“I have lost hope in organizations of poor individuals. I favor rather the poor family.” (1939)
“To recapitulate: There are three arts of Being (Fine Arts of Vision, permanent symbols of eternity)
There are four Fine Arts of Expression (symbols of time-eternity)
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Originally posted October 1, 2013 as Thinking in Threes: Painting, Architecture, Sculpture.
“To come as near despair as possible without losing hope—that is the aim of a Christian.
“To come as near madness as possible without losing sanity—(that is, to be as fanatical as possible without losing idiocy) is the aim of an artist.” (1932)
Today we begin a new series, Fine Arts on Fridays.
The fine arts were central to Carl Schmitt’s life and thought, and provided a touchstone not only for his aesthetics, but his ideas on religion, culture, and history, among other topics. We will explore Schmitt’s understanding of the fine arts in general and those realities closely related to them: the imagination, intuition, and the creative process and aesthetic life of the artist himself. The series will also include reflections on the artist’s thinking on each of the fine arts, their relationship to each other and to the family, society, and the person.
For Schmitt, the fine arts were defined by their metaphysical import, as the “symbolic expressions of spiritual realities.” He went so far as to portray them “in a way the sacraments of a natural religion,” “the means of grace for the natural man.”
The significance of the fine arts was not limited to the individual, however, but served to express the culture of peoples. Indeed, in Schmitt’s mind, the vigor of the fine arts were a principal—if not the principal—means by which the health of a civilization could be measured. In Schmitt’s words, “there exists not a better barometer of the spiritual life of a people than their arts.”
This was the seminal idea of Schmitt’s most sustained effort in explaining his thought, Europe and the Arts. Here the arts are treated as the “symbols of a vital spiritual life” not only of individuals but of entire peoples and countries. Each European country or region serves as a “custodian” of one of the seven fine arts, which art expressed in a particular way that country’s genius and culture.
Schmitt’s latest manuscript of the work dates from the 1940s. The book, however, incorporates ideas going back twenty years or more and can be seen as a kind of summation of his thought on the arts. Although friends encouraged Schmitt to finish and publish the book, it remained incomplete at his death.
After a brief introduction, the first chapter of the essay defines the fine arts in contrast to the practical arts, and defends seven as their traditional number. The opening of the essay appears below.
Those forms made by man, which have survived the ages, have been the expression, or symbols of a vital spiritual life. Wherever religion has been vigorous, permanent forms have resulted. These symbolic forms range from the most absolute, i.e. the fine-arts, down to the most utilitarian or practical i.e. the so-called crafts. . . .
They have generally been accepted as seven in number, and are listed as follows: Music, Literature, the Dance, the Drama, Sculpture, Architecture and Painting.
There have been various attempts to enlarge or reduce this number. For example, some critics at various times have attempted to limit the number to exclude the Dance or the Drama. These attempts may be due to the fact that these two arts are possibly not fully developed. We shall consider the question of their immaturity later. On the other hand, the number has been stretched by others in order to include say, moving and talking pictures; but anyone with an understanding of the fine-arts will immediately grasp the fact that the “movie” (or “talkie”) is a hybridization of several of the arts, at least in its technical aspect and is more to be considered as a science than as an art. The moving picture is, in fact, a means for recording the dramatic art in much the same way that the radio-phonograph is of recording the musical art.
Finally there are always those who will deny that there is such a thing as a fine-art as distinguished from a useful art. It is not within the scope of this essay to go into this question, beyond saying that it is addressed to those who recognize the validity of metaphysical reality. It is assumed that the arts are not always primarily utilitarian, or as it is called “functional,” in their aim, but that they at times, on the contrary, indicate by the symbolism of their imaginative vision a more profound spiritual life. Beethoven and Rembrandt for example, besides being excellent craftsmen were fine-artists of the greatest vision; and the aim of Michelangelo, needless to say, was not primarily utilitarian.
Assuming then that there are seven fine-arts, which record or reflect as many facets of imaginative life, let us attempt to characterize them briefly observing the qualities peculiar to each, as well as their unity in an organic whole.
“Now is the nadir of the world:
To be poor in spirit, but not too poor
To be chaste, but not too chaste
To be honest, but not too honest.
Thus Christianity is an enemy:
‘Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect’
is the counsel of fanaticism.
The politician must compromise in a ‘possible world.’”