Art has always been a harbinger of historical trends, especially in the West. As declining religion gave way to proxies—political religions, new-age kookery, myopic scientism, and sacralized hedonism—art heralded the way.
If you’re surprised at how we ended up in the philosophical rabbit hole we live in today, you haven’t been paying attention to the licentious parade of agitprop, erotica, and narcissistic art populating the artistic imagination for the past 60 years. It’s not unrelated that an Impressionistic movement fuzzifying the borders of objective reality birthed a reaction 200 years later in Donald Trump’s beautiful wall.
This being so, examining the history of western art yields fruitful cultural self-reflection. So let’s do a little thought experiment on the man of the hour, Jesus, focusing on his gravitational pull on culture and art, as a philosophical totem signaling an attitude toward reality. What did artistic renderings of him mean for culture and subsequent history? And what did the loss of halos on Jesus portend for western history?
The halo, borrowed from pagan art, endowed a subject with divinity. Early Christian iconographers haloed Christ to affirm his divinity, as the “Logos made flesh.” The concept of Logos is critical, because arguably the loss of a logo-centric cosmic architecture explains the decline of the West. How so?
The Greek word Logos means word, reason, or rationality. Logos is the basis of communication, by which two people commune with an objective quantum of conceptual stuff. Logoi (words) are what exist in an objective, material world of distinct and defined things, and Logos is their animating principle. In your mind, as your thoughts go from one communicable concept defined by clear, objective parameters (and a name) to the next, Logos is at work.
Logos is arguably the secret sauce of the West, leading to its quest for universal and objective truths that are accessible to all peoples equally, through the medium of human language. Logos trumps opinion, culture, myth, tradition, and idiosyncrasy. Logos is how reality can be knowable and communicable.
Our age, however, posits the ultimate plasticity and un-communicableness (save through math) of reality. Atoms and void alone are real and work in their weird ways to generate an ever-changing cosmos of evolving beings. As the deconstructionists taught us, any pretense to eternality is nothing more than human projection. Any culture, custom, or ethic is as valid as it is idiosyncratic. This pierces everything Logos stands for.It is a good essay and speaks profoundly of the connection between the values of the heart and the values painted upon canvas or carved upon wood. If you, like me, long for the days when the halo mattered as an expression of the creative will subservient to the Divine Revelation, then perhaps this is just for you. But the halo has not merely disappeared from art, it has disappeared from life.
In this matrix comes Christ, declared by his followers to be the incarnate Logos, the primary, eternal Word through which all other beings come into being. With Christ’s resurrection and session to God’s right hand, a new reality is in play: something has defeated flux. Christ’s advent planted a rallying flag for subsequent Western thought: Here within the boundaries of this man’s flesh and blood is the very communication of Eternal Truth into our world. In this ever-changing world of flux, there is one material thing (the flesh and blood Jesus) that cannot and will not change. This sets the foundation for seeking fixed truth as such, as well as the premise for multiple cultures to communicate mutually accessible truths.
We live in an age when vulgarity is the norm. Our speech is not lofty or noble but earthy for the sake of being earthy -- without an ounce of eloquence intended. We watch televisions that spend more time on the benefits of a little blue pill to make sex possible whenever you desire -- while at the same time warning of an erection that lasts for more than four hours. We are reminded of the unpleasant odor of the "devil's donuts" you leave in the toilet and of an oily scent that can confine the stench to under the toilet lid. We hear the F-bomb so often that it has lost nearly all the shock value it once had and people keep searching for even more deplorable words. Locker room talk has become so mainstream that public figures regularly revert to it without repercussion (except for Billy Bush). The halo disappeared from art and from us. We put on the horns of the devil and delight in flaunting our freedom to debase ourselves.
Like Burfeind I bemoan the stark, ugliness of art that tries to offend rather than uplift but as much as it is missing from art, the absence of the halo from the ordinary life of those who claim to be spiritual (if not religious) is even more noticeable. When did we begin to think that the best use of freedom was to draw attention to the basest and crudest aspects of our lives? When did we forget the notion of shame or embarrassment? When did we begin to think that striving for good is not a worthwhile endeavor? The cleverness we presume is nothing more than the immaturity of a small child who has learned to cuss and swear like the older kids and who thinks this is what makes you big.
I am no fan of pastors with salty vocabularies -- not because I am a prude but because I think it is childish and worse, wrong! I am no fan of art that brings us down to our most basic and animalistic desires. I am no fan of movies that exploit sex because they lack real dialogue, plot, camera work, or character development. I am no fan of commercials that push products designed to exploit our ability to act from mere desire rather than virtue. It is not because I am a prude or think myself better than anyone else. I know my weakness and do not need encouragement in this area. I do, however, need people wearing a halo around me and I do need to be urged toward holiness of speech, conduct, and life. Once you could count on art to do that. Once you could even count on Grandma to encourage this. Now it seems we like rolling in the mud more than trying to stay clean.