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Joseph Kaminski

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August 18, 2017

Artistic Foundations of Theology


There is a manifestation of organic antiquity within every work of art. A bit of unity, sort to say, that connects the creationism behind humanity and the overall distinction of artistic wonder. Every artist holds a vision: one that is so intimately connected between a personal philosophy and new reality. We speak through art, if you really think about it. One who creates art is attempting to create a vision of their own — perhaps a model of perfection or the true meaning of whatever art it may be — to showcase off what they believe, what they think, what they feel.

Art is aesthetic. All art, in one way or another, is completely concerned with — overwhelmed with an attempt to barricade itself within — beauty and the appreciation of said beauty. We see art as the portrayal; a way in which beauty is represented through the artist’s interpretation of beauty itself.

But, considerably, all art holds something more than antiquity in terms of beauty, it holds the antiquity of organic functionalism. Almost all forms of art can be traced back to spirituality and the theology surrounding early faith.

Chauvet Cave Paintings, estimated to be about 30,000 years old.

From artistic animalism of tribes that had only just recently banded together to the portrayal of what mattered most to man within Neanderthal-esque cave paintings to the theology of Christian works of artistic ingenuity within the Byzantine chapels; many forms of art directly relate to humanity’s primitive ways of seeking faith and meditation.

Theology, even in its earliest forms, gave birth to art; just as it gave birth to many aspects within our earliest and most primitive civilizations’ structures.

When we think about art, we have to think of the artistic icons that live behind the frame. We have to remember what has been called the “two dimensions of our one reality” within early art. Artistic value and theological vision all play incredible roles in such early artistic and rather formulaic creations. We are conscious to these figures — taking them into consideration while appreciating or appropriating art in any way, shape, or form. We close ourselves off from the full meaning of art if we take away the ideas coming from these three factors.

By neglecting theological elements of early icons, art becomes merely historical documentation which transmits nothing more than information. As a result, the art entirely loses its original soul. By neglecting artistic elements and techniques, we completely ignore the factors of how the art was made and what the art was made for. As a result, we lose the cultural element of the piece, leaving us with just a biased form of theological creation. These two elements, working together, allow us to look at our earliest examples of theologically contemporary art.

Early forms of art have different viewpoints dependent on the perspectives of iconoclasm. The action of attacking, and therefore rejecting the “cherished beliefs, institutions (religion itself is an institution), established values, and practices of faith”, is seen predominately in our classical age of philosophical and religious arguments. The first Christians would see one artistic wonder as something completely different than those of the Greeks did. The roles of imagery and artistic creation set thresholds throughout the Romans and the Byzantines, cross-connecting through cultures from across Eurasia and the Middle East.

The art of catacombs, that in which the classicism allowed for profound change in our artistic reasoning and acceptance, which formed within the Antonine era, portrayed the forms and volume of human bodies — giving way to expressionism that created a monumental purpose within art. At first, the early Christians adopted purely paganistic symbols, opting to give “deeper significance” to already created figures before creating their own. Hence we reach an example for difference between iconic art that somehow linked and created similarities throughout theological art:

To the pagans, seasons were continuously labeled as a sign of life beyond death. For the early Christians, the seasons became a symbol of resurrection; or coming back from the dead. The Christians adopted many of their symbols — the garden, the palm tree, the dove, the peacock — and created a sense of prosperity within the Churches. These symbols of pagan origin were not simply declaratory or decoration, but teachings for truth and faith. And thus, from origin to adoption, the artistic symbolism became not ideas but icons. Symbolization has a heavy hand for artistic induction.

The Christ Pantocrator in the apse of the Cefalù Cathedral in Sicily (Italy), ca. 1145-60.

But the evolution of this theological art does not end there. At the beginning of the 4th century, Christian art adopted forms of imperial art, and towards the end if the very same century the movement was symbiotically and symbolically reversed.

Political and economical power led the so-called Christian empire to a peak of influence, with Constantinople a center in which art crystallized — blooming into the rather iconic mosaics of sorts that we recall. Christian in essence, pagan in origin, and Hellenistic at its branches, the Byzantine form of artistic icons became a rather influential and consistent force for culture throughout its existence.

From the cities of Alexandria and other Hellenistic foundations, the “Christian” sacred art received harmony and grace, refusing idealistic forms that could be portrayed as grandeur ideas.

From the cities of Jerusalem and Antioch, the images received realistic and oftentimes portrait-esque features…without forms of naturalism oftentimes associated with the oriental art. This is when Christ was represented with long hair, a beard, and dark eyes. This is where the veil worn by women originated in focus of the Virgin icon. This is where architecture became a reality, giving birth to new forms of faith-induced artistic creations in all forms. It, in short, unified and sactified the diversity of cultures even under an already unified flag.

The theology of art is neither superstition of art itself. It is the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means coming to fruition. The divination of art takes its roots from attempting to portray icons as artistic representation. It is, in short, the creation of symbolic and cultist forms of worship in which all art tends to draw inspiration from. All art has meaning, just as it was attempting to prove that theology had the exact meanings as well.

While our society isn’t as in tune with faith as it used to be, the foundations of art remain the same: a mixture of perspective, reasoning, and understanding the nature in what art actually stands for, and what art actually means.

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