9. The Field of Art

The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is "man" in a higher sense—he is "collective man," a vehicle and moulder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind.

Carl Gustave Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 1933,


Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger.

There is really nothing to be said about it.

W. Somerset Maughan 1.


Linus Kornberg, the chemist, and Margaret Benedict, the anthropologist have been meeting regularly to talk about evolution, and also their feelings for one other. Benedict and Kornberg are on firmer ground about the latter: they have gone to an art museum together and are talking about the connection between myth and modern science. She is trying to convince him that art is teaching us how the inner world is evolving to express the outer world in its real nature.  She thinks that the brain is unfolding like the universe and consciousness is its frontier. She says to him at one point: “We begin to see nature as it really is through feelings that art generates in the conscious brain.

 Kathleen is studying hard in the field of comparative religion. There will be no abortion; she has decided to have the child regardless of being without funds to support either the baby or herself.  She will not be able to continue attending college after this year and will have to look for a job. Her faith grows stronger. She is dreaming about what a beautiful baby this will be. Could he grow up and become a great leader, maybe, like Jesus?

Jane has been putting more energy into her painting classes and is beginning to get past the loss of her father, but the grief has never entirely left her. She is taking Yoga lessons and getting back in touch with her body.

The Dean is not feeling well today. He figures it is just that he is aging. He has thought a lot about the limited time left in his life and is planning his retirement.

Dean: Welcome everyone. Another lovely day! But check the forecast for this coming week; there will be tough weather ahead. Stay with us. (Smiles.)

Today we have Dr. Andy Matisse to talk on art. He is a specialist in art history and will be our lead speaker. Professor Matisse and I have discussed what the class has been learning about evolution.

We also have a class member majoring in art who will say a few words… you all know Jane. (He points to her and smiles.) She has taken art history with Professor Matisse and will add her thoughts to the discussion as we go along.

Professors Kornberg and Benedict are with us, too, and I invite them to speak when it seems appropriate to them.

Prof. Matisse, Could you start off our class on the history of art? How did art begin? 

Professor Matisse: Thank you for asking me to contribute. We talked at dinner last night about how art might connect to evolution, but you know that evolution is not in my field. (Looks at the Dean.) That’s is a new idea for me. However, in anticipation of my participating here in your course, during the past week Jane and I have been discussing the way in which this subject might pertain to art. I think she knows more about the matter than I do. (Everyone laughs at the humble reference and the compliment to Jane.)

Dean: We are all new at this. We are all thinking and contributing together.

Matisse: (Looking to the class to clarify his position.) There is a subject called art history, but not a so-called “art evolution” in my field. In addition, let me say at the outset that the whole field of Art is too broad to consider here. I cannot talk about the history of dance, theater, sculpture, poetry, or the novel, but I can speak about painting. Even so, I cannot review all the types of painting that have developed around the world since the beginning of civilization! Art history has too much content and variation to consider in this class, but the Dean tells me some historical periods in art could be a place for you to start thinking about its evolution. (He goes to the blackboard and writes.)

The History of Art

Jane is handing you a sheet of paper that provides you with an outline of your assignment. You can read some things online at The Metropolitan Museum of Art but you should have a text before you by H. W. Janson on the history art.



Egyptian Art 3200 – 1070 BC

Amarna Art 1370 – 1340 BC

Mesopotamian Art 3500 – 331 BC

Sumerian/Akkadian 3500 – 1750 BC

Assyrian/Neo-Babylonian 1000 – 539 BC

Persian 539 – 331 BC

Aegean Art 3000 – 1100 BC

Minoan (Crete) 3000 – 1475 BC

Mycenean (Greece) 1650 – 1100 BC

Greek Art 800 – 323 BC


Hellenistic Art 323–150 BC

Etruscan Art 6th – 5th century BC

Roman Art 509  – 337 AD

MIDDLE AGES 373 – 1453 AD (CE)

Celtic, Saxon, & Hiberno 200 – 732 AD

Byzantine Art 400 – 1453 AD

Justinian 527 – 565 AD

Islamic Art 622 – 900 AD

Carolingian Art 732 – 900 AD

Ottonian Art 900 – 1050 AD

Romanesque Style 1000 – 1140 AD

Gothic Style 1140 - 1500 AD

RENAISSANCE 1400 - 1800 AD (CE) [Severyn: The period of European history from 1500–1800 is usually called “Early Modern” these days, and not “Renaissance.”]]

Renaissance: Italy 1400 – 1600 AD

Renaissance: Europe 1500 – 1600 AD

Baroque 1600 – 1700 AD

Rococo 1700 – 1750 AD

PRE-MODERN 1800 – 1880 AD (CE)

Neo-Classicism 1750 – 1880 AD

(USA: Federal/Greek Revival)

(Canada: Georgian Style)

Romanticism 1800 – 1880 AD

(Canada: Victorian)

Realism 1830s – 1850s AD

Impressionism 1870s – 1890s AD

MODERNISM 1880 – 1945 AD (CE)

Post-Impressionism 1880 – 1900 AD

Expressionism 1900 – 1920 AD

Fauvism 1900 – 1920 AD

Cubism 1907 – 1914 AD

Dada 1916 – 1922 AD

Bauhaus 1920s – 1940s AD

Harlem Renaissance 1920s – 1940s AD

Surrealism 1920s – 1940s AD

International Style 1920s – 1940s AD

MODERN & POST-MODERN 1945 AD – Present (CE)

Abstract Expressionism 1945 – 1960 AD

Op Art 1960s AD

Pop Art 1960s AD

Minimalist Art 1960s AD

New Realism 1970s – 1980s AD

Conceptual Art 1970s – 1980s AD

Performance Art 1970s – 1980s AD

Neo-Expressionism 1980s – 1990s AD

Computer Art 1980s – 1990s AD

Post-Modern Classicism 1980s – 1990s AD

Victorian Revival 1980s – 1990s AD

Matisse: I have asked Professor Benedict to say a few words about the beginnings of painting. I’m not an anthropologist, and she knows more about the earliest ones that have been found.

Benedict: Well. The oldest known paintings could have begun anywhere from 35,000 to 100,000 years ago. Indeed, I saw that some archaeologists in Zambia have uncovered evidence that humans were painting even earlier. This team found pigments and paint grinding equipment that werebetween 350,000 and 400,000 years old. We are still learning when art began.[i] (The Dean is asking himself: Could a natural phenomenon—a molecule, say—be a work of art? Do scientists think about that?)

Matisse: Let’s follow the text you have by H. W. Janson. The Dean made this part of your class assignment and asked you to bring the book. Please open it, if you would. Janson will tell you something about the beginning of art with fine illustrations and photographs.[ii]

Look on pages 32 and 33 where you will see bison, deer, and horses drawn on cave walls. No one really knows the purpose of these drawings. They were made deep inside caves. They are what some observers call “mimetic”; it looks like people were copying what they saw externally.

The Dean might call this “the principle of replication” that began after the Big Bang. But the pictures also look as though they are decorations; they might have been used in religious ritual in 10, 000 BC.  Look now on page 34. What are your thoughts? Anyone? (He waits.)

Barbara: How does Mr. Janson know that this is “art”? (Matisse looks toward Jane, his student. They have anticipated this question, and his look says, “What do you think?”)

Jane: Notice how Janson describes these early cave images at Lascaux in France on page 33; the paintings are dated sometime between 15,000 and 10, 000 B.C.  Janson writes that they were “incised into the rock with quick and sure lines; figures have dance-like movements.” This tells you that something new has been invented. These images are not accidental. They are purposeful, by intention, not by chance. There is some sort of desire or a “will” to design these dancing figures. And the figures do look graceful.

Barbara: How do you know they are “graceful”?

Jane: It’s my sense, maybe, my intuition. Tom would say it’s in our DNA. (She looks at Tom majoring in biology and laughs along with the class.) But look at what Janson says. There is a fusion between human and animal identity in those figures that are centaurs. Look at them in Greece, Egypt, and Mesopatamia[iii]

Barbara: (Insistent.) How does Janson know that these are works of art? (Everyone senses Barbara’s skepticism about how to define what art is.)

Jane: Oooo. See  how Janson describes them: the sureness and refinement in those horses painted on the cave wall. And again: graceful curves of running.

Prof. Kornberg: (Jumps in unexpectedly.) “Graceful!” Ha! Determining “what is art” is pure opinion. There are no objective criteria. (He is continuing his argument with Benedict from the last class period.)

Prof. Benedict: Jane is right, at least as I understand what she means. It’s a male thing. The attraction to “graceful curves” is in the DNA. Men! (She smiles, and the class laughs openly at the sexual suggestion. The Dean laughs, too, a little embarrassed at the tease, but he knows there is safety in their relationship and the class. They are all having fun.)

Dean: (Looks at Kornberg with humor.) When a man looks at a beautiful woman, where do those feelings come from? (The class laughs at his straightforwardness. Kornberg smiles and is silent. And so the Dean whispers to men in the front row “Do you know where that instinct comes from?” Tom and Derek are sitting there and laugh again. The class is relaxed.) We talked about sex and the DNA and about Freud. But I wonder…Do you think these cave people were already beginning to sublimate their libidinal energies through art? After all, these are horses, not women. (Another laugh from the class, but Kornberg is wondering silently about the actual sources of art in physical heredity.)

Jane: Now look on page 35. There is the Venus of Willendorf from the Paleolithic era. Read what Janson says about her: She is a woman carved in stone with “exaggerated female attributes.”  (Students see the naked woman and chuckle.)

Matisse: What do you think? (He looks at Jane. The class is lively, like they’re drinking beer at a bar.)

Jane:  It is “remarkable by its roundness” as opposed to flatness, Janson goes on. (More laughs while the class looks at the large breasts and buttocks.) No, wait. She also represents a breakthrough. Janson means that there is a new dimension of space here. The Venus of Willendorf is a sculpture, not a low relief depiction. The sculpture has three dimensions, not two. That’s a new stage in the evolution of human imaging. Artists were able to imagine an added dimension and sculpt her in a new way.

Matisse: Yes, you could call it a stage in the evolution of “seeing.” The creator—or creators—could see the image better from inside their mind and sculpt it externally as a more real copy. This figure shows how the “mind’s eye” has evolved. The sculpture shows added image complexity internally. The mind, that is, has added an extra dimensional vision to its inner space.  (Looks toward the Dean.) Nothing like this had ever appeared before in the world’s history. 

Prof. Kornberg: The Dean would say a new dimension of “interiority” is unfolding. (Half-serious, half-spoofing.)

Benedict: Professor Kornberg and I have been talking about a fourth dimension that is developing in science. We cannot see that dimension outside of the mind.

Kornberg: Well. To understand the fourth dimension, you have to study fractal geometry. It is in the interior of complex math. (The Dean is surprised at Kornberg’s quick uptake. Does he see the significance of people evolving through abstract symbols? The Dean asks himself: Will we be able to “see” a fourth dimension in this century?)

Benedict: We talked in an earlier class about some of Werner Heisenberg’s theories in quantum physics early in the twentieth century. Heisenberg said we could no longer divide “subject from object,” or “inner world from outer world.” When we look at the outer world we affect it by the way we look at it. There is a new dimension beyond space and time.[iv]

Dean: Could you let the class know what you both have been talking about? Professor Matisse, is that okay? (Matisse nods approval. It looks like the private conversations he and Jane have had could be relevant to the class.)

Kornberg: John Wheeler, a great physicist at Princeton, once asked his class: Are there multiple universes? And, if there are, how could we move from one to the other? Would anything exist if we – as participant observers – weren’t around to see it? He thought about traveling across deep space in constructs he called “wormholes.” 

Benedict: I am learning more about chemistry. And now I am proposing that art anticipates what science will discover about reality. Joseph Campbell, my favorite anthropologist, would say this is true. He said: “Myth is the secret opening through which inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.”

Dean: Oh. Well! (Impressed by the words, he laughs.) You must teach this in your course.

Benedict: I do. And Campbell knows his field. He said, “Religions…the arts…and discoveries in science…(looks up to the ceiling as if to remember the quotation) and the dreams that blister our sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.”[v]  (Smiles ignite across the class.)

Derek: (Majoring in psychology, he is bold to speak.) Jung believed that art emerges from the unconscious. Myths were the inherited memories of the race. 

Kornberg: (Skeptical.) Where are these memories stored?

Benedict: Remember? You said the DNA is a massive library with blueprints for everything—from fingerprints to hair color. (Kornberg nods yes.) Is it possible that in its “elongated shelves” there is a section on human history? Geneticists have identified long stretches of human DNA that do not contribute to physical attributes. “Junk DNA” must have a purpose.

Now, I propose that the “junk” could be depositories for the engrams of ancient memories. (Kornberg, knowing this has not been proved, shakes his head and does not reply.)

Dean: Well. I keep learning from both of you. Let us move ahead with art history. (He looks to Matisse, who again looks to Jane.)

Jane: Notice on page 36. Janson shows us a plastered skull found in Jericho around 7,000 BC. It is done with -- I quote him -- “subtlety, precision, and graded edges.” Here we see more evolution. You can see the added human skill it took to produce this skull. More concentration: the work is more developed. I would call it a new phase in the evolution of art. (Looks to the Dean and Matisse for support.)

Dean: (profiting from another opportunity to state his perspective) People are evolving “interiority” -- increasing their capacity to image things. They have a greater capacity to picture the outside world through their world inside. What do you think? (The Dean looks to Barbara who is puzzled.)

Barbara: Let’s see. What had been seen with animal eyes externally, and responded to by pure impulse, has evolved to be an internal image. Things outside are replicated inside with greater complexity. The human brain is beginning to make better copies of nature.  

Matisse: The Dean is right. The capacity for human imaging is evolving. Look further: Janson describes Persian art as -- I quote -- “disciplined refinement.” This is far beyond the range of Paleolithic and Neolithic art. Janson uses the word “elegance” to describe it.

Barbara: “Elegance?” How do you know any work of art is “elegant”? Isn’t that a subjective opinion? (She looks to Professor Kornberg for support. Kornberg is pleased because he could have asked the same thing himself, but Matisse sees a new stage in the “objectification” of things. He looks to Jane.)

Jane: The word “elegance” did not exist at that time. It is our word to express this art as we see it today. The word evolved so that we could express the increasing number of characteristics we could identify in the object. I don’t know when that word originated.

Matisse: I have my laptop with an Oxford English Dictionary. Hold on. Let’s see…

(Reading from the Dictionary.) “Elegance.” The word appeared in English a little before A.D. 1500. It starts by referring to a style of dressing and to “meter in speech.” Then, in art it becomes associated with words like purity, precision, and correctness.  Now I see it associated with other qualities in literature, synonymous with tastefulness and harmonious simplicity. So this word had many other words evolving along with it. The appearance of other words then helped to create its meaning.

Dean: Ah. Put these associated words together and synthesize them. Voila: you get a new vision of the object. In this instance, it’s called “elegance”: a new word with a new feeling.[vi]

Jane: New words with new feelings … the word “elegance” did not exist among the cave people in Lascaux. It was not available for the Persians early on to apply to their art.

Barbara: Why then use the word “elegant” to describe this art? The Persians did not know they were creating something elegant.

Jane: I am guessing. Janson was surprised that “flat drawings” had evolved into such complex sculptures. At that time people did not know how to draw a third dimension. They did not have the concepts for purity, subtlety, and correctness. And yet they developed through the use of a talent and a craft. These ideas and human feelings were not in their mind, but they evolved with the art.

Jerry: Hmm. Does art then contribute to the evolution of human feeling? (The Dean is impressed.)

Jane: I think so. Janson describes the development of feeling through artistic styles. Human feeling is first expressed without that third dimension. See this ancient Egyptian art on his page 44: flat drawings, no depth. There are no dimensions to faces. Then later we see spatial depth. (She reaches into her briefcase.)

 Now look at this book by Eleanor Munroe. (She opens to page 15 and passes the book around the class.) See those elegant figures done in ancient Egypt. Look at Hathor the cow, the god Horus, and King Nectanebos. Look at the god Thoth.[vii]  Wow! (The class can sense her enthusiasm and the reason she majors in painting.)

Now go back to Janson. He illustrates the development of a “Severe Style” in ancient Greece with the large bronze statues. On pages 128 and 129, you can see the picture of the “Charioteer” from the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi in 470 BC. 

It makes a difference when you look at these with your own eyes. The book shows emotions on the faces and bodies. You can see emotions like pain and stoic calm written on those faces. This is a new way of representing feeling. Emotions felt inside are now portrayed externally in this art. 

Jerry: Did art evolve this same way around the world, for example, in China and India? (Jerry’s question sounds as if he has not been listening.)

Dean:  (hurries to limit Jerry’s eager expansiveness.) Unfortunately, that’s widening beyond our scope. Didn’t you hear professor Matisse say we could not cover the whole world of art in a single class? (The Dean smiles to take away some of the impact of his rebuff, and looks to Matisse to continue. Nonetheless, he is embarrassed, and a bit anxious, that students may not be listening or reading the assignment.)

Matisse: Look at the art of Ancient Greece in Janson, Chapter 5. It is divided stylistically into the Geometric, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods. The Geometric age is dated from about 1000 BC. The Hellenistic era ended when the Romans conquered Greece in 146 BC. They began building temples in the same style as that of the Greeks, but added something more. Can you see that?

Jerry: (Recovering.) I did read the assignment. It tells me that art evolved like nature did, by separation, synthesis, hierarchy, complexity, and continuity. (He wants the Dean to understand that he is listening and thinking hard, putting together ideas covered in previous classes.) Artists added something new onto a past form. They needed the past to invent, like molecules needed atoms. (The Dean nods approval.)

Matisse: Yes. Look at Etruscan Art in Janson, Chapter 6. As you notice, the Romans added Etruscan elements: “The high podium, the deep porch and the wide cella, engaging the columns of the peristyle.” Can you see the continuity along with the innovation?

Jerry: (Now he looks at Kornberg for support.) Art evolved like the chemistry in our universe. Artists were adding new elements. I remember in chemistry that evolution went from Metals to Ionic compounds to Functional compounds to polymers to proteins, to DNA and the virus. (The class laughs, everyone figuring that Jerry is showing off. Kornberg nods and smiles.)

Dean: Thanks. Good memory. You are restored. (He chuckles.)

Matisse: Okay. This evolution of elements may apply in principle to the evolution of art. Each stage shows some continuity from the past and adds more complexity. The Romans were inspired by Greek art, but they needed more space in their temples and added more artwork as well. They used their temples to display a figure of a god but also to show their own trophies, such as statues and weapons. Look on page 171 and see A Roman Patrician with Busts of His Ancestors done in the first century BC. They were adding complexity in their art.

Mary: So, is the evolution of art just about adding complexity? Is art only “adding on” to what existed in the past?

Matisse: No. You are right. The “Temple of Fortuna Virilis” is not just something just “added on.” It is a cross-cultural synthesis—a cross between Etruscan and Greek elements.

Dean: Oh ho. It is a synthesis of old and new elements….[viii]  (The Dean is about to say more, but suddenly, for no obvious reason, Mary interrupts.)

Mary:  What would cause art to evolve?  (She is not sure what causes anything to evolve. The Dean has never addressed the question. The Dean is taken back and looks at the floor, thinking. He does not answer immediately.)

Matisse: I would guess that the answer is religion. If you look at art in ancient Egypt, you see religious motifs. The great creator in Egypt was the god Ptah of Memphis. Ptah—in his seminal form—was depicted as a ram-headed craftsman. He was an artist, fashioning humans on his potter’s wheel.

There was a song popular in the New Kingdom: he is “making this world with his two hands as a balm to his heart.” Ptah was the primordial mound of earth that rose from the waters of Chaos on which all life began.[ix] (Kathleen feels power in the words, “balm to his heart.” Ptah would be the equivalent of the God of the Universe as she knows of him. She is moved to speak.)

 Kathleen: I have to say what I believe: Art evolves because our Creator is an artist… with a heart. We are created “in His image.” God is helping to make us whole. (The Dean has emphasized that the students should say whatever they think. He wants them to be honest – even if others think they are wrong.)

Matisse: I won’t debate that. (Pause.) Look in Janson’s book of the history of art. We see new religions in the Roman Republic. New faiths inspired a blend of Greek and Roman art. Artists were adding greater symbolic complexity.

Mary: What does that mean: “symbolic complexity”?

Matisse: Look once more in the Janson text, at the work called Mithras Slaying the Sacred Bull on page 211. This was created around A.D. 150–200. The work is in limestone and depicts the myth of a cult: the god Mithras capturing and sacrificing a bull. The bull is a symbol of the spring season, releasing its forces to a snake, which is a symbol of the earth. This is a fight between Good and Evil, Life and Death.

Mary: Yes, I see it: Good versus Evil.

Benedict: This symbolic idea, carved in stone, began around the sixth century B.C. with Zoroaster. We still have the myth of Good versus Evil today.

Matisse: Now look further. Later in Rome, Good and Evil are depicted more complexly. These symbols are not just opposites – such as black versus white, night versus day. Notice the ambiguity—how the viewer must interpret more meaning in this struggle between Good and Evil.

Mary: What about around the world? Is it the same in China? Polynesia? I think Jerry’s got the right idea.

Matisse: Well, that’s roughly the case in these early stages, but the timing of that evolution is different. Look, I’d like nothing more than to talk about art in the East as well as the West, but it is impossible for me to trace the history of art around the world in a single class period. Art has too many sides, angles, dimensions, and styles;  we have only a short time. 

You must know your culture—whatever that is—and be in the presence of the art to understand it. The meaning of art is not just rational. And its history is not just chronological. You must feel a work of art inside yourself, see the colors, sense the balance, and feel the dynamics in the form and the character of the work. You must be in its presence to understand it.

When you are, you might discover that you like—or feel that you resonate with—the art of ancient Egypt more than modern art of the West. Questions?

Jerry: I don’t understand. Why can’t you just describe a work of art to us?

Matisse: Look at this painting of birds on the cover of Aldred’s book on Egyptian Art. (He passes it around the class.) This is ancient art.

Words can’t do it justice. I can tell you what great art critics and historians have seen in it, and what I see it in myself at this moment. But what I see and say about it—the way I feel and respond to it—may change from one year to the next, or more often than that. In other words, my understanding of it may change as I change. The art itself should touch you. That is how you understand; you cannot just think about it cognitively. A painting must resonate with you. And you need to rely on the experience you have, at whatever point in your life, to understand it. What does this painting of birds do to you?

Barbara: (blurting out) “Gosh, I’m not sure.” (The Dean beams at Matisse. “This is good for students to hear,” he is thinking. “To understand anything, it must be experienced.”) 

Jerry: Ah.... So art is an experience.

Matisse: Great art stimulates something in you. It comes from your past experience as an individual, or, maybe, from your unconscious. Carl Jung believed there is a “collective unconscious” that contains a repository of images of the human race, which he called “archetypes.” He studied art from around the world, in fact, and found similar figures and themes—of Mother and Child, for example, or the Wise Old Man, underworld demons and heavenly angels, plants and creatures from the natural world, and so on. When we look at art objects past and present, we see that these have had similar symbolic meaning for artists in many cultures and going back for millennia. Perhaps this is a place from which to begin to think about the relation between evolution and art—and to address Jerry’s question, from one angle at least (nodding at Jerry, who grins)—in the recurring forms and patterns of images we find from around the world. You have a repository of images inside you that come from thousands of generations of ancestors. And the further back we go, the more related we all are. Anyway, memories of your own experience—and maybe memories from the collective unconscious, if you accept Jung’s idea—get activated when you look at a work of art. What you see in this painting must mix with what you have experienced. That mix reveals new feelings.[x]


Dean: So artists uncover—discover—new feelings? (Remembering how scientists are known to “discover” answers to formulaic problems in their sleep, the Dean thinks: “Artists are like scientists because they discover and invent.” He is about to speak up about this point but Matisse interrupts.)


Matisse: Yes. Remember the legendary figure Orpheus. Many paintings depict Orpheus entering the underworld in deathlike trances and then coming back to the living. What can I say? (He looks at a dozing class member.) Art wakes up a sleeping mind.

Dean: (interrupting now) Wait. (He looks again at the chart on art history and then at this watch.) We must move on. Go back to your account history. We must not follow Orpheus too far into the Underworld or our time will be gone!

Matisse: Well, for us to delve seriously into the history of ancient art by itself would occupy a yearlong course. The Assyrian Empire—look on Janson, page 73— lasted from approximately 1900 to 700 BC. Here we see big buildings and magnificent reliefs. The Assyrians carved gypsum alabaster, which was more easily carved than the hard stones used previously by the Sumerians and Akkadians. Sculptors depict hunting. … But there are too many variations for me to trace their details in sequential “stages.” .

Benedict: Professor Kornberg and I have been talking about this problem of “stages” in history. Stephen Jay Gould argues that, “for reasons of chemistry, progress does not apply to evolution.” Natural history includes too much complexity. History has long chains of antecedent states “without immediate determination.”

Kornberg: Gould talked about the Cambrian explosion of 530 million years ago. There were thousands of experiments–you might say “styles.” If only one member of a small group of lobe-finned fishes had not evolved fin bones with a strong central axis to bear weight on land, then vertebrates—that’s us—might never have become terrestrial. Nature “experiments” all the time — like these many styles of art.

Dean: (Pleased.) Skip ahead in those periods of history and see what happens. (Points to the blackboard.) Art gets more sophisticated. How does it evolve?

Matisse: I would say again: religion influences art in its different stages.  If you go back into ancient times, you see Hebrew people building temples in 500 BCE. But Jews were forbidden to make images that could be worshiped as idols in sculpture.

Now if we jump forward and look at Jewish art during the Roman Empire, we see it combining with Near Eastern and classical Greek and Roman elements. I realize I said at the beginning of class that I would concentrate my discussion on painting. But you have to understand the status of Jews in society to see why their art was confined to architecture, to building synagogues and other religious structures. It did not progress in other ways.

Jerry: Jewish art was suppressed because Jews existed on the fringes of whatever society they lived in.

Matisse: The structure of a particular society plays a big role in what kind of art will evolve and where it will go.

Jerry: There was another great art among the Jews— storytelling. (Jerry is Jewish and has studied Hebrew history. He had been thinking that Professor Matisse’s chart of art history bypasses the Jewish tradition because the Christians dominated in the West after a certain point. He is glad to have the opportunity to speak about it now.) Hannah Arendt defined the Jewish art of storytelling. She said: “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” I think this fits your perspective.

Matisse: Yes. You cannot define art with precision. Art will not fit into one category or a single theory. It has meaning for each group of people—religious, ethnic, national. People interpret it from their experience. (The Dean would like to hear a definition and something about theories of art, but he is not getting them.)

Now, let’s continue.

Christianity developed out of Judaism and was in turn suppressed by the Romans. There is no public Christian art at this point in history. Early on, Christian art was restricted to hidden places of worship. It became a way for people to transmit their faith to one another. (Pauses.) 

Ann: And Islamic art? How was that different? (Ann has been fascinated by Sufi poetry in the Islamic tradition.)

Matisse: Islamic art was decorative and abstract, and again there was a prohibition against idols. When the Islamic empire appeared, we see a style called Arabesque, highly geometric.

The Islamic view of nature was dominated by geometry. Geometric forms were seen to “move through the universe” and eventually to Allah. You see how religion can motivate and influences the direction of art!

Harry: (majoring in Mathematics) But there were other factors at work than religion. My field, which is math, was also evolving among Arabs during the Middle Ages—and this evolving “intelligence of numbers” was equally an influence on Islamic art.

Dean: Good! That’s helpful. But let’s jump ahead now quickly to the Late Gothic Style.

Matisse: Late Gothic is the bridge between the Middle Ages and the “Early Modern.” You know the Crusades are a factor here. The trade that followed the Crusades brought an influx of Byzantine art, and also artists, into Western Europe. You can see the emotionalism of Byzantine art in the large wooden crucifixes and icons. This was an aspect of Byzantine style that was about to be influenced by European culture. (The Dean is thinking about how Darwin’s birds evolved by moving from island to island. Something similar had happened in the history of art.)

Benedict: In my field, we call this influence of things –this movement from one culture to another culture—“diffusion.” Then comes a process of “assimilation.”  

Matisse: Yes. Giotto di Bondone was a great Florentine painter, trained in the Byzantine tradition. Before him, art had been thought to be mostly a craft. Art was a technique to gain, or arrive at, some end. But here you see a rediscovery—after many centuries—of depicting images with a third dimension. Everything Giotto painted was done more artfully in three dimensions, even beyond what the Greeks and Romans had accomplished in painting in the ancient past. Michelangelo learned from him. 

Dean: “Discovered. Uncovered. Recovered.” Art is tripping back and forth, discovering, uncovering, and picking up something in the past to create something new (asserting his perspective on evolution).

Matisse: Yes. The Late Gothic was a period of rediscovering the classical world. It altered the European world of art. By the year 1500, say, painters all over Europe—not just in Italy where the rediscovery began—were reviving ancient principles. Ancient principles of “harmonious proportion,” “realistic expression,” and “rational postures” were brought back into practice. But now they are advanced, with greater skill.

The work of Italian High Renaissance artists adhered to an ideal of “harmony and balance”— of colors and proportions, effects of light and shade, spatial harmony, perspective and anatomy–like never before in history. Look at some of the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. (He hands out copies of Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” and the “Mona Lisa,” and details from Michelangelo’s paintings of the Sistine Chapel to be passed around.)

Now look at examples of paintings by these Venetian masters—Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. Together they created a body of work that defined the “Venetian style.” They had a “looser technique” than you find in earlier Italian painting, rich coloring, and often a pastoral or sensual subject. (He passes around a painting print by Paolo Veronese, "Mars and Venus United by Love," from the mid-1570s and Titian’s late painting of the resurrection of Jesus.)


Alice: I think the split between Catholicism and Protestantism must have influenced the development of art at this time.

Matisse: Yes. The art of the Baroque was shaped by those religious tensions. The Catholic Church had started its Counter-Reformation in reaction to the Protestants’ Reformation. Catholic leaders brought art into the churches to appeal to the faith of their congregations. Baroque develops every human emotion in this grand movement. Consider one painting by Caravaggio. (He holds up prints of “David with the Head of Goliath.”) The Baroque period also has colossal sculptures with a great sense of energy.

Dean: Unfortunately, we have to continue to fast forward our discussion again, skipping over several centuries. What about the 1800s? A new direction? A synthesis?

Matisse: We see opposing movements. First, Romanticism developed in the 1800s, and then Realism. Realism was encouraged by the advent of science. 

Dean: We talked about evolution moving between extremes, through antinomies, and blending differences.

Matisse: Yes. Realism develops away from Romanticism. Science develops away from religion. Positivism is evolving at this point; art is part of this shift toward realism.

Dean: How could this change happen?

Mattise: International artists in Paris began to create new methods of pictorial representation. They focused on the optical effects of light. Ah! (He remembers something relevant to the new sciences, which is also applicable to the new developments in art.) The father of Rosa Bonheur was a French landscape painter taught by Henri de Saint-Simon, the first social scientist. Perhaps it is possible to see a family influence on art coming here. Still, no one can know the precise way this change took place. Perhaps it also had something to do with the new craft of photography.

Some of you may know of Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet? (Looking to students who are handed prints and pictures.) Courbet developed a style we call realism. (Students are pondering over Plage de Normandie,” dated 1875). And Manet followed him in this style, with paintings of “The Absinthe Drinker,” and other paintings of commoners -- beggars, singers, Gypsies, people in cafés, and bullfighters. Theirs was a “natural representation” of people and places.

Dean: This style of realism seems like the opposite of romanticism. But nothing is ever totally the opposite of another thing. There must be some imbalance in our use of this term  “opposites.”

Matisse: Big words, yes. We say that realism “is close to” naturalism, for example, but big words are ambiguous. These are not precise opposites.  

Dean: But you see principles of evolution at work here, a collision of opposing principles. What do you think? Students?

Benedict: The tension in “principles” could be moving art into new forms. Two universals go into a new concrete form. Those principles must be hidden in each culture waiting to be expressed. (The Dean is surprised. He is wondering about the same thing.) 

Dean: Now let’s jump to “Modernism.”

Matisse: Many new movements were working at cross-purposes. For example, historians write about the “criticism” that was evolving during the Russian Revolution. All “past art” is critiqued against the new art of the Revolution. At the same time, historians see “subjectivity” expressed in the work of Paul Gauguin.

        Gauguin’s style is a fusion of Oriental influences, personal symbolism, strong design, warm color, and musically rich expression. It offers me a spiritual image of the creative artist. He wants what is not attainable. (He particularly likes the work of Gauguin and the Fauvists.)[xi] The creative artist is someone who paints the undercurrents, the layers, and the spaces in between the facts. Gauguin surrendered himself to paint in Tahiti, at that time, an idyllic island.


Dean: We do not have time to focus on any one artist in detail. Let’s jump into contemporary art.

Matisse: We go past Impressionism a…a…and Expressionism. (Smiles ruefully.) Past Cubism, and Dadaism, and Surrealism. (directing students to the list of stages in art he had given them.) And move ahead to Abstract Expressionism.

Benedict: (Interrupts.) Abstract Expression. We talked earlier about how Homo sapiens eventually learned to speak by abstraction. Abstract words came to represent— stand in for, particular things—the word for “stone,” for example, went from the particular to the general. “Stone” evolved, with more ambiguity, to represent “hardness.” More complex images were born. Metaphors brought more richness, with less precision, to external things.

Now I can see this happening in art history. Emotions are developing toward greater abstraction with ambiguity, but this is different than the evolution of ideas. Emotions are going into a deeper range of–what the Dean calls—interiority.

Dean: Deep interior—shape, color, and line. This calls up some new feeling in each stage. Yes, maybe, deeper.

Benedict: Well. In this, you remind me of Thomas Berry.[xii]

Alice: And Bernard Lonergan.[xiii] (Alice is Catholic and aware of how Lonergan could fit into the Dean’s view but says nothing more. The Dean does not know either of these writers but acknowledging Alice’s contribution nods to her in gratitude.)

Matisse: Good. Well, here we are (pointing now to a blackboard chart) moving into the middle of the 20th century. This is post-World War II, and the United States is about to influence art. There is a rivalry between American and European artists: New York replaces Paris as the center of “the art world.” (Smiles)

Artistic moods have been at “cross currents.” Early in the century, especially, there was an “expressive intensity” among many European artists, and an “anti-figurative aesthetic” among members of such schools as Futurism and Cubism. Then around the middle of the 20th century, there was a feeling of being rebellious, anarchic, idiosyncratic, and some say, nihilistic among American artists. Different “mood streams” were conflicting and coming together in some new way....

Dean: You mean, like the streams in earlier evolution – cosmic rays flowing, climates changing, and geographical shifts taking place... Life energy keeps emerging.

Kornberg: I would say these art styles are like ocean currents: the Gulf Stream current is strong, warm, deep, fast, and salty. The California current is broad, slow, cool, and shallow.

Matisse: Good analogy. Look at Action Painting with Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning. They show currents of life energy coming out into a broad canvass … a whole theater of forces at work. Critics said their style was irrational, instinctive, and impulsive, “a moment of existence,” “split-second action.”  Then there was Hard-Edge Painting – colorful geometric abstracts, imprecise shapes with defined edges and great precision. (The speed of his talk is quickening as he describes the style of these artists, and Benedict interrupts.)

Benedict: Notice. These features of line, color, form, and precision have kept evolving in the course of the history of art as you have been outlining it for us—way beyond those sketches on the cave walls. The brain’s new consciousness  is now giving us more insight into our “universe” inside. The “interior” is telling us more about the “exterior.”

Alice: (Majoring in philosophy.) What would Aristotle say about this?

Matisse: Aristotle does not think in terms of “evolution” in art. For him, art expresses beauty, order, rhythm, and symmetry. 

Alice: These are universal ideas.  I wonder: How do universal ideas connect with the changes taking place in evolutionary processes?

Kornberg: How could “ideas” represent these changing forces in physics and chemistry? Forces are real. We can see forces play against one another in constellations, but I can’t see ideas playing in the sky out there.

Alice: Ideas represent forces. Plato would say that eternal ideas are behind what you see in the stars.

Dean: (interrupting this old debate: “once again,” he thinks, “it’s mind versus matter.”) Professor Matisse is right. We are animals. (Quizzical looks.) Look at the beauty of peacock tails. Their beauty evolved like other forms of artistic beauty. It could have been the force of Beauty that created those tails. (He is joking.)

Tom: (Majoring in biology.) Those tails are a puzzle. They have no “survival value.” But, Dean, biologists would never claim that peacock tails are the expression of some “force for beauty”! (joking back.)

Benedict: Or, is our brain evolving to the point that we can now see the force of beauty? Are we just beginning to see the art in nature?

Tom: Darwin knew those peacock tails should not be there. Stephen Gould said the peacock tails could be a spandrel.

Dean: Spandrel?

Tom: Spandrels are facts that cannot be explained by natural selection. The theory of “selection” just cannot explain them. Those tails are too extravagant. They are a handicap to males: They take away their power for flight; they make him conspicuous to predators. Nobody can explain why those tails are there. (Silence.)

Dean: I remember that Albert Einstein said: Big problems are not solved at the same level of consciousness that created them. I would say: you cannot explain all of evolution in the framework of biology. (Professors Benedict and Kornberg are both attentive.)  Students, what do you think?

 Mary: I think the tail was self-created. (The Dean is amazed: She has remembered their discussion in chemistry on “self-organization” from several classes back.) It appeals to females. The peacock is an artist. He makes a beautiful sort of painting for his lover. (The class rocks back with laughter, but she is not finished.) Why would a bird create a bright song?

Kornberg: (touched momentarily by her thought, but not for very long. He is a scientist.) You are all projecting your ideals, your hopes, fantasies, and dreams onto nature.

Alice: You don’t know. (She feels confident enough to disagree with him with a smile.) The forces of evolution could be based on those Greek ideas: Truth and Beauty. The drive to evolve may not be just about “survival.” It could be to produce beauty, or a “greater life”! (She flings out her arms to express her thoughts. The Dean laughs along with her confidence and enthusiasm.)

Jerry: We talked about the ideas of attraction and repulsion as great ideas. They have kept operating in stages of evolution. Could all these evolutionary changes be bringing about a reconciliation of great ideas? If so, why not of Beauty and Truth? And how about other ideas?

Prof. Kornberg: You are all overboard with your ideas. Overboard and off-base…Any metaphor you can think of. It’s crazy! (But he is smiling and friendly, in spite of contradicting Alice and Jerry, and so students feel like he has become one of them, one of “the gang.” They enjoy his contrary spirit.)

Mary: I dunno. We talked about this other big idea of “attraction” in relation to the stars. Then we talked about how attraction modified over time to explain mating. But this idea of attraction didn’t simply go away then; it stayed in the story. It evolved with Homo sapiens and the creation of symbols. And now what could it have to do with art: Why are we attracted to art? (The Dean looks around the class for someone to answer.)

Tom: Symmetry. It’s in our DNA.

Matisse: Well. Nature has a propensity to create symmetry. And symmetry evokes emotion.  And some artists say that, at the root of symmetry, is passion. Where does the passion come from?

Dean: Interesting.

Matisse: Look at how seashells, flowers, faces, and fish – all show it. The prime theme in nature is symmetry. It is in nature, and we see it also in art. 

Dean: But hold on. That leads me to think about the binary. Is nature also disposed to produce its opposite: asymmetry? There is more to art than symmetry.

Matisse: Yes. Its opposite, asymmetry, is present. But now the artist must find “proportion.” Both principles are there: symmetry is dominant, and asymmetry is subdominant.

Dean: What do you mean?

Matisse: In music the subdominant and the dominant are about the function of a given harmony. It's not got so much to do with flat or sharp, but the function of a chord and where it wants to resolve. Symmetry is the resolution.

Dean: Okay. What does that tell us about evolution?

Matisse: Art works through a process of proportional systems that includes balancing opposites. That balance must also carry a dynamic in which symmetry is the dominant theme.

Dean: So there is a constant push toward symmetry—like there is toward harmony in music. It is a kind of Gestalt theory: we want to complete something that seems incomplete. That goes with a theory of the synthesizing of opposites and with a push toward unity. We say the quest is, paradoxically, for “unity in plurality.”

Jane: All these principles apply in art: balancing light and shadow, balancing color combinations. There are many different principles for judging art.

Dean: How many principles? What do you think? Principles. A big number of them? (Matisse is silent until suddenly:) 


(A breathtaking silence ensues at the intensity and import of his exclamations.)

Jane: (finally breaking the silence.) I agree. Art cannot be explained by philosophy. But there are principles in aesthetics.

Matisse: Look. Art evolves along with the evolution of culture. You have to look inside a culture to see its principles.

Mary: Each culture?

Matisse: Yes. Ma Yuan was a Chinese landscape painter of the 12th century. He developed a style that is still honored. (Pauses.) He emphasized principles that have been referred to as “lyrical, evocative, restrained.” He broke from the grandiosity of art done in  earlier centuries in China. The most striking character of Ma Yuan’s ink paintings was their “asymmetrical composition.” (The Dean is thinking of the opposition in these paired principles of “lyrical” with “restrained.”) Kornberg is thinking of how a carbon atom with four different atoms attached is called “asymmetrical.”) His painting of trees, rocks, and human figures achieved what critics call a “balanced asymmetry.”[xiv]

Barbara: Ooo. What is that? Is it on your chart?

Matisse: It is produced in the context of a culture and ...

Dean: …and all culture evolved from nature. The principles of art have to be found in nature.

Benedict: This is true of language. Think of Noam Chomsky’s theory on the origins of language. Language was built from within the structure of our brain. Chomsky said the brain lays the foundation for language. And notice. Our body has symmetry; a right arm, left arm; a right brain and a left brain. Why not art?

Dean: Right. So, does art evolve like the body’s symmetry?

Benedict: Is today’s brain – with its developed symbolic consciousness -- now allowing us to look more closely into its original nature?  Does each new form include past forms, and then transcend them?

Matisse: (He is not accustomed to this mode of thinking, but he looks at his notes.) Karin Albert says, “The principles of art are born in nature.” She makes her case with the art of Chinese bonsai, or penjing. Have you heard of it? (The Dean nods Yes.) Bonsai is a 3000-year old tradition of art. It connects directly with nature and builds its own purpose. Bonsai, or penjing, is an art for creating miniature expressions of nature, in trees and rock landscapes. Any of you students ever hear of that?

Barbara: I have heard of Bonsai, but I can’t tell you anything about it. (Everybody chuckles.)

Prof. Here is a summary of principles taken from Chinese masters. (He passes out a sheet of paper with the title  “Principles of Art.”) Notice how these principles are close to what the Dean has been talking about: for example, “opposition, subtlety, and the unconscious” are listed among these principles. (He pauses to let students skim through most of what is on the paper.)

Chinese Principles of Art

Implicitness. A good work of art both conceals and reveals. Suggestiveness evokes associations and stimulates the mind. It also allows us to look at a piece over and over again with fresh eyes, always discovering a new aspect, never feeling fully satiated. The higher the level of implicitness in a penjing, the vaster the depicted scene actually appears to be, and the richer the artistic content.

Ingenious use of opposites. This principle includes contraries—like largeness and smallness, lightness and darkness, bright and subdued colors, verticality and hortizontality. All such contrasts are produced in penjing. Opposing characteristics are carefully orchestrated to complement each other and give rise to a dynamic composition. “The majestic pine tree assumes a softer posture when a curved trunk and branches display a gentle quality amid imposing grandeur.” The soft, elegant willow tree “is most appealing when trained in an upright style, adding firmness to its inherent suppleness.”

Movement. All major ingredients in a penjing—whether trees or rocks—must display qi, an invisible energy force so familiar to Chinese painting and calligraphy. Good planning and coordination are essential so that “this energy force not only becomes noticeable to the perceptive eye but can travel unhampered.”

Void and Substance as complimentary forces. This artistic principle in the Chinese tradition in penjing can also be found in music, theater, painting, and cinema. It is often the empty part in a composition that stirs the imagination. Void creates and sustains qi. Therefore, the resourceful handling of empty spaces is as crucial as the creative use of substance. As is true for the opposing elements employed in artistic design in general, one should contain the other, void should reside in substance, and vice versa, as symbolized by the well-known Daoist emblem of the Tai Chi.

Balance and harmony. Despite the complex pattern of interwoven contrasts, a Chinese masterpiece always conveys a sense of profound harmony. Opposing forces create variation and a strong dynamic quality, and the artist's ultimate challenge consists in the task of balancing these various forces against each other to attain equilibrium.

Interconnectedness. Not one element in a penjing, regardless how remote from the main parts of the composition, should be completely isolated. Throughout the scene, a clear sense of connection and interdependence should be evident. The direction of a tree's slant and the pattern in a rock's grain often play major roles in the artist's effort to join the various components together.[xv]



Dean: Interesting, and as you say, there is much in these principles that speaks to our assertions about creative change in the universe. This principle of “interconnectedness, ” for example, is applicable across the board, from ancient philosophy to modern physics. Professor Parsons called it “sociality.” It starts with the Big Bang and advancing through human agency, persists in civilizations, from the China of Lao Tse to the Europe of Albert Einstein.

And look at those other principles. They describe, not just the art created by individual human beings, but also the art of “nature.” This is how we see nature changing itself. For us, there is always something hidden behind the visible.

Matisse: You asked about “numbers.” Think of all the elements that are at work here: their combinations and permutations are endless.

While basic elements in painting include line, shape, space, value, color, and texture, these are significant by their absence as by their presence in a work. Aestheticians point to other “principles”: emphasis, balance, rhythm, contrast, movement and harmony, dynamics and symmetry. And each of these has subcategories. Now imagine the infinite number of groupings and amalgamations of them—along with their absence—and it will be clear that there is a great potential for art to keep evolving.

Dean: You have a history of art in civilization but no history of “art” in nature—in the stars. Look at those elements combined in your oil-and water-based pigments. All those elements were created and buried in the earth. (Matisse looks puzzled.) Perhaps we need a course on “The History of the Earth as a work of Art.”

Matisse: Why?

Dean: This would bring art historians and historians of nature together. We need a new perspective on art. We learned how bird species can see other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum than humans do. Some artists are endowed with senses that provide extraordinary insight into nature. (Tom, in biology, perks up .)

Matisse: Well, scientists should study synaesthesia. [xvi]   

Dean: Synaesthesia? What’s that?

Mattise: Synaethesia is the crossing of different sense experiences. People with this condition see colors and numbers together—or the simultaneous interplay of music and colors: the stimulation of one sense leads to the stimulation of another sense as well.[xvii]

Dean: Whatever do you mean?

Matisse: Wassily Kandinsky was among the first artists to paint abstractions in the 20th century. In 1889 he wrote about traveling north of Moscow and suddenly seeing houses and churches decorated with shimmering colors that went beyond what was natural. He had a sense of color that was independent of the objects themselves. He said that artists are “at the tip of an upward moving triangle progressing and penetrating into tomorrow.”

Dean: Could artists forecast the future?

Matisse: I’m not sure, but Kandinsky could apprehend sounds and colors simultaneously. Could that capacity be part of our future? [xviii]  

Kornberg: To see music or taste words—if that’s the sort of thing you mean by synaesthesia— capacities like that could be a cross wiring in the brain, an accident of nature.

Dean: But you said that this is how nature works in science —by chance. Nature “experiments.” Professor Matisse, please tell us more about this condition, and how works.[xix]

Matisse: Kandinsky heard tones and chords when he painted. When he thought the color “yellow,” the tone he heard was middle-C on a piano. Combinations of colors would produce vibration frequencies linked to chords played on an instrument. “Black” was the color of closure. Kandinsky believed that the universe was filled with auras and "thought-forms." [xx]

Dean: Have scientists also experienced synaesthesia?

Kornberg: Ahem (gravely). The Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman had synaesthesia. When he saw equations he also saw colors.

Matisse: Scientists and artists should come together to study synaesthesia. (He looks at the Dean.)

Dean: Tell us about other painters. How do their emotions shape what they paint? New emotions must be part of the evolutionary process.

Matisse: August Strindberg turned to painting in a time of personal crisis, when his life turned upside down. The landscape outside Stockholm became his “painting story.” The landscape was a metaphor for turmoil—the turbulent waves on rocks and changing skies! Other painters, like Van Gogh, painted landscapes out of the anguish they felt inside. Words were not enough: paintings tell their story better without words.

Jane, do you have any of Strindberg’s work? (Jane has a print of Strindberg’s painting called “The Wave VII” [Vågen II], dated 1901.  She passes it down the front row of students.) This offers insight into a troubled spirit. (Matisse is urging students to feel what is in the paintings, while the Dean is urging them to think about them as indicative of evolution.)

Dean: What can painters tell us about evolution? Painters have a purpose—don’t they?—but scientists say evolution happens by chance and accident.

Matisse: Well, hold on. Strindberg believed that chance was a part of nature and art. Strindberg’s work anticipated the appearance of Surrealism and Expressionism. Chance and purpose are not mutually exclusive; they go together.

Strindberg laid paint on the canvas in thick gobbets; some fell accidentally from his brush. The accidents lead him to seascapes of rare beauty and power.  

Dean: Chance?

Matisse: Strindberg drew parallels. He said that the Malaysians drill holes in bamboo stalks that grow in their forests. When the wind blows, they lie on the ground and listen to the “symphonies.” They cannot tell which way the winds will blow each day. For them, these stalks of bamboo were like gigantic Aeolian harps: each listener hears a unique tune according to the whim of the wind.

Dean: So nature has its own art – if you can understand it.

Matisse: And if you can see it. Strindberg tells us how weavers use a kaleidoscope to discover new patterns, leaving “chance” to arrange the bits of colored glass. Artists take advantage of accidents in nature and then work with them. [xxi]

Dean: What do you think? (He looks at Professor Kornberg.)  

Kornberg: Stephen Gould, the paleontologist, believed that evolution is "contingent," that chance plays a role in it. If you were to start within the same natural system, as in the Cambrian Explosion, evolution would occur, but the precise results would not repeat over multiple trials.[xxii] (The Dean can see students stumbling over the meaning of this statement and so nods to Matisse to go on ahead.)

Matisse: There are "motifs" for each one of Strindberg’s paintings. You can see, for example, stormy skies, agitated waves, a lonely rock by the sea. Some landscapes are half-embedded in his material. He wanted to show how nature was being created through him. The tactile surface in Strindberg’s paintings is emphasized so that it has the impression of being nature itself. (He passes around a print of Strindberg’s “High Seas.”)[xxiii]

Benedict: Artists explore the frontiers of consciousness.

Matisse: (Pleased at this supporting comment.) When Strindberg’s paintings first appeared, they could not be sold. People could not “see” them well enough to understand them. They had no apparent meaning.

Barbara: Why?

Matisse: People were used to traditional paintings. They wanted to see an ocean precisely in the way their eyes saw it, maybe enhanced with more color. Strindberg urged them to go beyond the evidence of their eyes alone. (Everybody looks quizzical; he continues.)  We are used to just seeing a body of water. But an ocean is more than that. Feelings could be as deep as an ocean, maybe deeper. There may not be an object. (Students look interested.)

Jerry: Whaddya mean?

Matisse: Lust is a specific desire—for a specific thing. (He looks at Jerry, who smiles along with his fellow students.) But lustiness is a general feeling. It may not have an object. (Pause. Jerry’s eyebrows knit.)

Pain is a reaction to a specific object (your tooth hurts), but suffering may not have an object. Strindberg’s feelings were deeper, in this way, than the feeling attached to a specific object. (Some students are interested but still look quizzical.) What can I say? We may feel terror at times, but a diffuse sense of terror that has no object. Strindberg’s work led to a new style of painting. You may know painters like Edvard Munch. (Pause.)

Barbara: Edvard Munch. I saw his painting called “The Scream.” I heard it was stolen.[xxiv] (The Dean immediately thinks of how people are repelled by—and attracted to paintings like this by Munch.)

Matisse: Yes, but it was recovered. The paintings of Munch and Strindberg illustrate feelings, like panic and angst, without an object. Some feelings, we cannot put into words.[xxv]

Benedict: There is a war between body and mind. The war can go unconscious, but you still feel it. We have not created the words for it.

Dean: This war—between body and mind—is in Hegel. This is how I read him. Human evolution means moving from the pure experience of our bodies to our mind, and finally to the soul. (Matisse notices that the Dean leaves out Hegel’s reference to “Spirit,” or God. And what could he mean by “soul”?)

At any stage of human development, the higher stage can repress the lower. Today we assume that the mind with its symbols is “higher” and can repress the “lower” impulses in the body. I mean: the “higher” can isolate and reject the lower instead of embracing it. Psychoanalysts say this can cause a depression. (Matisse nods.) In the days of Kierkegaard, it was called melancholia.

Dean: In our first years of life, we are just bodily impulses and emotions. That’s all. But around age two, our mind begins to work on building symbols. A child’s emotions are also growing and synthesizing the body with the mind. By age six, the practical (ego) mind has emerged. Now begins a war between them.

If this symbolic mind synthesizes all those early bodily impulses and feelings, everything is fine. But if a synthesis between body-and-mind does not happen, there is trouble. Repressed feelings come forth in disguised form, such as fear, anxiety, angst, or melancholia. Most people are out of touch with their bodies. They lose their impulse to rage and cry. Life for them is deadened, full of dread.  

Matisse: I see. Do you mean to say that painters like Strindberg and Munch, or writers like Kierkegaard, underwent this type of experience?

Dean: Kierkegaard’s father was brutal toward his son. His son, Søren, was repressed—if I can put it that way, filled with fear. I suspect he did not integrate his bodily feelings with his mind’s obsessions. Those of us who are depressed have to go back and get in touch with those impulses again. We must make friends with our body’s impulses. (He is speaking empathically in the common first person plural “we,” but he has been under the weather lately. Jane is alert to this fact. Kathleen feels a kick in her tummy.) Then we can transcend childhood. (Matisse sees that the Dean is not associating “transcendence” with spirituality—which for Matisse means God—but with stages going from childhood to adulthood.)  

Are there any questions from students?

Does this make sense? (Silence.)

Jane: I take a Yoga class on campus. (Smiles appear.) Yoga and therapy are about getting in touch with your body. (She pauses as a rumple of humor creases through the class.) We do too much THINKING on this campus! (The class roars. This looks like a barb tossed at the Dean. The Dean is aware of the loss of Jane’s father and hesitates, not sure what to say.) 

Dean: We are still learning. (The Dean is an idealist. But he does not believe in anything “otherworldly.”) Yes, we need to be grounded in our body. If you forget the body, you go “winging” into the stratosphere of thought. Your wings will burn off in the sun, like Daedalus’s.

Matisse: But there are painters who are rooted in the body  and still paint what they see on the “other side.” Medieval painters saw halos and images of angels. Our transcendent capacity to see the “other side” is evolving. (This statement does not go over with the Dean, and so Benedict picks up the argument quickly to support Matisse’s position.)

Benedict: The medieval period was one stage in seeing, but today you should look at the paintings of people like Barbara Ann Brennan and Mother Meera. They are not depressed, and they paint what our physical eyes cannot see.[xxvi]

Kornberg: This is fantasy. (Professor Benedict had broached this subject to him at the art museum, and now the issue is fully out in the open.)

Benedict: I recommend reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. He was meditating one day when the guru, his Master, summoned him. His guru said: “Your mind is distributed like leaves in a storm. Mountains cannot give you what you want.” Then his guru struck Yogananda gently on his chest above the heart. (She speaks directly to the Dean.) Suddenly Yogananda felt his body rooted in the ground. His guru had done this for him. He tells how his breath was drawn out of his lungs like a magnet. He lost all physical grounding. His “soul,” he said, streamed out of his body like a fluid piercing light from every pore of “my being”: “my flesh was dead,” he said. His identity was no longer with his material body. The roots of plants and trees appeared through some dim transparency of the soil, and some “oceanic joy” broke upon  “the shores of my soul.” [xxvii]   (This not what the Dean wants to hear.)

Dean: Interesting. Mysticism is not my field.

Matisse: (speaking up:)You must have read Alfred North Whitehead. (The Dean shrugs his shoulders.) He said that mysticism is a direct insight into “depths of the yet unspoken.” 

Dean: (Shrugs again.) Whitehead’s philosophy is about creativity. He wrote about art as an experience of beauty.[xxviii]  (He turns to the class to change the subject.)

Who is your favorite painter?

Jerry: Andrew Wyeth.

Dean: Good. He was realistic. Wyeth had a mute tone, a sense of restraint in his work, evenness. He described his approach as "seeing a lot in nothing." His temperas and watercolors are like sepia-toned photography, a strong allegiance to representation. (Matisse is listening respectfully, but he sees Wyeth’s paintings differently, as “clinging to reality.”) He loved “earth tones.”  

Matisse: He painted the simple, the weathered, the old; the scene that no one would notice except for the single spot that makes it come alive. Yes.

His painting of Christina and her struggle to get up the hill – that moved me. (Looking to the class.) I should tell you all – since I don’t have that print with me — Wyeth had a friend, Christina, who was paralyzed; she could not walk. She could only crawl slowly, and this painting shows her flat on the ground. Her house is uphill, far away for someone who cannot walk. It would have been a tremendous struggle for her to get home, up that hill.

Dean: Wyeth painted what was real. (The Dean loves the Earth as the Earth, while Matisse sees the Earth more as an expression of the Divine. Benedict sees the difference between them and supports Matisse.)

Benedict: Dean, maybe these oppositions between Heaven and Earth—as they are manifest in world myth, and sometimes in art—are the most powerful force driving the evolution of civilization. 

Dean: I see a tension between what is “real” versus what is “ideal.” That’s all. (He takes away the implication of an actual “heaven.”)

Benedict: Yogananda describes his meetings with Mahavatar Babaji in his Autobiography. Babaji has passed beyond the Maya. Yet some people could see him. (The Dean’s eyes scan the floor. He is upset over the direction this “history of art” is taking with Professors Matisse and Benedict, but he doesn’t know how to turn it back toward the path he’d prefer.) 

Jane: Could you explain “Maya”? How does that apply to evolution?

Benedict: In the Hindu tradition, Maya is a goddess who appears—or manifests—as the duality in the Universe. Remember Isaac Newton? Professor Kornberg can tell you how Newton’s Law of Motion exemplifies the law of Maya. How would you put it? (She looks to Kornberg.)

Kornberg: Simple. To every action there is an equal contrary reaction. Action and reaction are equal. There is always a pair of forces that are equal and opposite. You see this in electricity.

Jane: What do you mean?

Benedict: He means that electricity is driven by repulsion and attraction. (again, looking to Kornberg.) Am I right?

Kornberg: Electrons and protons are electrical opposites. The Earth is a magnet with positive and negative poles. We talked about this “polarity” in an earlier class; no law of science is ever free from some opposition.

Benedict: And so, science cannot formulate laws outside of Maya. Look, Maya embodies all the dualities—and that includes all things that have the appearance of created entities: whatever can be compared or contrasted to anything else—it encompasses all of the opposites. Maya  appears as the shape and structure of the forms of creation. I stress the word appears, because everything that is created is finite, has a limited life span, or to paraphrase William Butler Yeats in his poem “Sailing to Byzantium”: whatever is begotten and is born, also dies. As the manifestation of the forms of creation—which are all impermanent, temporary—Maya is considered to be an illusion. And yet Maya is what scientists focus on, exploring all its dimensions. (Kornberg shakes his head.) Science, I’m saying, cannot reach the Absolute. From the Hindu perspective, it is powerless to detect the laws of the—I quote—“original Artist.” (Her argument with Kornberg is clear. She smiles as she looks at Jane.) Why are you taking Yoga?

Jane:  Because it makes me feel better.

Benedict: Yes. And Buddhists say we keep clinging to the law of polarity: sad and happy, flow and ebb, rise and fall, day and night, pleasure and pain, birth and death. The same song keeps playing. 

Jane: I see, like good versus evil.

Benedict: What we tend to think of as real—material objects and mental preoccupations—in India is considered to be illusory, a veil hiding the reality of universal Truth. And in India, you would find that Yoga is practiced to tear away the veil of Maya, to pierce the secret of creation. (The Dean is looking out the window.) Maya is the goddess of scientists in the West, and anywhere there has been a preponderance of Western influence. (Kornberg, equally upset, appears to be contemplating the ceiling.) But Hindus say that scientists cannot know the “Truth”: you cannot know the Truth, that is, merely by focusing on illusion. (They have debated this issue before, and in spite of the tempering effect of politeness, Kornberg is now compelled to speak.)

Kornberg: Maya is a myth. It cannot explain nature.

Benedict: Each myth has its truth. It is part of our quest. This is what art is about: discovery. And what nature is about: transcending. (She realizes that the “nature” she is discussing is based a more creative concept than that based on the static view of Newton.)

Dean: (Hoping to change the subject.) Professor Matisse, could you talk to us about aesthetics and its history? Surely aesthetics is important for any discussion of art history.

Matisse: Yes, indeed. I asked Jane to speak on aesthetics. Jane, if you will.  (He goes to the blackboard and writes:)


Jane: (She stands up with some anxiety – knowing that she is not an authority on the subject.)

Aesthetics began in the 1700s with philosophers like David Hume and Immanuel Kant. They wanted to bring all the arts under one category. They wondered whether anyone could have an objective judgment about art. Are judgments about art only subjective, in the eye of the beholder alone? [xxix]  (Kornberg is attentive.)

Great writers—like John Ruskin, Herbert Read, Morris Collis, and Eric Newton—began to look at art from a wide angle. They wanted some “objective” ground for evaluating what’s good and bad art. (She pauses and looks to Professor Matisse; he nods for her to continue.) Kant wrote about the idea of “pure beauty.” He said that pure beauty does not just gratify the senses. It’s not just based on sensation or attraction and is not just utilitarian. Its purpose is “appreciation.” It “pleases” the mind through some abstract feeling that holds our attention. We want to contemplate a work of art. Art is an end in itself. Art exists for its own sake.

Dean: How did this idea evolve?

Jane: The field of aesthetics began as a theory of beauty, and it developed from there. New theories evolved. In the eighteenth century, philosophers began to see art as an expression of both beauty and the sublime. Edmund Burke wrote that the sublime could connect with pain. There could be “delightful horror,” he said. From that point on, the words to explain art kept developing. This added new perceptions about its nature as being something that developed. People talked about “discrimination” in fine art. Words like taste, sensitivity, and perfection were discussed.

Artists kept developing new styles, and feelings about what was expressed in works of art became more complex: (she looks to her notes) “joyful,” “melancholy,” “serene,” “witty,” “vulgar,” “humble” and more -- all connected with art for its own sake.[xxx]  (She pauses.)

Kornberg: For its own sake… I can see how art evokes emotions, but so what? I see cartoons in the newspaper that evoke emotions and look like art to me.

Jane: I’m not finished. (Rather bold.) Newspaper cartoons—that’s a craft, a technique. Arnold Hauser argued that “tastes” could be ranked. “High art” is different from “popular art” because of the significance of its content. He wrote about the nature of creativity in high art. (She looks to professor Matisse for help, but he nods for her to keep going.) But Roger Taylor argued for the “leveler’s” view. He said that the opera “Aida” and the movie “The Sound of Music” have equal value for different audiences. These are different categories of art expression in different mediums. Judgments correspond to their respective category and are judged within its norms. The norms of high art are different from the norms for cartoons or graffiti.

Dean: Interesting.  Look at all these categories (points to the blackboard listing the styles in “Art History”). They each have norms within which artists develop standards of judgment. Each period is judged according to the rules of its style.

Jane: I think art is developing a new way for us to see into nature. It tells us about who we are.  I wrote a paper on aesthetics. (She looks at an outline of her paper before she proceeds.) I’ll try to move quickly now, and name some other prominent contributors to ideas about Aesthetics and what led up to it.

Plato thought that our intuition of what is beautiful is reminiscent of a previous existence. Well, today Plato might agree with Tom, that beauty is hidden in our DNA. Or, maybe it is passed on from some “past life.” (Smiles, looking at the Dean, who frowns.)

Aristotle separated the “pleasure” in art from its “utility.” He connected the excellence in art to knowledge and discovery. That was a big step forward. It helped lay the basis for aesthetics.

Plotinus followed Plato’s thinking; but he claimed that objects, which appear ugly, need to be interpreted by Reason. Reason tells us that absolute beauty is more than just beautiful.

For G.W.F. Hegel… Art shows life as different from “the true,” which is not sensuous. The form of the beautiful is “unity of the many.” This means there is a mutual dependence of all parts—of a painting, say—in unity. Hegel sees beauty in organic life. Art makes up for the deficiencies of nature by bringing them into a clearer light.

 In his Essays on the Intellectual Powers, Thomas Reid says art produces a certain agreeable emotion, but also possesses some perfection or excellence.

David Hume, in his Aesthetic Theory, traces the roots of aesthetics as being in the development of “sentiment” and “taste.”

Edmund Burkein his Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful— tried to figure out the physical elements of beauty. According to him, these were: (1) smallness; (2) smoothness; (3) gradual variation of direction in gentle curves; (4) delicacy, or the appearance of fragility; (5) brightness, purity, and softness of color.

Dean: This theory looks like a stage in the history of art about as primitive as the stage of thinking about astronomy at the time of Ptolemy and Copernicus.

Jane: Well, Theodore Adorno, a theorist in the 20th century, isn’t primitive at all. In his Aesthetic Theory, he looks at the old concepts of the sublime, the ugly, and the beautiful, and says that concepts such as these are “reservoirs of human experience.” These experiences underlie aesthetics. It sounds like they are part of our past way of thinking and understanding. He says, “Art is the sedimented history of human misery.” He rejects any strict linearity in thought about art, and emphasizes how “circuits of reference, allusion, and repetition” are an important basis to interpret art.

Frankly. I confess right here (looking at the Dean) that Adorno is over my head. He is very hard to understand, I just have to tell you. (Everybody laughs, delighted at her openness.)  He proposes that redemption happens by artistic “ciphers of negation.”[xxxi]

But I’m sorry; I have to stop now. This is beyond me.

Professor Matisse should explain Adorno to you.

Dean: Maybe your detailing of Aesthetics for us has reached the 20th century stage of Physics when quantum theory was discovered.)

Matisse: I’m not big on art theory. (He knows Adorno’s theory, but it will be a distraction in this class.) The point is that you can see how ideas about art developed in art history. Jane did not mention Clive Bell and Roger Fry in the first decades of the twentieth century. They promoted a “formalist theory.”

Bell’s question was: “What quality is shared by all objects that provoke aesthetic emotions?” The answer for Bell was “significant form”: In each work of art, lines and colors combine in a particular way; certain forms and relations of forms, stir higher emotions. These relations and combinations of lines and colors are common to all visual art. [xxxii]  

Dean: What about evolution in all of this?

Matisse: I see evolution as the way art increases human sensitivities and emotional intelligence. You can see this in art history as Jane and I have been presenting it. Our emotions are evolving with intelligence. How is beauty seen inside something that appears as ugly on the surface? (Pause.) How is it possible to see something simple inside something that looks complex? (Pause.) Art elevates the mind; it transforms bodily impulses, some say, and the body’s base emotions. Some would also claim that it preserves the “base” in a new feeling of appreciation. It stimulates a sense of life, and gives vitality to the soul. Art gives freedom to the human spirit to wander and wonder. It is my real joy. (Students appreciate the words of Matisse and the feeling this gives to them; some lift their hands, to start to clap.)

Kornberg: (cutting through the joy that has been expressed, joy the Dean can see in Matisse’s eyes.)

But who is the judge of art?

Matisse: There are three judges: the audience, the professionals, and the artist. Each emphasizes different aspects of “aesthetic emotion.”

Kornberg: (whispers aloud) “Aesthetic emotion”?

Matisse: Aesthetic emotion stimulates some normal feeling, but goes beyond it. (Kornberg face takes on the expression reads: Whaddya mean?) It can evoke a loathing, for example, but it’s not limited to loathing; it goes beyond that feeling. It can express hate, but it goes beyond that. It transforms those emotional energies from the lower to the higher.

Dean: Interesting. (Not fully satisfied, there is so much more that could be said by way of explanation, if they had the time…) Class, any questions?

Barbara: Professor, do you see the universe as a work of art?

Matisse: Oh. I must tell you a story that speaks to that question.

I knew a man who was blind from early childhood. As an adult he had surgery done on his eyes, and a newspaper reporter followed the story on the day of his recovery. After he was released from the hospital, the man walked out the door and to the sidewalk—dazed, amazed, looking at everything he could see. He went to the curb of the sidewalk and saw a wrinkled, dirty old piece of paper thrown in the gutter. He picked it up and said: “How beautiful!” 

Well, there you are. This dirty, useless, crumpled old paper would be ugly to us. It should just be tossed in the trash. But he could see lines, shape, and color for the first time. Even if it was only black and white! He took the piece of paper home. (The story is affecting for the students, but  not  for Kornberg.)

Kornberg: I still don’t know. What is art? (His response appears to be purely cynical, but it masks a certain amount of respect: He praised great works he saw at the art museum with Margaret Benedict.)

Matisse: Let’s go back to Jane’s talk on aesthetics. Aristotle said art is an imitation of life, but he meant something more than you might think. He said artists are different from historians: the latter are obsessed with absolute accuracy when they record human events, but artists point to what is universal. Art sensitizes us to what is common to humanity. (He decides to shift the dialogue to students to avoid endless debate with Kornberg.) What do students think is common to humanity?

Ann: (Majoring in theater.) You mean, like tragedy is common to humanity? Universal?

Matisse: (another whisper out loud) Say how? It’s complex.

Ann: People watching a play feel tragedy by experiencing each sequence of scenes played by the actors. Tragedy is understood by living through the story, by audience members identifying with a play’s characters going through each event.[xxxiii]

Matisse: That’s how you get to a universal truth.

Kornberg: A universal truth? (Really skeptical.)

Matisse: A universal truth is about what is common to all of us. This truth has life and meaning for our experiences, beyond those of one individual. 

Ann: But I thought the Greeks said truth was about ideas. They did not say it was a feeling for life, or an experience.

Alice: (In philosophy.) Aristotle said that art is the realization of a true idea. By the imitation of real life, one could get to the real nature of things.

Dean: What does he mean by “the nature of things”?

Ann: Aristotle speaks of Heraclitus, who taught about Logos. For Heraklitus, logos was the fundamental order of the universe. Everything is impermanent, but dependent on this principle of order or logos, which is fundamental to all the change going on.[xxxiv]  

Alice: Aristotle says that artists portray conditions that are universal -- from happiness to misery. This could mean all human emotions. (The Dean nods for “more.”)

In a play, an audience has empathy with the actors when they experience a tragedy. They feel a deep sadness, a depression perhaps, but the audience has it all from a distance. The audience is not in the play itself. They are participant observers.

Ann: Wait. Plato is different! He didn’t go in for emotions. (The Dean beams, pleased with how students are debating among themselves.)

Alice: Well. Aristotle wanted to know what was “real” in physical nature; and Plato wanted to know the “ideal” behind nature. (The Dean nods again.) Aristotle saw the oak seed developing into an oak tree and Plato saw the oak tree as a poor copy of a perfect, eternal, and changeless world of Being. The beauty of a tree would be for Plato an imperfect copy of an eternal form of Beauty.[xxxv] 

Kornberg: I don’t mean to be rude. But what is art? Could somebody give me a definition? (He looks at Jane who is frozen. She does not know the answer.  She looks at Matisse, who steps in easily.)

Matisse: Art is not philosophy. Art is not history. Art is not science. Here is what you need to know: Art cannot be defined except in negative terms, by what it is not.

Kornberg: Why… or why not?

Matisse: Because it cannot be enclosed by a boundary of the mind. Every definition of a subject places some limit on it. Art will not be imprisoned by any limits. You cannot pin it down. One of my friends once said: it is like the ocean. I say it is like the universe: It is the very subject of creation, and it keeps evolving. (Silence.)  

The artist, that is to say, is a creator, an inventor. (This fits the Dean’s perspective.)

You have to be with a work of art—ponder and study it, but also just be with it—to start to understand it. You have to see a Donatello sculpture to realize magnificence. You have stand before a Brueghel painting of flowers to begin to know its beauty. You have to hear a Mendelssohn concerto to know its power. (He speaks with such authority and passion that the class is riveted.)

Dean: (quietly, respectfully) Would you say then that Nature is a work of art?

Matisse: Do you mean some part of Nature?—A flower? A tree? A sunset? Yes. But do you have the eyes to see in this way? It all depends on your level of consciousness. Shakespeare’s Hamlet spoke about the purpose of a play: “To hold up a mirror to nature.” (Kathleen thinks, “We are made in the image of God.) Questions?

Dean: So nature “is us.” (He wonders whether any of the students hear the allusion in his words: from Walt Kelly’s Pogo saying, “We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.”). We are nature, transforming.

Matisse: Aristotle saw art as “perfecting nature.” Yes. Plato bases his argument in the Phaedo on the imperfection of sensible objects and our ability to make judgments about them.

Alice: Plato’s Forms are supposed to be the perfect images of what we see in nature.

Matisse: Artists could be searching for what is “Perfect” inside the imperfect.

Dean: How?

Matisse: Well. Maybe Plato’s forms of the Perfect are there in the art for those who can understand. Could art bring forth into consciousness what is unconscious? Remember the Big Bang. You said our identity is hidden in that beginning.[xxxvi]

Alice: (mustering courage) I still think artists create a painting in search of what is universal.

Dean: (who once taught philosophy) Ah! You know your philosophy. We are part of a “being that is becoming.” Our original nature is hidden.  (The Dean is recalling ideas they’ve discussed in earlier classes.)

We are connected to the stars that created the elements that created the molecules that created the eukaryotes and that led to our animal bodies. Artists are participating in this self-creation.

Benedict: (Looking at Kornberg). But, now the human brain is evolving. It is part of our physical evolution.

Dean: Hmmm. That sounds right. But say more, if you would.

Benedict: “Fear” was born in the reptilian brain. —It’s still with us. Then, a capacity for “caring” evolved in the mammalian brain. That’s also still with us. Now we are transforming these old energies through the neocortex.[xxxvii]

I wonder, what’s ahead for the brain and its consciousness?

Mary: Can you see artists putting reptile energies into their art? (to Matisse.)[xxxviii]

Matisse: Well. Artists experience rage like most of us. They channel it onto their canvases. They take their “reptile” and put it into black-and-white or colors, and maybe break it into parts. On your way out, look at Pablo Picasso’s Guernica on the wall there. It’s full of rage. (He points toward a reproduction of Picasso’s painting in the hallway into the auditorium.)[xxxix]

 Dean: Can we conclude that emotions are evolving through art? (looking to Professor Benedict for validation)

Benedict: (nodding) Australopithecus had the experience of fear and rage, but he could not have understood Picasso’s painting. (The class laughs.) Pithecanthropus could not have understood the feelings of Shakespeare. Neanderthal was too early in evolution to know the compassion of Buddha or Jesus. Cro-Magnon could not have appreciated Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Yes, there is an evolution of emotions. (She pauses.)

Mary: I’ve looked at that painting by Picasso. It’s a refinement of reptile rage. It now has its own power. Wow! (There is some laughter. How could Mary have thought of that?)

Matisse: Aristotle said that art is “perfecting” nature. Dean, I think you are right. We can say: nature “is us.”

Dean: Nature is working through us… (The Dean is an agnostic and does not trust religion, but Kathleen’s faith now prompts her to speak.)

Kathleen: People kill. People torture. Jesus said, “Be ye perfect even as God is perfect,” but how many try to follow that? And with all the technology spreading around the world, what lies ahead?

Dean: (Shuddering.) A nuclear war, maybe.

Kornberg: Where has all the beauty gone, then? (He is joking, but with a tinge of sarcasm mingled with  sadness.)

Dean: From this perspective on evolution, the future should be more complex.

Ann: But you also said simpler. Complexity and simplicity are both principles of evolution. They increase together paradoxically. (The Dean nods hesitantly, not knowing how to illustrate war as “simple” in any way)

Matisse: What about love? (His voice catches.)

Dean : This could be the right direction to go in from any talk about war. (But Matisse’s reference to love is an idea that lacks power in this heady discussion. Kornberg thinks: “Matisse is talking ‘saccharin.’”  Benedict thinks: “I hear pain in his voice.”)

Jane: My father suffered before he died.  I asked:  “Couldn’t God prevent this? Where is God? Where is love?” (Silence.) We all die. That’s what we have in common. We just live and die. (Quiet.)

Dean: (This strikes a chord with the Dean who has been thinking about aging, and dying. He is waiting for a diagnosis from his doctor and worried about what he may hear.) Jane, let me quote my favorite artist. He paints with words (smiling):

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts…

… and the last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


From Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. Sans means “without” in French. (The class is taken aback, amazed at how the Dean has memorized these lines and brought forth his own feeling in reciting them. Matisse sees a mist in the Dean’s eyes.)

Ann: (breaking the silence) Life sounds pretty scary. There has to be some purpose for our living in this earth.

Dean: Yes, of course there is a purpose, a great purpose. We are here to gather knowledge and understanding about who we are, and I don’t just mean today in this class. (There is a mix of humor and sadness, an embarrassed laugh. Suddenly the Dean brightens.) Well, think about where we have been! It took a lot of labor for atoms to transform into molecules. (Looks to Kathleen.) And there has to be a lot of labor to have a baby. (She smiles, and everyone laughs again.) We go through some pain and labor to grow up in this world. (Jane shudders—But why so much pain?” The Dean looks at Kathleen kindly, then toward Matisse to pick up the history.) Please carry on…

Matisse: Paintings hold a mystery about life and its purpose.  

Dean: What do you mean?

Matisse: Jane, would you pass around those photocopies? You know, of the Holbein painting I gave to you for this class? (Jane reaches into a briefcase by her side and brings out prints of a painting by Hans Holbein. She passes them along the aisle. Professor Matisse goes to the blackboard to write.


The Painting

This is a painting called The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb. Hans Holbein painted it in 1521. If you have your laptops, you could Google it.[xl] I want you to look at this painting and tell me what you see. (He waits for Jane to finish distributing the prints.)

Jane tells me that you talked about the novel by Dostoevsky called The Idiot. In that book, the Prince is the Idiot. The Prince, Prince Myshkin, saw Holbein’s painting of the dead Christ and was shocked at its rudeness. It was just a dead body in a horrible condition. 

Rogozhin, the Prince’s friend, said there was no trace of beauty in this painting. Look at it, what do you see? (No response.) What do you think?

Kathleen: (She reads the Bible everyday.) Jesus has been beaten. He has gone through a terrible torment. I see agony in his face.

Matisse: Yes. Everybody… keep looking. Tell me what you see. (No one says a word. Soon there is tension in the waiting silence.)

Barbara: It makes me feel some dark, senseless power in this world. We will all look like this some day.

Jerry: This is the way any dead body would look – without the help of a funeral director. (The class breaks into laughter, relieved.)

Alice: I have seen Jesus painted with greater artistry. This is ugly.  

Matisse: Artists have favored a beatific vision of Jesus. You may have seen Grunwald’s Christ in the Isenheim Altarpiece of 1500. In that as in most paintings, Jesus is shown on a cross while others are standing below his body, grieving. People can identify with the witnesses. But here in the Holbein painting, Jesus is laid out in the tomb alone. Nobody else is in the picture. (Waits.)

Mary: His mouth is open, but he isn’t going to speak, or move. His body is stiff. It is a picture of loneliness. (Mary has been very feeling lonely herself this past week. Her boyfriend at another college has not returned any of her emails. Jane looks at the distorted anguished face and remembers the grief she had felt at her father’s death, at the wake and funeral. She feels sick.)

Alice: Why is this a work of art? There is no beauty here. (She speaks sincerely.)

Matisse: Why? (pauses.) Holbein draws this body horizontally, not the way it’s normally depicted, which is vertically on the cross. The head is bent backwards, awkwardly. There is a contortion of the right hand that bears the stigmata. Look at the position of the feet and the scars. The body is colored with a dark palette of grays, greens, and browns. This body is forsaken totally.

Dean: This is realism. (Silence.)

Ann: (Hesitates). I have to say…the painting is repulsive to me …and…but… I don’t know why, it is also, appealing.

Matisse: Yes. (His voice is hushed. The Dean, on the other hand, is not struck by any spiritual feeling but by the principle of Physics. At her words his thoughts return immediately to the subject of evolution: “Attracts and Repels.” These two opposing forces can be simultaneous in the mind of the beholder.)

Matisse: Ann is right and Jerry is right. It is the death of an ordinary body. There is nothing saintly here, nothing serene. It is banal. The painting shows no pity, no sadness, and no pathos.

Barbara: I still don’t understand. Why is this a great painting! (genuinely perplexed.)

Matisse: (Matisse, a Christian, sees the death of Jesus as related to His transcendence. But he says nothing about this, staying with his professional view.) There are many different paintings of the crucified Christ, as I have suggested, and each painter has a special approach. If you were in my class, I would ask you whether you thought Holbein had picked up the anatomical lesson taught by the Italian painter Mantegna and of Italian Catholicism. Is this painting less sensitive to the human tendency to sin than it is forgiving of sin? Is it influenced by the bucolic, embellishing ecstasy of the Franciscan order of priests? Or is it more like the dolorousness of the Dominicans?[xli] 

Dean: Whew! I’m glad I’m not in your class. I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know the different styles.

Matisse: (Smiles.) Of course, you would have already studied these styles in my class. But keep looking. (Silence.)

Jerry: It looks grotesque. (Waits, looks further.)

Derek: It’s positively ghoulish (he’s picked up this word from films he’s watched).

Matisse: It looked that way to people in Holbein’s time . He was staying in the South of France and was commissioned to make the Danse Macabre. (The class looks mystified.) The Danse was a set of woodcuts representing people living a grotesque life. This work of his said, in effect: No one escapes the hands of death, no one. (He gives Jane a picture of the Danse woodcuts to pass around.) These woodcuts show people living in defiance of death; you see sarcasm on grimacing faces, a mocking smile of death, and no triumph. This is our common destiny; Holbein’s figures suggest that comic laughter is the only answer. Now look again at Holbein’s painting of Christ.

(Looking at this painting is taking its toll on students. Kathleen’s stomach feels unpleasant, is grumbling. Mary is thinking: “Since this is how all of us end up, who are we while we are alive?” Too much of the old grief is welling up in Jane, who turns away from the image.) 

The great French Renaissance painter Rabelais was portraying humankind in “the pursuit of happiness” at about the same time that Holbein was portraying Jesus as this dead man. Some Christians say Holbein was absorbing death into his very being. (The Dean is wondering why Matisse is persisting with this examination. He tries to bring him back to what the Dean had hoped would be a history lesson.)

Dean: This was a time of turmoil in France.  Isn’t that right? Basel was a commercial city overrun by the Protestant iconoclasts. Reformers were destroying the icons of church. Martin Luther was protesting church practices. He hated those Roman Catholic indulgences…

Matisse: Yes, Holbein was Catholic, and the sacking of churches distressed him. He escaped to England to visit Thomas More—with a letter from Erasmus. He hoped to find peace. He was caught between his sympathy for the reform movement and his faith in the Church.

Dean: Help me. Erasmus was a humanist. Right? He complained that King Henry the VIIIth supported Holbein’s work.

Matisse: Holbein worked with this tyrannous king of England. That’s true. The Church was facing division, and people were losing their faith. Now look again at this painting. Everyone. (Many in the class know the story of Jesus’ resurrection in the New Testament: Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, but this painting shows nothing of that story. A quiet moment and then:) The question comes up in The Idiot when Ippolit describes Holbein’s painting of the dead Christ. (Ippolit, you may remember, commits suicide. He not one of the main characters in the novel, but what he has to say about this painting is important.) In his suicide note, Ippolit sees nothing “transcendent” in Holbein’s painting. For him, there is no hope for the world in it. Here is what he says (draws forth his notes to read):


Looking at that picture, you get the impression of nature as some enormous, implacable, and dumb beast, or, to put it more correctly, much more correctly, though it may seem strange, as some huge engine of the latest design, which has senselessly seized, cut to pieces, and swallowed up--impassively and unfeelingly--a great and priceless Being, a Being worth the whole of nature and all its laws, worth the entire earth, which was perhaps created solely for the coming of that Being! The picture seems to give expression to the idea of a dark, insolent, and senselessly eternal power, to which everything is subordinated, and this idea is suggested to you unconsciously.

What are your thoughts about Ippolit’s perspective?

(Jane is recalling her thoughts and feelings of suicide. Unshaken, Kathleen is deep in her faith of Jesus. The Dean is upset that Matisse is spending so much time on the painting. He wants to go back to art history and its connection to evolution. He starts to speak, but Kathleen speaks first.)

Kathleen: The Dean is talking about transformation and transcendence. That’s what I see in this painting.[xlii] (She looks toward the Dean who says nothing. Then she looks to Matisse who is also silent.)

Alice: Jesus is part of this long story. According to the Christian New Testament, He transcended from the earth!  (The Dean balks, refusing to speak.)

Matisse: (Matisse wants the Dean to see what he sees. But if he were to get there, he must adopt the Dean’s vocabulary. Could he speak the Dean’s language?) Aufheben is Hegel’s term for stages of consciousness that become transformed. Each preceding stage is absorbed, and incorporated, into a succeeding—higher—stage. Could this painting show Jesus incorporating his death as a human being before his transcendence? (This is a sudden and blunt question directed primarily to the Dean, who is reluctant to discuss religious beliefs in this class on art history.)  Hegel argues that if the finite and the infinite are set against one another, there is no passage from one to another. In such an isolation of ideas, a synthesis is impossible. But he said further that it is impossible to think of the finite without also thinking of the infinite, so the concept of the finite is not isolated. The finite and the infinite are in a relationship. (Students are impressed by his knowledge of Hegel.)

Dean: Hegel got it right in some respects and not in others. He was able to go just so far in his philosophy.

Matisse: For Hegel, the Absolute—the Infinite—is a process of self-expression through the finite. The Absolute —God—is the “self” in a process of becoming. The Spirit becomes actual—in history. He means that our concept of God is not finished; it is in constant regeneration. (Students are amazed by this abstract discussion and are finding the argument hard to follow. But they are fascinated by the interaction between Matisse and the Dean.)

Dean: Whoa! Hegel thought of history as an incarnation of the Spirit that became personified in the State. The State became the universal. (Smiles). Sorry, I don’t buy it.

Matisse: But some Hegelians say the State is only a “state of mind,” that experience is a dialectical movement. It moves from “in itself” to “for itself,” and then “in and for itself.” Human history aims for the Absolute.

Dean: Hegel thought the “self” was rational. “The rational is real and the real is rational.” (He signs “in quotes” with his fingers.) He forgot what was real: this material world is real; the earth is real. We are in a physical world. (The Dean would like to be done with this talk, in his view, a diversion taken by Matisse. The Dean does not believe in materialism or idealism. He is looking for some new path, perhaps a synthesis of what is true in each belief. He is about to move on when Matisse interrupts.)

Matisse: What did Hegel say about the “concrete universal.” Could Holbein’s figure represent the principle of life in all things? Could Jesus be the concrete “particular” person and Christ the “universal”? (He signs quote marks with fingers.)

Dean: This is a theory. Hegel’s concept of Christ -- as “the principle of all Being and human life” -- has no grounding. (His fingers sign quotes, but there is doubt in his voice.) Yes, Hegel did say, “Everything carries with it its own negation.” The only way we can know anything is by contrasting it with something different.

Matisse: We seem to be conducting our argument through Hegel’s thought, so I’ll persist. Hegel said that art has the power to “accept and include within
 itself all divisive forces.”[xliii]  Hegel wanted to bring together philosophy and science. 

Kornberg: (Interrupts.) There is more to science than can be found in Hegel’s philosophy. (Matisse hears strong dissent and an allusion to Shakespeare.)

Dean: Nor can Hegel make one sweeping synthesis of everything. (He is thinking of physicists who write books on “A Theory of Everything.”)[xliv]

Matisse: But you speak of transcendence…

Dean: Hegel knew nothing about biological evolution, nothing about the Big Bang. His concept of the “self” is like Carl Jung’s theory of the self. It is about how an individual develops identity. It is the way in which a child transforms and transcends by stages into an adult.

Kathleen: (emboldened by her faith) I think Professor Matisse is right. (The Dean says nothing.)

Matisse: (returning to his and the Dean’s discussion of philosophy.) This painting illustrates what Hegel meant: Jesus is in the stage of alienation. (Again the Dean is mum.) Hegel’s alienation is not simply about things “splitting apart.” The body has two opposing selves.

Dean: What did Holbein intend?

Matisse: The painting must speak for itself. 

Dean: Hegel speaks for the Mind (points to his head), but we must work in the real world. Evolution is not just about “thought.” There is such a thing as “empirical philosophy.”[xlv]

Benedict: Wait. The brain is real, part of the real world, and it is evolving.  (The Dean smiles agreeably, but this is not a question he wants to discuss at this point.)

Dean: This matter of transcendence is a question that will have to wait for our session on religious studies. For now, let me say that Kierkegaard and Sartre wrote about the “chasm of human existence.” (He is thinking: Reason alone would not be sufficient to explain evolution.) Kierkegaard said we need art to cultivate inwardness.

Matisse: He said: “The greater the artistry, the greater the inwardness.” Art drives you from “the calm of contemplation” to “the passion of personal appropriation.”[xlvi]  (Matisse signs “quotes.”  His words surprise the Dean. Some students—like Mary, Kathleen, Jane, Jerry, and Alice—are wide-awake.)

Dean: You missed our class in sociology, when our discussion included Kierkegaard. The ultimate concern for him is the individual. You—and he—are talking about individual transformation.

Matisse: Yes.

Dean: You did not hear Amitai Parsons talk about the “community.” Evolution is about the “I” and the “we,” and sometimes “they” versus “us.” The Christian, the Jew, the Moslem... That’s our evolving community. Parsons said: Today we must learn about how individuals and the larger community become reconciled. 

Matisse: For Holbein and Christians, reconciliation is personal. The reconciliation is in “communion” (patiently persisting with his belief in this secular setting).

Dean: No. This type of global reconciliation is not found in a church communion service. The reconciliation of “us” versus “them” is not just found through a religious institution. (This is the strongest expression of discord between the Dean and a guest lecturer since the beginning of the honors seminar. Kathleen and Alice are going along with Matisse. Jerry and Professor Kornberg are more in accord with the Dean. 

The word Aufheben can have many meanings… It can mean to conserve, or to abolish, or to elevate… (Suddenly the Dean stops. Matisse’s eyes are watering. That painting, the Dean realizes, represents for Matisse the agony of Jesus. Matisse identifies with what this figure represents for him. “This argument is getting too personal,” the Dean decides, “and we are at a stalemate. No one is going to win.  It should end.” He looks at his watch.) Look at the time. Well, we must start to wrap up. We need to summarize our discussion before we end. Do any of you have any final questions?

Benedict: (wanting to bring in a final reference to Eastern art) There are paintings from India that tell of life’s stages through art. You should see Shiva, the Hindu god, in the bronze cast from the Chola dynasty in the tenth century AD. This is a statement on suffering and transcendence in their time.

Dean: (Looking at his watch.) Thank you, Professor Benedict, but truly our time is about up. Professor Matisse, could you summarize for us? (He goes to the blackboard and writes:)


Matisse: Summarize! All of this! (He smiles and everybody laughs.) Heavens! (The Dean throws up his arms as if to say, “Do the best you can…”)

Art has taken huge leaps in this history. …I mean in this process of evolution. Paleolithic artists painted bison on caves; medieval artists painted idealized portraits and angels on canvas; modern artists painted bizarre landscapes in a style that is called “surreal.” There are so many stages and breakthroughs in this history, I cannot trace them all. And there were huge leaps taken in each stage, so many that, as I said at the beginning, I cannot cover this great story of art in a single course let alone in a single class period. I think, for example, of the work of Jacques-Louis David who shocked everybody when he broke completely with the “rococo past,” moving suddenly from frivolity to classical austerity and severity. (He points to his chart:) Look at these leaps from one into another new style!

Tom: In biology, we talked about Stephen Jay Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium.” The leaps between stages are not just smooth and continuous.

Dean: Is art quickening its pace in this evolution? Are stages moving faster today than ever before?

Matisse: We have passed beyond existential, and are moving past postmodern, art. I have no doubt that we will be surprised again. Maybe the next stage will combine science with art. There are new studies on how science is seeking integrative frameworks. There is a movement among scientists today to bring broader perspectives and cross old disciplinary boundaries.”[xlvii]

Dean: Say something about that. Is there a connection between art and science in your history?  

Mattise: (He is patient with the Dean.) Goodness, there’s nothing new under the sun: Artists and scientists have worked together since the Reformation. (The Dean looks surprised.) When artists wanted to perfect their craft, they studied the human anatomy. (The Dean looks puzzled.)

Not too much was known about the body’s anatomy in the time of Michelangelo. He broke all the norms to study the human body in detail. He dissected corpses and learned so much about the body that his work became a part of medical history. And there is so much more I could tell about the integration of art and science. Geographers and mapmakers worked with artists to create mathematical grids and accurate maps. Painters discovered the principles of optics; they studied how the eye plays “tricks” with their images. And art is linked with the history of psychology and the social sciences.

Benedict: We talked about Carl Jung and his theory of the collective unconscious.

Matisse: Well. Art demonstrates what Jung called the “reservoir of human experience.” It is the inheritance of images and archetypes. We have “hidden knowledge.” (He signals quotes.) We are not directly conscious of what lies beneath the surfaces we can see with the naked eye, but art reveals it. Would you agree? (Looking to Benedict.)

Benedict: Jung also speaks of the principle of opposites. To have a concept of “good” you must have a concept of “bad;” to have a concept of “up” you must have a concept of “down.” It is the opposition that creates the power, like the two poles of a battery, or splitting an atom.[xlviii]

Matisse: And so it is in art: A strong contrast in color gives strong energy, and a weak contrast gives weak energy. Surrealists wanted to see a link between the inner and outer world, the spiritual and the material. A physical object stood for an inner condition. They brought the contents of the subconscious into the conscious, “decoding” it, as they say. (The Dean looks curious, “decoding”?)  Michelangelo and Leonardo advanced our knowledge of the body’s anatomy but surrealists charted the anatomy of the psyche. (The Dean wishes they had more time for Matisse to talk about this matter, but they’d gotten sidetracked too much on the Holbein painting and Hegel.)

Dean: But what can we conclude about art and evolution? (Again, in this flash of a second, Matisse is sad because the Dean cannot understand what Matisse is trying to express. The Dean cannot even connect Hegel’s work with the Holbein painting. For Matisse, Jesus has undergone the final transformation, and the Dean does not get what has happened in this ultimate stage of evolution.  Matisse wants students to feel these works of art but the Dean wants to think about them.) Could you summarize what theorists have said in about the history of aesthetics? (He glances at the time.)

Oh my. We have two minutes. Sorry.

Matisse: (Matisse hates theories and is upset.) I will be brief. Ahem.

First, there have been “intentional theorists.” They judge art by the artist’s purpose. What does the creator of a great work of art intend? (Kathleen is thinking “God” is the Creator of art in the whole universe. His is the great intention.)

Second, “formal theorists” judge the meaning of art in the relationship between elements in the works of art. (Kornberg once imagined there could be “art” in the elements of molecules. But this was a passing thought.)

Third, “symptomatic theorists” judge art as it would represent images coming from the unconscious. There are archetypes, pictures of past lives, and currents of emotion in both the artist and the beholder. (As Jung did, Benedict believes there are “images” and archetypes with emotions that cut across human cultures.) 

Fourth, “observer theorists” judge art to be in the eye of the beholder. (In Holbein’s painting, Matisse beholds the spirit of the body of Christ in a stage of alienation, transforming and in the process of transcending.)

All these theories are true. And more. (Alice thinks art could be the force of great ideas behind all things, the unseen powers that the Greeks called Beauty and Truth.)

Dean: Thank you. (Looks at his watch.) We are over time and absolutely must stop. Thank you. (Bows to Matisse.) Thank you. (Bows to class.) Thank you. (Bows to Kornberg and Benedict.) This class has been rich with ideas. Thank you all! (He had wanted a better conclusion and worries that the class is stopping too abruptly for what has transpired here.)

 Matisse: (Breaks in, looks at the class and smiles.) But don’t forget: The meaning of art is not to be found in some theory.

If you wonder about how to interpret Holbein’s painting of the dead Christ, you should see his painting of the ambassadors. Everyone can recognize that it is superb. He shows how all the magnificence in the dress of these officials, and the arrogance in their faces, must end in the tomb. He contrasts the symbols of richness in their cloaks with the symbols of death. You will see a broken string on a beautiful lute, a yawning skull before the ambassadors that cannot be seen except by turning the picture on its side. What does this mean to us who search for the meaning of life?   

Dean: Ooo! (This sudden last statement from Matisse catches the Dean off guard. But he smiles and looks once more at his watch.) We ARE out of time.

And class, do not forget this coming week. There is a holiday on the day of our next session. We will see you after the holidays. Happy days ahead! Students feel that Matisse has given them a great lesson (in spite of the Dean), and they applaud vigorously. Some wish they had taken his class in art. The majority see the problem, but only in vague terms: the Dean and Kornberg are “down to earth,” while Benedict and Matisse are “up there” somewhere.

 The Dean thinks to himself: Is art created between my “principles” and Matisse’s “passion”? He goes home without any real conclusion. “Faculties differ,” he says to himself. “We all move at our own pace. And students can move ahead now at their own pace and level of competence. The purpose of this whole course is to cultivate student intelligence. Students should already be at a better place to try to figure out their answers, their own responses.” 

[i] “The Earliest Evidence of Art Found,” BBC News in Sci/Tech, May 2, 2000. Over 300 fragments of pigment were found in a cave at Twin Rivers, near Lusaka, Zambia. The materials were gathered in a part of Africa associated with the evolution of modern humans. The remnants date to before the appearance of Homo sapiens. Dr. Lawrence Barham from the University of Bristol, UK, said: "We're dealing here with people who were perhaps using symbols far earlier than we expected." This find also implies the use of language, so it's an important discovery, full of implications for the development of new behaviours. In this news report the first forays into art were taking place at the same time as the development of hunting equipment and “tools that combined both wooden handles and stone implements.”


[ii] H. W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson, History of Art (Prentice-Hall, 2001).

[iii]  H. W. Janson, Anthony F. Janson, History of Art, (Abrams, Inc., 2001, original date, 1991). p. 34.

[iv]  Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1983), p. 112.

[v]  Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), p. 3.

[vi]  According to Robert Barnhart, The Barnhart Concise Dictionary (HarperResource, 1988), the word “elegant” begins to appear in English about 1485 as “tastefully ornate in dress.” It was borrowed from Middle French and Latin. p. 235

[vii] Eleanor C. Munro, The Encyclopedia of Art (NY: Golden Press, 1961. Western Publishing).


[viii] Ibid, p. 160.

[ix] Cyil Aldred, Egyptian Art in the Days of the Pharoahs, (Thames and Hudson, 1980), p. 11. Aldred points out how art, as we know it today, did not exist in Egypt. Art was seen only as a craft linked to religious beliefs.


[x] C. G. Jung, (1916). Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology. Bailliere, Tindall and Cox, 1916.

Sigmund Freud says that art is about “concealed desires.” Art is stimulated by the wish to win honor, power, riches, and fame. Freud assumed that the writer, poet, and painter – like everyone else -- disguise their emotions. Then they project what they conceal into art.


[xi] Fauvism was a very brief art movement in the early twentieth century, from about 1904 to 1907. It developed from the work of the Impressionists, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. The best-known characteristic of Fauvism is the unrealistic use of color. Their work also rejected traditional perspective. Key figures in Fauvism included Maurice de Vlaminck (1876–1958), André Derain (1880–1954), while Henri Matisse (1869–1964) is understood to be their leader.

[xii] Thomas Berry spent ten years in Passionist monasteries, and pursued his doctorate in history at Catholic University. He then spent a year studying Chinese in Peking. Later he traveled in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and went to England to meet Christopher Dawson, the distinguished historian of cultures. Berry taught Japanese and Chinese history at Seton Hall University, helped found an inter-university faculty seminar on Oriental thought and religion at Columbia University and an Asian Institute at St. John’s, established Fordham’s history of religions program, became an adviser to Global Education Associates, and served as president of the American Teilhard Association.

[xiii] Berry and Lonergan both said that people are evolving greater insight into their own nature. Thomas Berry challenged “asymmetrical theology” that, he said, focused on “the deliverance of humans” to the exclusion of concern for the planet. Bernard Lonergan writes of a radical new theological perspective. Anne Marie Dalton, A Theology for the Earth: The Contributions of Thomas Berry and Bernard Lonergan (University of Ottawa Press, 1999).

[xiv] Ronald Ossory Dunlop, Landscape Painting: Ma Yuan to Picasso (London, 1954). Ma Yuan (1165–1225) was a Chinese painter whose work (with Xia Gui) became the basis for the Ma-Xia school of painting. Bare Willows and Distant Mountains is cited as one of Ma Yuan's masterpieces. His paintings appear not to be symmetrical in a geometric sense and are thought of as “asymmetrical.” But his compositions are also viewed as related to the symbolism of Yin and Yang. Some art historians say that his spaces “unite asymmetrical beauty” with the beauty of human proportion.


[xv] This description of “Chinese Principles” is edited from Karen Albert in Bonsai Today (Issue #98, 4/2005).


[xvi] Synaesthesia means “union of the senses,” referring to the stimulation of one sensory modality by another (e.g., sound by vision). Richard Feynman may have had a certain type of synaesthesia. Richard Feynman,  “What do you care what other people think?” (New York: Norton, 1988). J. Harrison, “Synaesthesia: the strangest thing,” pp. 169–74. (New York, Oxford University Press, 2001) I. Farber, “But what does ‘blue’ smell like?” Nature, 410, pp. 744-5. 2001.


[xvii] Cretien van Campen, The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007). Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (New York: Dover Publications), 1986. Paul Klee, Pedagogical Sketchbook (London: Faber and Faber, 1986.)


[xviii] Wassily Kandinsky. Point and Line to Plane. (NY: Dover Publications). Kandinsky was both a musician and a painter who believed associative color was resounding in the soul. He read theosophy. He saw how the Theosophical Society popularized the wisdom of the ancient books of India and China. Some artists, like Kandinsky, began to work on creating “timeless shapes” in geometry, such as the circle, the square, and triangle. He saw spatial elements of abstract art as fundamental systems behind reality. At the beginning of the 20th century, Henri Matisse shocked the art world with multi-colored, expressive landscapes and figure paintings, as style of art that critics called by a new name, Fauvism. The raw color developed by the Fauves—literally, “the Wild Beasts”—influenced Kandinsky.


[xix] G. Beeli, M. Esslen, and L. Jäncke, "When coloured sounds taste sweet," Nature 434: 38, 2005. Neurologists estimate that the number of people with this condition ranges from one in 2,000 to 20,000. See also: C. van Campen (2007), The Hidden Sense. Synesthesia in Art and Science. (Cambridge: MIT Press. 2007.) Kevin T. Dann, Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge. (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1998).


[xx] In 1895, Kandinsky reportedly saw an exhibition of French Impressionist paintings in Moscow—by Monet and others and was upset that Monet's painting “The Haystack” had no meaning for him. But then Kandinsky’s own art began to establish itself after the turn of the twentieth century, when he came together with other Expressionist painters in a group that included Paul Klee, Franz Marc, August Macke, Gabriele Münter, Alexei von Jawlensky, and Alfred Kubin. Kandinsky believed that art came from the “necessity” for a soul to work on earth. Synaesthesia is now recognized as a genetically inherited trait. Max Bill, Wassily Kandinsky. (Paris: Maeght, 1951.) Will Grohmann, Wassily Kandinsky: Life and Work (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1958.) Thomas M. Messer, Vasily Kandinsky (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1997).


[xxi] Strindberg says that chance happens all the time. When an artist finishes his work, he scrapes together the colors that are left and makes some sort of sketch linked to the painting. For him, the whole painting is a mixture of the conscious and unconscious. “Natural art” is when the artist works like nature in the same capricious way, without a goal. Strindberg said: “Imitate nature’s way of creating!” See an article published in Revue des Revues on November 15, 1894. Strindberg's paintings were included in the exhibition Sources of the Twentieth Century held in Paris in 1959. Paul Overy, Kandinsky: The Language of the Eye (New York: Praeger, 1969). Peg Weiss, Kandinsky and Old Russia. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.)


[xxii]   Gould said: “Modern multicellular animals make their first uncontested appearance in the fossil record some 570 million years ago—and with a bang, not a protracted crescendo. This 'Cambrian explosion' marks the advent (at least into direct evidence) of virtually all major groups of modern animals—and all within the minuscule span, geologically speaking, of a few million years." (Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, 1989), pp. 23–24.


[xxiii] In the painting High Seas there are sections that Strindberg has blackened with a burner, and patches of a brownish-gray, rough texture that seems to be oxidized, as if it were created by an elementary process of nature. Strindberg’s paintings from the early 1890s are some of his most dark and violent images, as well as some of his most adventurous. In Storm in the Archipelago (The Flying Dutchman), he applied paint direct from the tube using a palette knife, creating the effect of a sea boiling with fury.


[xxiv] Edward Dolnick, The Rescue Artist, (HarperCollins, 2005).


[xxv] Arnold Weinstein, (Northern Arts:
 The Breakthrough of Scandinavian Literature and Art, from Ibsen to Bergman (Princeton University Press, 2008.)


[xxvi] Barbara Ann Brennan, Light Emerging (Bantam Books, 1993). Mother Meera, Bringing Down the Light: Journey of a Soul After Death (Meeramma Publications, 1990). 


[xxvii]   Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi, (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1977), pp. 166–67.

[xxviii] Whitehead investigates how reality is a process of “becoming.” “Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern. Life is directed against the repetitious mechanism of the Universe. The basic nature of the universe is a constant creative advance into novelty.” Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York: The Free Press, 1978).


[xxix] In the Critique of Pure Reason of 1781, Kant disapproves of the use of the word “aesthetic” in relation to “taste” in the sphere of German arts and letters, but in a revision of that same work six years later, Kant suggests that he would reconsider his stricture. The explosion of scientific knowledge caused both Hume and Kant to embrace the optimism of the Enlightenment. Human progress was associated with the free but critical use of human intellect.


[xxx] Aesthetics as a field of thought started slowly in the early eighteenth century. There were articles on “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” which the journalist Joseph Addison wrote in the early issues of the magazine The Spectator in 1712. Before that, writers had made forays into the subject, including into ancient theories of proportion and harmony, but the ideas were directed mostly to architecture and music. The greater thought on “aesthetics” did not begin until the widening of leisure activities in the eighteenth century.

[xxxi] Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969) authored more than twenty volumes, including Negative Dialectics (1982), Philosophy of Modern Music (1980), Kierkegaard (Minnesota, 1989), and (with Max Horkheimer) Dialectic of Enlightenment (1975).

[xxxii] Bell and Fry did not see any social purpose in art. Clive Bell, Art (Chatto and Windus, London, 1914). See N. Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror; or, Paradoxes of the Heart (London and New York: Routledge). R. G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958.) D. W. Crawford, Kant’s Aesthetic Theory (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, Davies, 1974.) Arnold Hauser, The Sociology of Art, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

[xxxiii] See the Poetics of Aristotle (384–322 BC). Aristotle says that tragedy is a process of imitating an action that has serious implications and possesses “magnitude.” It is enacted by people themselves and not by narrative. It evokes emotions like pity and fear, which lead to a purification (catharsis or “purgation”) of these emotions. The artist does not just “copy” shifting appearances of the world, but represents Reality with its form and meaning. Thus, the artist gives shape to the universal, not the accidental. Poetry is “a more philosophical and serious business than history; for poetry speaks more of universals, history of particulars.”


[xxxiv] Aristotle tells about the ideas of Heraclitus, such as the notion that the same thing may both “be” and “not be,” which would violate the law of non-contradiction. Aristotle had trouble with the idea that “everything is and is not,” which “seems to make all things true.” He felt that opposite statements could never be true about the same subjects. Aristotle had trouble with Heraclitus’s doctrine of “the identity of opposites,” which has several different meanings. Heraclitus appears to be abstracting from a seeing of all particulars and then posits a higher idea of what they represent. W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962. Charles Kahn, The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.


[xxxv] Followers of Plato would say that the most carefully drawn circle would always be irregular, if you inspect it closely. Geometric shapes such as the Point, the Line, the Circle, are just ideals. It is not possible to draw a Real Circle, but only an imperfect physical copy. So Beauty is an example of this problem of an Eternal Form. For Plato, these “principles” (Ideas) are forms more perfect and more real than physical objects are. The body and its passions are shadowed in the cave of this physical world. So the best humans can do is to try to reach and match those Forms as closely as possible.

[xxxvi] The playwright Edward Albee says his plays are about the nature of identity. “We are how we permit ourselves to view ourselves, how we practice identity or lack of identity.” NPR, March 12, 2006, “Albee at 80,” by Jeff Linden, an interview.

[xxxvii] The most recent part of the cerebral cortex is the neocortex. There are relative variations in thickness or cell type (among other parameters) that allow scientists to distinguish between different neocortical “architectonic fields.” The geometry of some of these fields seems to be related to the anatomy of the cortical folds. E. R. Kandel, J. H. Schwartz, and T. M.  Jessell, Principles of Neural Science (Fourth Edition) (New York: McGraw Hill, 2000).


[xxxix] Picasso was reportedly frustrated by a decade of turmoil in his personal life and some dissatisfaction with his artwork. The politics and the civil war ravaging Spain troubled him. On April 26, 1937, a fleet of Nazi German bombers bombed Guernica, Spain, killing somewhere over 250 people. The town was pounded with high explosive and incendiary bombs for over three hours. Townspeople were cut down as they ran from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burned for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians were killed or wounded.


[xl] There are many places with pictures and analysis. http://www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue8/messagesfromamaster.htm. 


[xli]  Julia, Kristeva, “Holbein’s Dead Christ,” in Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia.  Trans. Leon S. Roudiez.  (New York: Columbia, 1989), p. 117 and pp. 105-138.

[xlii] Kathleen has been reading a lot of theology. Eberhard Jungel, Karl Barth: A Theological Legacy (Scottish Academic Press, 1987); Hendrikus Boers, “Herbert Braun’s Quest for What is Essentially Christian,” JAAR 35, no. 4 (1967), 351; and Graham Ward, Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory (Macmillan, 2000). Rudolf Bultmann, Faith and Understanding, trans. Louise Pettibone Smith (London: SCM Press, 1969).


[xliii]  These issues are discussed in William Desmond’s Art and the Absolute: A Study of Hegel’s Aesthetics (New York: State University of New York Press, 1986.)


[xliv]  Theodor Adorno, Hegel: Three Studies. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholson. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1993). Stuart Barnett, ed. Hegel After Derrida. New York: Routledge. 1998).

[xlv] The Dean is referring to “logical positivism,” a philosophical perspective was popular at the University of Chicago in the 20th century. It can be traced back to Aristotle in the fourth century B.C., but had evolved in modern times from its core ideas with English scientists in the seventeenth century. English philosophers, like Isaac Newton, began by doubting everything. Newton based all human certainty on empirical verification through the senses. Voltaire criticized the whole of the French rationalist tradition and worked to advance empiricism. Logical positivism grew from the discussions of a group called the “First Vienna Circle” that gathered before World War I.


[xlvi]  These ideas can be found in Richard J. Bernstein, Praxis and Action: Contemporary Philosophies of Human Activity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971). Charles Campbell, “Aesthetic Language Transformed: The "Poetry" of Søren Kierkegaard, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 1977 XLV(1):75; 


[xlvii] See Personality, Identity, and Character: Explorations in Moral Psychology, Darcia Narvaez and Daniel K. Lapsley (eds.). Cambridge University Press (forthcoming, 2009).


[xlviii]  Some of the opposites in Jung’s theory include: conscious-unconscious; good-bad; rational-irrational; extravert-introvert; masculine-feminine; birth-death; animal-spiritual; think-feel; causality-teleology; sense-intuit. Jung also refers to a “transcendent function” in the integrating activity of the self. It is a process that joins opposing forces into a higher coherent ground, reminiscent of Hegel’s “Aufhebung.” C. G. Jung, Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology (2nd ed.). London: Balliere, Tindall & Cox.)