Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Williams & Art

If the Everything is that Way, then Mightn’t Colors and Paints be too?

Charles Williams always advocates embracing the fact. To love reality is to love goodness, and to become good is to become more real. In his novel All Hallow’s Eve Williams speaks of his conviction that all things are slowly becoming more what they are—more real or set. Here is an excerpt from the chapter in which Jonathan, an artist, and his friend Richard are looking again at a quite good painting Jonathan had done recently:

“He said, ‘Richard, it is different.’
‘Different?’ asked Richard. ‘How different?’
‘I’m very good, ‘ Jonathan went on, but so simply that there was no egotism in the remark, ‘but I’m nothing like as good as this. I simply am not. I could never, never paint this.’
Richard looked at the painting, But his amateur’s eye could not observe with certainty the difference of which Jonathan seemed to be speaking. He thought he could have been easily persuaded that the shapes were more definite, that the mass of color which had overwhelmed him before now organized itself more exactly, that the single unity was now also a multitudinous union—but he would not by himself have been certain. He said, ‘You’re the master. How?’
Jonathan did not answer the question directly. He said, in a lower voice, almost as if he were shy of something in his own work, ‘I suppose, if things—if everything is like that, I suppose colors and paints might be. They must be what everything is, because everything is. Mightn’t they become more themselves? Mightn’t they? It was what I wanted to do, because it was like that. And if the world is like that, then a painting of the world must be. But if it is…’ ” (148-9)

Jonathan’s painting seems to become more perfect, true and real after he first paints it. He also believes that the world and everything in it are slowly becoming more perfect, true and real. All things become more themselves. Good things become better. His painting is no exception to the rule.
I seem to have had similar experiences. At first I attributed it to the strange state of eye and mind that one has while drawing. I can never judge a piece of work while working—only once I’ve set it aside for a few hours. But William’s theory intrigues me. It seems that goodness is never complacent or stagnate, but always active—somewhat along the lines of St. Thomas Aquinas’s theory that happiness, one’s highest good, is an activity. If goodness is active and if it is indeed real, would not goodness become steadily more real? Good things seem to become more and more set and fixed into facts. Art, it seems, is no different.
This is somewhat frightening, I think. What of poor works that express frustration or a disordered soul? And yet the only way to redeem them is to keep on working and trying to produce good works. I suppose it is rather like sinning and, after repenting, doing good.
One last note: sometimes it seems to me that everything—all real things—have natural symmetry and balance. It is especially obvious in nature. One can hardly find a tree or grass blade or flower not ordered beautifully. Only… man can mar this. Man can make material things that are ugly, unbalanced and horrid to look at. Examples spring up everywhere: in awkward architecture, chopped and arbitrary landscaping, and, of course, bad art. Yet where man does well he brings out the best in nature, combining natural symbols with high ideas to form new images. Michelangelo’s Pieta combines white marble (how full of natural symbols is that?) with various majestic and sorrowful angles and gestures to portray St. Mary’s grief over Christ our Lord. Where man does ill, natural beauty is marred; where he does well, glory shines through.