Tuesday, September 4, 2007
THE MEANING OF ART
Flannery O'Connor is an acclaimed Catholic author whose Southern gothic stories ooze sin and salvation, grace and redemption. Follow this link to read about how O'Connor's faith made her art possible (and thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet at Looking Closer for originally highlighting this article):
O’Connor is concerned that many people treat art as valuable only for its propositional “meaning.” If we read fiction or poetry and we look for “the point” instead of immersing ourselves in the experience, we ruin our faculty for truly enjoying it. We will see or read or listen to great art and only think of it as a cipher to be broken. The pleasure of the art will be replaced by the pleasure of “figuring it out.” Sure, there is sometimes deciphering to be done, but that is not the point of a story or a poem.
Here is O'Connor's exhortation:
"I realize that a certain amount of this what-is-the-significance has to go on, but I think something has gone wrong in the process when, for so many students, the story becomes simply a problem to be solved, something which you evaporate to get Instant Enlightenment....
Properly, you analyze to enjoy, but it's equally true that to analyze with any discrimination, you have to have enjoyed already. (108)"
Fiction and poetry provide authors a unique way to glorify Christ that more overtly intellectual genres, like theology, simply can't. These genres that aim directly for the heart and soul—rather than aiming at the heart through the mind—do not argue for belief, they show what it looks like and make you feel it. Theology, devotionals, and other books in the “Christian Living” section of the bookstore talk about belief explicitly. Their goal is to explain truth as clearly as possible. Fiction and poetry, on the other hand, tell the truth, but tell it slant. They offer an author a way to give his beliefs flesh and blood by enacting them in the confusion of the real world. In fiction, belief is not what you look at, but what you look through.