic. Bravo."
It's sad to think that our time with Williams is coming to a close -- and I mean thatt with all sincerity. As much as I wrestled with the content, I very much enjoyed reading 'Grace and Necessity'. Even after finishing it I find myself wanting to learn more & dive into his other works -- and those of the artists he mentioned, like Maritain. For whatever reason, towards the genesis of this final year at Fox, I have discovered a newfound love for academia & philosophy. Prior to 'Grace and Necessity' I read 'Reaching Out' by Henri Nouwen, in which he discusses the three stages of living a spiritual life. Where Nouwen's text speaks more to the Christian audience as a whole, 'Grace and Necessity' specifically addresses the 'Christian Artist'. I was quite taken aback by how natural of a progression is has been going from one text to another, and my hope is continue this passion for learning into grad school someday. I believe there is so much more to learn, so much to communicate as an artist that it's quite overwhelming -- but for now, I must go and breathe for reflecting on content such as this drains me so.