What is ideal art? How can it enrich our souls?
We can first refer to the ideal in life: a supreme summation of the highest standards of excellence. Those of us who strive for excellence in real life can see the results of our efforts toward professional heights to be reached or private goals to be achieved with the satisfaction of knowing “I did it,” so we can easily experience the joy of connection and completion.
But these are outer, existential accomplishments objectively verified. How can we experience moments of self-celebration vis-à-vis the excellence of our innermost self, the supreme summation of our deepest values creating our fundamental identity of spirit and moral fiber that, in turn, form our personal character? We can see and celebrate our bodies by looking into a mirror. But values are mental concepts, so how can we “see” these internal animating principles “out there” in real life?
We can do it in two ways. One is to cherish another person who is the physical manifestation of our highest values, a human embodiment of our ideals in living form with whom to share mind, body, and soul. The second is through ideal art, the physical manifestation of noble ideas crafted into aesthetic forms that can be perceived through the senses.
Art is a unique man-made medium through which we may experience our mental ideals — our highest values — because at its best it is a beautiful, mesmerizing, frozen-in-time form of ideas.
Art invites us to merge with it, “be one with it,” and rejoice emotionally in our values because we now experience them directly, encapsulated in material form. Music connects us with feelings of love and hope and victory . . . or honorable defeat via ordered and harmonious sounds. Painting and sculpture let us see glorious images of the possible, even of the perfect, in visual forms.
Fiction weaves stimulating stories about fascinating characters and thought-provoking, even heroic behavior. Poetry distills the scintillating essence of a priceless moment. Opera combines all of the other art forms (even architecture), blending them together into one dynamic presentation. The arts can sing to our souls, and the melodies of life are everywhere: in rhythms and rhymes of words; in sculptural passages edging a marble nude; in a real body whirling gracefully in dance; in the color and brushstrokes of paint.
Via the communicative power of art, we may discover for the first time or revisit for the hundredth time those precious aspects of beauty, potential, and perfection residing in the world and within ourselves. When these stylized forms outwardly reflect our inner convictions, they can inspire us upward to our own personal ideals in reality.
Ideal art dramatizes excellence and immortalizes it in permanent form. Each different art form trembles with the fragility of life while projecting a passion for living. The passion may be restrained or overflowing, but art must breathe with a palpable inner life of ideational significance in order to cause a spontaneous self-celebrating response of connection on the part of a compassionate responder.
A profound art experience feels as if time has stopped, but the sensory-mental process actually occurs in rapid succession like this: (1) ”aesthetic arrest”: the art commands our attention through the artist’s skillful manipulation of a chosen form, (2) “content empathy”: we identify with the values inherent in the work, integrating beauty of form and truth of meaning: “Yes! This is life as I see it.” (3) “emotional confirmation”: we feel intense pleasure and uplifted: “Yes! This is the way my life is or can be,” and (4) “inspirational energy”: we gain courage to seek greater ideals of excellence in our own lives.
The artist is the source, producing art that expresses his-her views of life through aesthetic forms. The responder to art that communicates like-minded values is an active participant in this expressive exchange. The circle of creation is then complete.
Let us cherish art that reveres beauty, loves life, and honors humankind. As the beneficiaries of such creations, may we gasp and stare and find ourselves drawn to compelling visions of values like summer moths are drawn to the magnetic magic of moonlight.
Art can be a spiritual light to nourish our souls. Let us embrace art that embodies our ideals and revel in the possibilities that glow wondrously from the ideological energy source within it. By experiencing the ideal through art, we penetrate that energy source and through emotional osmosis absorb the dynamism to revitalize our own personhood. Thus renewed, we may soar away on our own personal quests toward our ever better selves. Such is the power of the ideal in life. Such is the power of art that expresses the ideal.
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation. She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "The Innocent." For more on Alexandra York, Go Here Now.
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