“The only conservative worth his salt is one whose stand is outside all Capitalism: on Wisdom and Charity, on sculpture and painting as Fine Arts; in a word, on personal Religion and its symbols.” (1961)
“Do you know the only real argument against Christianity, the Fine Arts?
It is this: they are impossible.
Do you know the only answer to this?
It is: The human being is made to do the impossible.” (1961)
Carl Schmitt’s son Jacob has written extensively on his father’s life, work, and aesthetic philosophy. This excerpt discusses Schmitt’s awakening to the unique contribution of Rome not simply to world culture in general, but the interiority which is vital to any authentic endeavor in the arts.
While on a second honeymoon in 1934, after visiting Dalmatia and the little towns of Korčula, Split, and Dubrovnik along the Adriatic where he had visited as a student, Schmitt continued to Venice, Florence, and Rome. One afternoon, while sketching the gigantic ruins of Septimius Severus palace in Rome, he once again was reminded of the significance of place. Nowhere, he recounts in his notes, had he found as here in Rome, a sense of permanency and interior quietude. This “realization” was first experienced during his student years in Italy, but here and now, in the Eternal City, he found a more profound, conscious realization of it—a sense of what he first called “interior being.”
His mind went back to the time when these ancient ruins, the Theater of Marcellus, the Baths of Caracalla, and the still-standing Pantheon, were built with massive archways and vaulted ceilings that soared to the heavens with a glorious spacious interiors—what he later called the form of interior space.
These magnificent interior structures were created by and signified, in his mind, an interior, personal maturity not seen in any previous age. Here in Rome, he thought, was what the true Renaissance was seeking—the manifestation of a full human person who recognized the superiority of an interior, familial life over the social, political life endemic of the Grecian contribution. Rome had turned inside out all that it had absorbed from the idealized, aesthetic Grecian culture. It had unified all the scattered Grecian city-states into the one centralized political system of Rome—Urbe et Orbe (the city of Rome and the whole world).
Thus, for Schmitt, the Roman sense for interior space became a more inclusive realization and expression of reality. It had the advantage of an interior vision of seeing things from the “inside out” rather than from the Platonic-Grecian idealized vision of looking “on” or “at” things from the “outside in.” This was a more personal development without which no true perfection in anything could be developed. Here was the central aspect of his aesthetic dramatic stage more fully realized.
No wonder, he thought, that this interior form of the Roman Republic was able to permeate, absorb, and inform the then-known world. No wonder Peter and Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, found themselves in Rome transforming this personal, pagan, interior maturity—first prepared for by the realization of the hidden interior nature of reality found in Aristotelian thought—into an interior Christo-centric reality.
“The teaching, well-nigh universal today, that the Romans were a non-creative war-like people who did nothing culturally but pass on the culture of the Orient and Greece is utterly false. Quite the opposite in fact is true. The Romans were the most creative people in history and moreover were creative in that one field which is the most fundamental: that is in Form. Not until Rome formed them had the world ever heard of the Fine Arts. . . . The Art, the Fine Art of Architecture did not appear until the creative genius of Rome brought it into being. The poetry of interior space with shadow had to be revealed in the Pantheon the baths and the basilicas of Rome before the paradox of the Fine Arts was proclaimed.”
“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.