Wisdom on Wednesdays—A passion for the permanence of matter

“Religion today is often nothing more than a concept.
“Hence the seeming dichotomy between religion and beauty.
“For the artist has an instinct for material absolutes: he has a passion for the permanence of matter which the philosopher, in his specialization, seems to ignore.  Hence, a Roman Paganism seems necessary to balance the Greco-Jewish religion which tends either to Gnosticism, or concepts, or both, avoiding the Incarnation and death of a God-man.”  (1952)


Madonna Against a Hillside, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in.

4 thoughts on “Wisdom on Wednesdays—A passion for the permanence of matter

    • Naturally he doesn’t think that matter is absolutely permanent, but it does have a (relative) permanence, a “lastingness,” especially when it is formed as a work of art. “Ars longa, vita brevis,” or as Schmitt wrote, “When I paint I have only one aim: to give substance, essence to things. In that way I may surround myself with something permanent.”

      At the most basic level, Schmitt used the word “permanence” as opposed to “unfolding in time”: he spoke of the “time arts” of music, drama, literature, and dance stand in contrast to the “permanent arts” of architecture, painting, and sculpture. The first four are experienced or performed over time, the last three exist all at once, in concrete “permanent” form.

      He also contrasted the permanent with the eternal: “A Christian: One who has a supernatural intuition of eternity. A Pagan: One who has a natural intuition (instinct) of permanence.”

      The artist, in a sense, is a mediator between these; his “instinct” is for “material absolutes” – for the intractable nature of matter, its “irreducibility.” Paint and canvas, marble, and the other materials the artist deals with cannot be manipulated at will, cannot be “idealized.” The glory of the artist is to make of these things something beautiful, as the beauty of the Redemption is bound up with flesh and blood, the nails and spear, and the wood of the cross.

      The permanent fine arts are likewise a sort of the bridge, he called them “the permanent symbols of eternity.”

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