Mysticism on Mondays: Mysticism as balance

“The things which are held up to us as ends are generally insufficient things toward which to devote a life.  Love, industry, perseverance, knowledge etc. are taken for granted in a proportioned life as means only. The end of life is vision based upon a delicate balance of these things.”  —Carl Schmitt, 1932

Carl Schmitt saw proportion or balance as key for the integrity of the artist; indeed, it is the touchstone of a life lived according to wisdom.  “Of the three activities of man: religious, aesthetic, and expedient, wisdom maintains the balance.”


Woman Reclining, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in.

This wisdom lay in seeing the distinction between means (the “expedient”) on the one hand and origins and ends on the other (the aesthetic and religious).  In Schmitt’s view the means—the “media”—have completely taken over to the point that we identify ourselves not with where we have come from (origins) or where we are going (ends), but with the “media”—the means.  “We have forgotten the ends. We are the middle, and media are rapidly becoming our sole concern through choice with some, through habit with many more, and, as a result, through necessity with most of us.  This I conceive is the tragedy of our present culture: that media are no longer in the middle but are the very, only, stuff of ourselves, and the ends can take care of themselves!”


Study for Reclining Woman, pastel on paper, 13 x 16 in.

Within a “proportioned life,” mysticism holds a crucial place in maintaining the balance among these different elements, or rather in fusing the elements in a balanced whole.  As Schmitt explains: “Man cannot live by activity alone.  But wed or balance activity with desire and activity becomes virtue (industry).  And balance activity with inactivity and activity becomes beauty (melody).”  The “activity” of art, its creation in physical matter, must be balanced by “inactivity,” by the “desire” of the artist to see things as a mystic, in their deepest reality.  Only then is he able to transform his art into the melody of beauty.


Chestnut Tree, pastel on paper, 17 x 14 in.

For Schmitt, then, mysticism was no dreamy pastime of the indolent artiste, but the very foundation of artistic creation.  More than this, mysticism makes possible the balance within the artist himself which in turn offer the conditions for “true art.”  “The most perfect beauty is a perfect balance between cleverness and naiveté – between worldliness and piety between activity and quietude—between mystical and practical. . . . For the artist, mysticism must be renewed if this delicately balanced attitude is to be recaptured and art live once more.  Without this simultaneous ‘every-day mysticism’ practicality gets the ascendancy, cleverness and egotism advance, and true art recedes.”

True mysticism is itself a balance: between the individual and the social, between the personal experience of God and the understanding of God built up through the tradition of the Church.  We will explore the intimate connection between this balance and art in upcoming posts.

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