Growing up with an artistic bent, I constantly received two sermons.
- Art is just work. Do the work, research the market, get paid. Thinking about muses and inspiration and all that baloney is just the excuses of the lazy and incompetent.
- Art is this epic, painful struggle where you pour out your soul, and then have to defy the crass moneylenders who want to change this hallowed thing you have have created.
Neimeier neatly solves the conflict.
The ancient Romans had a saying, Ars longa, vita brevis. Moderns take it to mean that life is short, but works of art last.
We post-Renaissance types get the, “Life is short,” part right. But ancients and Medievals didn’t restrict the meaning of ars to “fine art”. For them, it could apply to any craft.
The equivalent Greek word is techne. That’s a big clue that everybody before the Modern era would have put Michelangelo and Steve Jobs in the same general category. Both made stuff according to a standard.
That’s really what writing is. A carpenter makes a birdhouse by putting wood, nails, and glue together in the right configuration. An author makes a book by doing the same thing with character, setting, and conflict.
Art is craft. Craft is art. That simple.
Ancients and Medievals understood that man is spirit and flesh at once, and thus all of his actions have a spiritual dimension. There is a role for both Martha and Mary. The shoemaker is no less holy than St. Anthony.
Cartesian philosophy, with its crude mind-body dualism, caused a rupture between the mystical and the mundane that’s since plagued Western thought. The body perishes, but the soul is immortal, so the soul must take priority.
Christendom has always had a bent towards the Gnostic. John writes against it in his first epistle. And of course, we’ve always called it a heresy from the first, but a heresy wouldn’t last long enough to get a name if it were not easy to slip into.
Especially in Baptist circles, which is very much the heartbeat of the American religious heritage. Part of the impetus in claiming Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are mere symbols is the very wrong instinct that God wouldn’t act using crude matter.
But He does. He always has. E=MC² tells us even luminous beings are crude matter. God was up to His elbows in the material world from the instant He said “Let there be light.”
Conversely, physical acts like kneeling, breathing, speaking, are at once also spiritual acts.
This is one of the unique points of Christian theology.
C.S. Lewis held that religions tend to fall into two camps. You either deny yourself, take up your cross and reject the material world. Or you embrace the material world. You slaughter a bull to the gods and feast on its flesh, and then sleep with a ritual prostitute, or else you practice austere self-discipline. Christianity is a middle way. No! It is a both way. It is an incarnational way. A hypostatic way.
To worship the Muse, to agonize for her embrace, this is a Gnostic thing. We are not gnostics.
To reject the Muse, to subject goodness, truth and beauty, this is a materialist thing. We are not materialists.
Artistic integrity, as it turns out, is nothing more or less than when a carpenter has an opportunity to lay down a sloppy floor in a corner or a closet, and save a few minutes or a few dollars, but chooses to do it right, right down to the bones of the house, because he is a carpenter and that is his job.
We are artists with skin in the game. We are craftsmen with soul in the game.
Here’s the head of an epic tweet thread discussing the creation of Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure how this accords with my philosophy. It’s a necessary data point, however.