Thinking in Threes: Painting, Architecture, Sculpture

Among the seven fine arts enumerated by Carl Schmitt, Painting, Architecture and Sculpture form a natural triad.  Unlike the other fine arts (Music, Literature, Dance, and Drama (acting)), these three exist as permanent, visible realities.  Often called the “plastic arts,” they are “performed usually but once in some permanent material with the object of ensuring the life of the performance beyond that of the life-span of one man.”

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Self-Portrait, c. 1965, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.

The other four arts, by contrast, are not embodied in permanent material form and cannot be experienced all at once; rather, “time is the basic medium.”  Schmitt named the respective groups “statuary” and “kinetic,” “visual-tactile” and “audio-visual,” or “permanent arts” and “time arts.”

Delving more deeply, Schmitt saw the three permanent arts as arts of “being” as opposed to “expression.”  By this he did not mean that Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture were not “expressive” in the sense of conveying some meaning to the viewer, but that this meaning was precisely bound up with being.

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Gertrude with Violin, oil on canvas, c. 1946, 25 x 30 in.

As Schmitt himself wrote: “The common person in looking for vision or appearance or likeness in a picture rather than expression, is in the main right.  For the ‘visio-tactile’ (painting, sculpture, architecture) are primarily arts of vision and incidentally of expression, whereas the ‘audio-visual arts’ (music. literature, dance, acting) are primarily arts of expression.”  He goes on to explain that in the four expressive arts “vision is a goal,” whereas with the arts of being vision is “the atmosphere of their being.”

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Palace of Septimius Severus, oil on canvas, c. 1948, 30 x 25 in.
A view of the ruins of the emperor’s palace from the Roman Forum, based on sketches done by the artist in the 1930s.

By the “being” of these arts, Schmitt is referring to their existence as permanent forms.  It is precisely their permanence that expresses—Schmitt would say “symbolizes”—in a fundamental way, “eternity.”  The four “time arts” for their part, symbolize what he calls “time-eternity,” or eternal values as they are experienced in time.

Schmitt referred to this contrast between the two kinds of arts the “paradox of the symbol”—“the permanent aesthetic reality within the symbol.”  As Schmitt explains: “All great philosophy, all poetry, all great music is paradoxical because Reality is dynamic.  When expressed in space-time (that is, in tone and word)”—in the time arts—“the paradox is only in process of being resolved. In the plastic arts, on the other hand, there is no paradox in a major work of those fine arts because these arts (Painting, Sculpture, Architecture) reside completely in material Being—that is, in that faculty of the artist in which the paradox has been resolved.”

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Head in marble, c. 1924.
Carl Schmitt’s only finished work of sculpture.

It is this “faculty of the artist” which grasps the “vision”—the end or object of the fine arts.  We will explore this vision as expressed in each of the fine arts in future posts.

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3 thoughts on “Thinking in Threes: Painting, Architecture, Sculpture

  1. Pingback: The “nostalgia” of modern art | Carl Schmitt: The Vision of Beauty

  2. Pingback: “The unique miracle of Christian culture” | Carl Schmitt: The Vision of Beauty

  3. Pingback: Fine Arts on Fridays—The arts of vision | Carl Schmitt: The Vision of Beauty

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