The Integration of Transcendentals




The transcendentals (Latin: transcendentalia) are the properties of being. In typical accounts, being is said to be One, Good and True (unum, bonum, verum). Additional properties such as Thing, Beautiful and Being (ens) are often posited as transcendentals but remain more disputed. In philosophical terms, beauty relates to aesthetics, good relates to ethics, and truth relates to epistemology/metaphysics.

For the purpose of this final project, I’ll be focusing on the philosophy of the transcendentals in relation to my artistic practice. From Grace & Necessity, to our in-class discussions, our field trip to Mount Angel Abbey, and reading It Was Good, the aspect of ‘transcendentals’ has remained with me throughout. What does it look like for an artist to encompass one of these, two of these, or achieve all three in their work? Does it detract from the work if one aspect is missing? Does the work lack credibility if only beauty ( aesthetics ) is portrayed, with no truth? What does a truly good ( ethical ) piece of work look like? And above all -- how are we to truly represent truth ( epistemology/metaphysics ) in our work?



Thinking back on my experience with Art & Christ, I thought it would be appropriate to start out with a variety of quotes, phrases, and dialogue that impacted me throughout this course. Rowan William’s Grace and Necessity quickly became a favourite piece of literature for me, one in which I foresee myself revisiting for years to come. Below are multiple excerpts from the text that not only guided my creativity this semester, but continues to help guide my very existence.



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 be transparent to what is always present in the real, that is the overflow of presence which generates joy.

The two exist in a perpetual 'lover's quarrel': prudence is suspicious of art's concern with things in themselves, art is equally suspicious of prudence's utilitarianism.

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.

We are lost if we try to separate the two: 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.

Art is good when it relates to the sort of creatures we know ourselves to be.

Art is an uncovering of what is uniquely human; and what is uniquely human depends in some way that defies exact statement on those connections that are held and sustained by whatever and whoever it is that is incarnate in Christ.

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.

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.


The Project


After meditating on these excerpts, I naturally started to look back on past work throughout my time at university. And while I was looking, a pattern emerged -- the journey from a constant striving towards beauty, which turned into how I could use beauty to represent goodness, to my current state of attempting to integrate the two in order to reflect truth. And as I continue on in my personal practice as an artist I find myself rather constantly thinking if something is fact beautiful, good, or truthful. These transcendentals have become engrained in my very being -- a means for looking at art & design in a different way. 

Early on in this course I had a rather terrifying identity crisis ( well, two actually, one just recently ) in which I keep wrestling to balance both the ‘designer’ and ‘artist’ archetypes that are present in myself. Part of myself feels frustrated with jumping back and forth between the two, but also part of myself recognizes that it’s how it should be. We are turbulent beings, and I want this project to reflect that realization. I want it to show the progression of what my younger self viewed “good” work to be, to where I’m at now, and how I might even begin to keep wrestling & making sense of these complexities in the future. Has my work in fact moved from just representing beauty, or is it in fact the opposite? Still unsure.



Pulling from works I’ve done in the past up till the present, I’d like for this project to be a critique ( of sorts ) in regards to my work. A critique for myself, and for the rest of the class to freely comment on what they see in my work. Rather than “making” a piece now, I’m including a sampling of photos taken from each season through my time at university in hopes of revealing some ( if not all ) of the transcendentals throughout. Whether consciously or not, we all reflect some aspect of transcendentalism in our work -- but we hardly recognize it on the regular. I thought this project would be beneficial in regards to future work, to recognize what I am doing that’s truthful, but also what I could further push in my practice.


Through The Seasons

Autumn '13


Winter '13


Spring '14


Summer '14


Autumn '14


Winter '14


Spring '15


Summer '15


Autumn '15


Winter ' 15


Spring '16


Summer '16


Autumn '16



Referring back to the previous question posed, can you successfully represent all three transcendentals in a piece of art? Do I, as an artist, have this ability? I’m still not quite sure but Art & Christ has shed a bit of light into this topic, allowing me to think of ways in which to integrate the transcendentals and through this project ( hopefully ) gain more insight in further understanding how to reflect the divine accurately as an Artist of Faith. However, my main reflection will come after the class critique takes place. A reflection that I’ll use going forward -- recognizing that there are aspects of the transcendentals in everything, but bringing those elements together rather than recognizing them as separate entities … and I hope for future works to reflect this.

I call it ‘The Integration of Transcendentals’.

Lehman Pekkola1 Comment