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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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LOUW, Daniël. The iconic value of art. Aesthetics and the spiritual realm in art as poetic imaging and creative theologising. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.1, pp.1-21. ISSN 2224-7912.

In the light of the hypothesis that art implies more than merely a mechanistic reproduction of craft, this article investigates the spiritual and transcendent realm of art. With reference to the philosophy of Ernst Bloch, namely that matter is "spiritual" and contains a kind of "utopian spirit" (("Geist der Utopie'") and could in this regard be rendered as iconic, it is argued that the endeavour of art, very specifically the visual arts, is inter alia an attempt to probe the "spiritual dimension" inherent in an observed object. Art is inter alia involved in the endeavour to decode life within the human quest for meaning, justice and dignity. To a certain extent art is "iconic"; it signifies life. It is argued that art presents and creates a kind of cosmic language ("Sprache") to be deciphered by poetic speech and creative imagination (Jaspers 1962:157). Due to a "Socratic view" of life, namely that art presents "the workings of the soul" (Gombrich 2006:85), one could presuppose a close connection between art and the creativity of the human "spirit". Within the framework of hermeneutics, the interconnectedness between art and imagination, awe, ecstasy, enthusiasm, meaning-giving and a qualitative evaluation of matter is detected. What is "beautiful" in arts? Beauty implies more than "pretty". Beauty even probes into the realm of ugliness, human suffering and painful disintegration. In this regard the art of Pablo Picasso becomes most relevant. Picasso rendered art as a lie that helps one to tell the truth better (In Hyde 1998:12). "The painter takes whatever it is and destroys it. At the same time he gives it another life" (In Huffington 1988:118). Evil and the destructive elements in life can also become objects of art. Tragedy and death are ingredients of aesthetics. "Terrified of death and convinced that the universe was evil, he (Picasso) wielded his art as a weapon and meted out his rage and his vengeance on people and canvases alike" (Huffington 1988:12). It is furthermore argued that,in the light of the possible utopian spiritual element present in matter, and the religious dimension represented in the iconic value of objects of art, aesthetics could be applied in theology and the Christian faith in order to reframe existing God-images as related to the notion of divine power. The Pauline version of a theology of the cross and the notion of the vulnerability of a suffering God (astheneia) are used to describe the ugliness of God's forsakenness (derelictio): the parody of divine folly.

Keywords : art; aesthetics; spirituality; transcendence; hermeneutics; homo ludens; homo aestheticus; beauty; humanity; suffering God; poetic seeing; sublime; parody; paradox; symbol; weakness (astheneia) of God.

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