Seeing symbols

“Man cannot long remain interested in things only. When he searches for greater happiness he searches for the reality behind things—he finds God. When man finds the Reality of the universe he suddenly sees all things (the natural order, creation) as symbols. And when he sees symbols he is a ‘creator’ or artist.”

Muses in the Valley

Muses in the Valley, 1921, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in.

This quotation, from Schmitt’s 1925 essay “On Mythology,” is a wonderful description of the genesis of the artist. For Schmitt, the artistic impulse does not arise from within man, whether as a psychological need or attempt at self-expression; nor is it merely a response to the beauty of nature or of human life, great as these things may be. Rather, art is fundamentally a reaction to man’s search for God.  In finding this ultimate Reality man sees the world in an entirely new way.  In fact, it is just this “seeing” things as reflections (symbols) of God—seeing “beyond things” —that is the bedrock of the artistic imagination.

As Schmitt explains further in in the same essay: “[T]he secondary reality of materiality parallels [the] Primary Reality. When man has experienced this Primary Reality . . . he reacts in art, a parallel. He reveals in any of the arts an exact record, a symbolic story of that Prime Experience.”


Tanagra and vase, oil and canvas

It is fascinating to trace Schmitt’s account of the artist’s working out of this this “symbolic story.”  We will explore this in our next post.

7 thoughts on “Seeing symbols

  1. Pingback: Seeing symbols | Early Riser

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