We all have had the opportunity to visit a medioeval cathedral, like Chartre, or an antique Basilica, as the one of San Marco. The artisans who constructed those momuments were the anonimous creators of a glorious project, of which they weren’t even aware of. What a crushing difference to modern personalisms!
The philosopher Jacque Maritain first aknowledged the presence of God by looking at the breathtaking beauty of the stained-glasses of the Chartre cathedral. Ever since then a new “conversion” of his philosophy was born, which made him declare: “reason finds its home in St. Thomas of Aquino’s philosophy”. St. Thomas’ philosophy aims at investigating the intelligible structure of reality. His train of thought has as its starting point the presupposition that the world has been created by the God of Abraham, the God that is Logos, so reason itself, and, as such, can be understood. This is how universities were born, as true research centers, this is how science’s path developed. Thus, reality can be understood, as it is created by reason and not by a temperamental higher will.
In contrast to the subjectivistic concept of modern art, the classic era has certain strict rules regarding the way art has to be done. It is this classic conception of art that Maritain tries to reinstablish within his time. The combination of integrity, proportion and harmony, which are all qualities contributed to the quintessence of all things, allows art to be more accessible and comprehensible. Therefore, art becomes a successor to creation itself, as its purpose is to reveal where salvation, redemption and traces of divinity lie in the world. Don’t Van Gogh’s landscapes inspire exactly this?
This art creates delight, as it is nectar to the brain. This is because pleasure is linked to a good activity, as reason loves order, proportions and light. Ture beauty is the result of a combination of these three ontologoical properties, and is, as such, objective as it is inherent to the object. Seeing true beauty gives great joy to the brain. Maritain believes, art has the power to do good, as it elevates mankind and takes it to new hights.
Artist is he who has intuition, who is capable to see a vision of the truth and has the ability to transfer it with an adequate tecnique into his art. Virtue of morality is the righteousness of action that has yet to be fulfilled, whilest the virtue of art is its perfection.
Throughout their life, Jacques Maritain and his wife Raissa have particularly nurtrued and valued their friendship to Georges Rouault, as they saw in him an artist who never distanced himself from the mistery of reality, nor ever seeked shelter in the titanical individualism. Rouault is the artist that paints not only what is in front of him, but also grasps its essence, thus transmitting his poetic vision through images that are comprehensible to the viewer. You could even go as far as saying he was a lover of the existing, as all of reailty had, in his eyes, a dignity that had to be discovered. This included also clowns, who simbolised for him a broken and hurt humanity, and even prostitutes.
Through the subjects of Rouault’s painitngs, Maritain understood that art is religious, not because it depicted holy subjects, but becasue it sees the human being with piteous and compassionate eyes.