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Catedral de Milán


What is art? one


  It is a difficult question to answer. Not because it can’t be answered, it can both intuitively and naturally, but because in recent times, we are full of conceptual definitions. There is an overabundance of definitions and contradictories on so many levels that they end up nullifying the very meaning of definition and violate the logical rules that definitions must follow. During our first attempt to delve into “What is art”, we come across the following in the "encyclopedia" Wikipedia:

  The definition of art is open, subjective, and debatable. There is no unanimous agreement among historians, philosophers, or artists. Its function can vary from the most practical to the most ornamental, it can have a religious or simply aesthetic content, it can be long-lasting or ephemeral. In the 20th century, even the material substratum is lost. Beuys once said that life is a means of artistic expression, emphasizing the vital aspect, action. Thus, everyone is an artist.

Over time, numerous definitions of art have been given, including:

“Art is the right ordering of reason" (Thomas Aquinas);
“Art is that which establishes its own rule” (Schiller);
"Art is style" (Max Dvořák);
"Art is an expression of society" (John Ruskin);
“Art is the freedom of genius” (Adolf Loos);
“Art is the idea” (Marcel Duchamp);
“Art is novelty” (Jean Dubuffet);
“Art is action, life” (Joseph Beuys);
“Art is everything that men call art” (Dino Formaggio);
"Art is the lie that helps us see the truth" (Pablo Picasso);
“Art is life, life is art” (Wolf Vostell)

   On the one hand, the Wikipedia article claims that the various authors offered "definitions" that they never actually enunciated but may have expressed in a different way or in a context that was not always scientific. On the other hand, Wikipedia places great thinkers of humanity such as Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle on the same level with Marcel Duchamp, as if their intellectual contribution to thought in general, and to art, weighed the same. Comparing more than three thousand years of progress in art, with the last hundred that deny what is naturally human, is a subtle (but constant) trap in all aspects of knowledge.

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   To answer our question, we must first try to find the mental clarity that separates us from the cultural Marxism worldview and its axiom: everything is art. Using logical deduction, it is possible to understand that if everything is art, then nothing is and nothing would be. The word art itself etymologically describes the opposite: it refers to something concrete and specific, different to the mundane, the everyday, and the inconsequential.

   The semantic change that the word art has had over the years is evident and has been changing along with other cultural elements. But, just as there have been conscious changes that contribute to the good of human beings and their growth (not only material, but also spiritual), there have been transformations carried out with the intention of degrading the principles and values of Western civilization and its traditional worldview. "Not only God has an interest in the affairs of man."

   The deception that postmodernism (both its natural Left and its sister progressive liberal right) has made us believe that we must incorporate subjectivism and relativism into the meaning of "art", together with the search for absolute freedom of means, forms, and content regardless of the social, ethical, and aesthetic repercussions and the socio-cultural psychological implications that this entails. According to postmodernism, we should incorporate as a norm, the transgression of all rules. This is absurd because this constitutes a rule of action. The more the rules are transgressed (which are nothing more than the guide and recommendations resulting from the efforts of previous generations for the good of humanity), the better.

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   This postmodern violation is to all principles: not only to those of art, but also to the fundamental notions of all the sciences of the spirit, including theology and philosophy. They are questioned not to advance, better, or refine knowledge, but with the absolute intent of discrediting them. Postmodernism considers the "classical" (historical) view to be outdated and offers a new one, leveraged on positivism and deterministic linear progress, with has already clearly failed. But nothing has been overcome, rather it has been ideologically discarded. An evolution or progress has been simulated when it is an artificial and intentional rupture. These change views have not been the consequence of a natural advance in knowledge, but an attack tool to destroy the worldview of western civilization.

   The violation of all formal and material, ethical and aesthetic rules is so absolute, both on the part of the progressives and the liberal progressive, that one could even argue, for example, that we should accept the impulse of a pedophile because otherwise we would be restricting their freedom with external norms and rules. The progressive wants to destroy these norms and that the liberal progressive does not want to defend them out of fear of clashing with the goodness (or simply cowardice) that has allowed it to enjoy an insipid and artificial moral authority. This authority has been ceded by its political opponents, is a result of the complacency that comes from surrounding thyself with low-level art (it is easy to be great when surrounded by weakness). These authority figures are themselves intent on evading the rules, complacency ensures his comfort.

   The comfort of these two streams of thought plunges us into mediocrity. In the mediocrity of content, because the transcendent is no longer sought, found, and transmitted. Instead, it is replaced on one side by political, pamphleteering, subversive, disruptive, blasphemous, sacrilegious ideology, and on the other side by commercial, decorative, fun-seeking, sensational, novel, maudlin, and lucrative interest of the entertainment business. In the mediocrity of the media, not only is it enough for them, but using ordinary materials and mixtures, their own ignoble elements are promoted. By relying on subjectivism, they expand the deconstructivism axiom "everything is art".  And in the mediocrity of character, opportunism, both to be fashionable and to be sold as original and novel, we find an ethical poverty that allows the use and abuse of others as a means of enhancing their own image and increasing their followers.


   All these transgressions are wrapped in the sweetness of the ego and personal importance, the grandeur of oneself, because if "everything is art", we are all artists and therefore we are gods, hedonistic geniuses, self-indulgent and permissive. The purpose is no longer to find the objective good and its transmission but has instead become self-satisfaction and immanent self-realization. Fame brings its next phase in degradation and commercial success, and puts the final stone on top of the grave of the traditional and true sense of art.

   "Whenever the relationship between nature and grace is severed..., the entire human being falls under the sway of 'immanent knowledge', and the sources and forces of love in the world are subjugated and ultimately suffocated by science, technology, and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love, in poverty and humiliation, a world in which power and profit margin are the only criteria, where the selfless, the worthless, the one without a certain end is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated, a world where art itself is forced to wear the mantle of technology and new materials”[2]

     It is important to understand that on a certain scale there are only two great conceptions of art: one based on reality and on a process of self-reflection with a perfection over three thousand years, and another that appears to be several diverse views, but are essentially one, in the sense in which they are all opposed to the transcendental, are detrimental to human and social dignity, and are based on the principle of immanence. To approach a correct answer, it must be done with both feet outside of postmodernism, and of the currents that originated it.

    Indeed, we find ourselves with two very different definitions of art, or better said, a clear definition and an ambiguous one that is diffuse and liquid (and as Bauman[3] implied) the use of the said word is for everything except for that which gave it rise. This is the great disappointment of millions of people throughout the West who go to event centers, concerts, theaters, galleries and museums, in search of the original meaning of art, but only find this other, a deconstructed or “contemporary art.” To connect with the real meaning of Art, we must look further back, before this ideological categorization.

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    That is, before “the only thing that matters is power”[4]; before “there are no facts, only interpretations”[5]; before “post-truth”[6]; before "man is not born, but is made"[7]; before “new is better than good”[8]; before "historical materialism"[9]; before "militant atheism"[10]; before "relativism and subjectivism"[11]. That is, before postmodernism or the hegemony of cultural Marxism[12] was imposed by force and ideological strategy. In that before, Western man could find in his life a transcendent sense of reality and, in that objective reality, discover truth, goodness, and beauty.

    Reality, and man’s cognitive capacity to grasp it as a true entity, permitted even the earliest of human to seek the meaning of life. Despite the difficulty of living in primitive times, where tribal social structures were predominant and the struggle for survival centered on what to do in everyday life, the raison d'être of things was investigated. We have abundant evidence that man’s relationship with the transcendent was always present. Recognizable in artifacts such as jewelry, paintings, musical instruments, small sculptures, and many other elements that did not play any vital role for survival, but rather were spiritual and cultural in essence.

     After millennia, we can see the positive influence of certain men who did not stop trying to perfect their potentialities in all aspects of human activity, and more properly, in those that allowed an approximation, rational and perceptive response to the essential questions. Art was cultivated in each of its manifestations. From strident sounds to harmonics, from geometric abstraction to figurative realism, etc. This improvement not only managed to improve the art itself, but also contributed, enriching the spiritual world; the apprehension and understanding of reality, and with it, he really did advance culture, in the direction of good.

     Methods became increasingly sophisticated and complex in the way of creating; central themes, in turn, became more precise, since they touched the essence of existence, but, at the same time, as in the case of the Greeks, creative activity was ultimately simple: art, with all its disciplines, like painting, music, sculpture, poetry, apart from all egocentrism of the modern type, they were guided from outside “by the gods” . There has always been something in artistic work that exceeds it, in its origin and in its final product. There is no more powerful and enchanting line in world of literature than the first words of Homer's Odyssey: "Sing to me, O Muse, of man...".

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    The paradigm of Christianity, for Western Civilization, meant advancing to a higher stage at all levels. On the artistic level, a profound advance is taking place when attempts at influence by aniconism and iconoclasm of Gnostic, Hebrew, Islamic heritage, and later Protestant, are overcome. These groups are driven by a dualistic or Manichaean mentality, they oppose spirit to matter, and cannot conceive of a balanced relationship between the two principles that constitute the work of art, …and reality itself. The same will be done by the negative dialectic and the contemporary deconstructivity currents, with their cultural “products”.
The reunion with the visual and auditory “images” generated by reality allowed the classical Greco-Roman world to be harmonized with Christianity and take it to its greatest splendor.

    From here on, it is that the history of art finds its theological and epistemological foundation, in the historical fact of the Incarnation of the Word and later, in the magisterial definition of the Council of Nicaea, which definitively postulates the real possibility of a aesthetic re-presentation of the spirit, through matter, by the artist. The possibility of materializing ideas in authentic works of art is the first foundation of the "via pulchritude". In other words, the end of art is the beautiful work, that is, the multidimensional beauty, generated and regenerated by the spirit, to re-present it perennially (perpetually).

     Art returns to search reality, the conceptual and physical material. The work will be driven by inspiration (as a participation of the divine intellectual light); and the conformation (taking shape) of the work is guided by reason, considering all the elements and principles for its resolution. Art, as work, has as its intrinsic or own purpose, the making of an artistic work that must be carried out correctly[14] according to its nature (beautiful work). Characteristic that is stated in the nature of the object, according to these objective needs for which it is made[15].

     Thus, the notion of art is constituted at the same time: a) in a synthetic way, as a place that condenses the “culture” of the human being, and the essence of his cosmology, the “cult”; b) in an operative quality that concretizes spirit in matter; c) in a concrete symbol or work that embodies forms and ideas. Thus, its ontic-aesthetic qualities stand out. And this is a unique manifestation of the human being. Function that seeks to imitate the creative process to approach the creation itself and manifest the splendor of the entity (beauty). The imitation μίμησις [mimesis], of images (from the Greek eikon or image) to which we refer here, is not the servile copy, nor the cloning of the object, nor the way of doing something, nor the simply literal following of canons.

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    Imitation is the action by which we appropriate in a practical and intellectual way the theoretical and practical principles of artistic work. It is a particular and specific “know-how”. It is a participation in the creative act of God, as artificers. Therefore, it is a permanent effort, in which we try to act as God would in our place, producing true, good, and beautiful works that help human beings in their dignity and ultimate goal, eternal happiness. At the adjective level of the work, we can identify the artistic aspects as an ontic-aesthetic quality of a particular object or artificial entity.  


    The great civilizations show their cultural artistic legacy, and they are the ones from which the very origin of their word emerges. After the Etymology of Art, we find the Latin word “ars”, which derives, in different ways, from three notions: Techné, (Greek), the rational and motor technique for the production of works). Poiesis (Greek), the production of something, driven by inspiration, the muses or goddesses of creation. Aretés (Latin), the excellent, the virtuous. The phonetic root of the Latin word ars, in fact, comes from Aretés. The concept of art contains these three notions in its intrinsic and inseparable vocation..  


Centuries after the Greeks, the great philosopher Thomas Aquinas gives us an updated definition of art, which does not annul the vision of classical Greco-Roman art, based on the Aristotelian gaze, and which lasted until his time, but assumes all the wise precedent heritage. The definition of art for him is: recta ratio factibilium [18], "the right reason for making artifacts". Therefore, this operative habit, the ars, is a quality of practical intelligence that moves the will to act (expertum) virtuously (aretés), according to certain and specific principles (techné), in order to create artistic works. excellent (poiesis) and useful (delectable) for the common good. The notion of art, as a habit, to which Aquinas's angelic doctor refers, gives rise to the works and to the synthetic and cultural dimension. For this reason, it has been necessary, in preceding paragraphs, to clearly identify the conceptual coordinates for a possible definition.  


We have then, the right practical reason, which is the knowledge of what an artist wants to do and the correct way to do it, the necessary method, rules and principles; and the skill practiced, that is, the habit acquired by training the natural dispositions (talent), and by carrying out the operations necessary for the creation of a work of art.

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“the wise way of creating  beautiful, true and good works, without practical use, which pursues Beauty, and through it, communicates to the superior senses (sight and hearing), in a clear and objective way, essential aspects of the multidimensional reality (material and spiritual), with an axiological purpose, connecting the viewer with the transcendental." 

     During the Renaissance, this definition of art is maintained. In true art, the important thing is the truth, material and spiritual, not what is plausible. That is why it is wrong to speak of a Renaissance illusion. But Thomas Aquinas could not have seen, or at least not in his definition, that the time would come when humanity would abandon the obvious, to the point of denying the same objective reality and with it all notions of Truth, Beauty and Goodness; the transcendentals.

    This begins with Charles Batteux 1780 who, following rationalist and idealist postulates, misunderstands the concept of mimesis, and translates it as a simple copy of reality or of the old masters, to which is added the incorporation of the principles of immanence, materialistic naturalism, Kabbalistic Gnosticism, subjectivism, relativism, etc. Those who had started with Ockham, Spinoza, Descartes, Kant, among others.

    For this reason, recognizing the chaotic, heartless, materialist, collectivist and deconstructivism world that these currents of thought have brought to Western civilization, today a more complete definition of art is required, one that recovers the essential and substantial elements after a century of systematic attack.

    We could describe Art as “a logical way of creating[19] (with ethics and aesthetics) beautiful, true and good works (of excellence), without practical use (that is, using the body and matter, actions, images, sounds, language) , which pursues Beauty (the one that shines and illuminates the soul), and through it, communicates to the superior senses (sight and hearing), in a clear and objective way, essential aspects of the multidimensional reality (material and spiritual), with an axiological purpose, connecting the viewer with the transcendental (unveiling the truth)”[20].

This path of creation is a sapiential work, a "know-how", because it is based on the speculative level, of objective and universal principles and criteria, to "see" them and "order" them rationally in the concrete work. That is why we can say that the artist, who makes true art, is more a sage than a maker, in him the reason for the works that art produces[21] already exists. In this case, art is not so much a “doing”, but rather a know-how, which is why the artist is a “sofós” (Sophos – σοφός “Wise”), not an executive[22] (maker, performer). His know-how forms and dignifies him first before the work.

    The teleology of artistic activity is the search for and manifestation of beauty through the work of art. This purpose is verified when it achieves a correct balance with the intrinsic purpose that it pursues through beauty.

    The purpose of the work itself is its ontic - formal good, that is to say that it is and that it is correctly finished, according to its nature and the exemplary form or idea that originated it. The purpose of the artist, therefore, of his artistic work, is to create an entity, the artistic work, that has such an 'aesthetic force' that through it attracts the soul to human joy (not mere emotional pleasure) and that instrumentally allows him to extract all the content of truth that it possesses and thus participates in addition to its goodness, that is, makes it grow axiologically, a purpose that looks at the integral growth of the human person, and thus, of the entire society.


    Once the purpose of the work has been established, that is, its ontological good, that it exists and is in such or such a way, we affirm that the first purpose that the artist intends is the neat configuration of the work or beauty. The raison d'être of art is beauty. In other words, truly human art for human beings seeks the creation of a work that structurally possesses the three necessary conditions for it to occur: perfection or integrity; proper proportion or harmony; intelligible and sensitive clarity or sharpness.


    Therefore, the purpose of art is not to be a type of language, or a vehicle of knowledge, another type of communication instrument or conscious or unconscious expression, or a medium for emotional catharsis, or an avatar of political propaganda. The goal of art is mainly beauty, a deep and comprehensive, in connection with other transcendentals (Truth and Goodness), that can relate to all human interiorities.


    Although progressivism burns the wound, "art says Etienne Gilson, is at its best when its object is to serve religion." This is because the beauty of art (its proper end) serves the Beauty of religion (whose purpose of religion is union with Universal Beauty, that is, with God). The service we are talking about is based on reverence, dignity, and love, not on that postmodern notion that is used for political contests.

    To get closer to the answer to what is art, we have used several times concepts such as: subjective and objective; those that, together with other technical terms of the language of art, have not always reached an accurate understanding, at least not insofar as we want to define them in this publication, that is, from a concrete and realistic point of view, outside of delusional postmodernism. Therefore, to achieve the most complete understanding possible of the definition of art, we must delve into them. Concepts such as Beauty, Truth, Reality, Structure, Integrity, Clarity, Harmony, Sacred Art, Religious Art, and others, we will see in the next installments.

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