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About Sacred Art 4 January 2007

Posted by mecca in ABUSHARIF, Arts, Culture.
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People may disagree on what is “art,” but what can’t be dispute is that art has origins. Many have said that its earliest association pertains to the sacred, namely, human attempts to express the religious instinct and, later, free it from strict discursive forms and carefully worded theologies.

So we have art, public effulgence of adoration—public Remembrance. The questions often explored in shapes and colors and sounds touch upon such things as, say, the meaning of life: what it means to live but only for a while? What does a life with a limit mean? From soil to soil, and then back? But back to where? And what do we do in the meanwhile? How do we secure a “good” place when it’s all over?

The underpinnings are not complicated. Religion and religious ideals cannot survive as abstractions, although they deal with the Unseen. We are charged to believe in the Unseen, but not the unfelt. As soon as religion alights itself someplace, there is a pressure to produce along with it a bona fide culture. Oppression never destroys a religion, a sage once said. It is “indifference” that threatens it the most. A religious presence without art is indifference, a severe and impossible understanding of the relationship between religion and culture—between the heaven and the earth, the hidden and the manifest. When a people live in anonymity—as Muslims have (to a large degree) in America—others will gladly move in to define who we are and what we represent. Ecumenical and academic forums — things Muslims are very much open to, like other kinds of “activism” — apparently are not enough to protect a people from being relegated to some abstraction, a condition that makes them vulnerable to typecasting and official and unofficial backlashe –a vacuum that reinforces and passively permits identity theft of Muslims in America.

But back to art. I’m reading Martin Lings’ The Sacred Art of Shakespeare. Of course it’s insightful. Lings rescues Shakespeare from his historical inclusion as part of the “renaissance” and properly places him in the perspective of an author of several plays (especially those he wrote in his maturity) that reflect sacred paradigms. There are many examples. You have to read the book please.

But what’s appealing about this book is the reinforcement that literature can “do” sacred things. It’s good to know again that it’s possible for a dramatic story to inspire (literal meaning of) the soul. Here’s an excerpt:

“If Renaissance art lacks an opening onto the transcendent and it altogether imprisoned in its own epoch, this is because its outlook is humanistic; and humanism, which is the revolt of the reason against the intellect, considers man and the other earthly objects entirely for their own sakes as if nothing lay behind them. In painting the Creation, for example, Michelangelo treats Adam not as a symbol but as an independent reality; and since he does not paint man in the image of God, the inevitable result in that he paints God in the image of man.”

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