David Goatley

































The Art is the Truth

When the church was triumphant, most of man's greatest artistic effort went into glorifying God…

Science is about how the world works, art is about our relationship with it, each other and ourselves. Science may tell us why things are, art tells us how they feel. The explanations of science are often logically inescapable but not always readily understood while art gives us a recognizable truth. One that fits us.

Before science man sought to understand the world very differently. it was a place formed, controlled and acted upon by elemental forces, only some of whom were visible. The rest -- the gods and creatures of the spirit realm -- needed to be made visible in some way in order to be understood, so that we might have relationship with them. So that they could be appeased, celebrated and coerced into aiding us.

The oldest art we have is all about this relationship. Even the paintings in the Lascaux caves of prehistoric animals are a celebration of the spirit of those animals by men who knew their interdependence with them. The science was survival, the art is a celebration of the relationship between hunter and hunted. The rock paintings of aboriginals are about the same things, while the elaborate masks of our native people and African tribal groups are attempts to give recognizable faces to the spirit world. The creator, his children and a host of other spirits -- good and bad -- can thus be summoned and the tales of "our" relationship with them retold.

Most Hindu art is about the same kind of thing: gods and demons to be celebrated or feared. Even Islamic art, which forbids the creation of images of the divine, reflects the intricacy of His creation with its fantastic patterns. In Western art there are two relationships at work -- that of man and God and that of man and his own ascendancy to "God hood," conquering nature and celebrating his own genius.

When the church was triumphant, most of man's greatest artistic effort went into glorifying God. The science may be the Etruscan arch, but the art is making it mirror the vault of heaven. Science gave us Doric columns but art built the Parthenon. Science and Art collide in the Renaissance, and although the subject of most Renaissance art may appear to be God in all His glory, it is increasingly a celebration of man in all of his. Michelangelo may have been a very devout man (he was) and his Sistine Chapel is one of the towering artistic celebrations of the Christian God in His divinity, but the work earned Michelangelo the title "divine" from his contemporaries. The relationship is changed. We are now our own masters and our art tells us so.

The Burgomasters Rembrandt painted certainly thought so. You can see this even in the art of gardening, where increasingly people tried to recreate the world in their own image, moving trees, leveling hills, creating lakes (even, eventually, dotting their "landscapes" with fake ruins). Painting becomes about poetry and poetry becomes about us, our favourite subject.

As we lost sight of God and all the old certainties disappeared we sought to find more and more of our answers in ourselves. Art becomes an internal dialogue -- sometimes even a monologue -- to which no one but the artist is listening. So, in the face of the industrial revolution we have the Romantic era, harking back to a mythical golden age -- the nature poets, the rural idylls of painters like Claude, Poussin, Gainsborough, etc. Our own century has seen the rise of minimalism -- both in books and painting -- art that's about the medium itself. Words for their own sake, paintings about nothing more than paint itself. Perhaps this is how to express nihilism -- our new relationship with the world. I believe in nothing and here is nothing in celebration of the fact. But we go on trying to make sense of it all, or just trying to beautify our little corner of the chaos, so we keep on making art. It is our mark. It helps us see ourselves against a confusing background. It tells us who we are.

Theology is a science. Worship is art. Perhaps the real art is discovering the truth that animates them both.