Rowan Williams’ Modernism and the Scholastic Revival

Upon reading the first chapter of Rowan Williams’ Grace and Necessity, I cannot help but to have been struck by specific points. What I understood from the chapter was that whatever our intentions for a piece of work are, they will show in the piece of art. For example, if I decide to sketch an abstract design that gives people the impression of relaxation, before I even begin my sketch, I have already determined my intention and purpose for the design. That will then show in my design.

One of the things that stuck out to me was William’s idea that beauty doesn’t tell you anything. He states that “Beauty is not, … a single transcendent object or a kind of truth – that is, it provides satisfaction, joy, for the human subject, but does not in itself tell you anything” (12). I see his point, and understand that beauty cannot equal truth many times because of its interpretation. I do however, feel that beauty does speak to people differently. I may find a painting of three gleaners beautiful and profound because it tells me about my family history and how far I have come. I find beauty in it because of the story I associate to it.

I also liked the idea of God designing everyone with intuition so that God wouldn’t have to constantly be speaking. This goes back to the scripture where Jesus tells us that the Helper would come as soon as he left. This ideal supports my belief that great ideas are God-given, believer or not.

“Every human subject s in touch with the ‘illuminating intellect,’ the reflection of God’s formative mental activity within our own: below the surface of human mental agency…” (23).

Williams shares that “art is an action of the intelligence and thus makes claims of about how things are” (36). I love this because my design philosophy is one where I make sure to try to stay true to the story behind every design I create. One of my favorite things about design is having the ability to be a voice to the unheard. A story teller sharing the truth about those untold stories. Williams continues to share his leading themes in visual art, all of which are full of great substance.

Creativity is intelligence having fun.
Albert Einstein

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4 thoughts on “Rowan Williams’ Modernism and the Scholastic Revival

  1. I really struggled trying to wrap my mind around the concept that beauty does not actually tell anything. I do not know if I ever fully understood what Williams was saying in that particular section. I agree with you in that I think beauty can speak, albeit differently to whoever happens to be viewing the particular piece of art. I think Williams was stressing the point that beauty is in our reactions, not in the piece itself, so perhaps that is why he says it does not actually tell anything, and therefore is not a type of truth. However, this is an idea I am continuing to grapple with – hopefully someday I’ll be able to figure it out!

  2. I am also intrigued by the comment that “Every human subject is in touch with the ‘illuminating intellect’, the reflection of God’s formative mental activity within our own: below the surface of human mental agency…” (23). This goes back to William’s idea that all art is a reaching for the infinite. People who make art are reaching for something beyond themselves although they cannot always explain what. Since art is created by intelligence and is meant to be contemplated by intelligence, it is seeking a greater purpose than what can be seen on the surface. Since God is present and in touch with people and illuminating ideas in peoples minds, even the art of nonbelievers can still reflect the glory of God because it depicts the beauty seen in His creation. If you think about it, people who make art are exercising a core truth whether they realize it or not: nothing comes from nothing, their artwork took intelligence to create it. On an infinitely greater scale: how much more intelligence did our world and universe take to create? The very process of art-making points to the logic of God.

  3. I really like that you related your design philosophy with the book we’ve road. Being honest, telling the true story is very important for either a fine artist or an designer. What intension we have, then what action we will get as a result. Which reminds me the idea of “Karma” in Buddhism, that every cause has an effect.

  4. You know, beauty may not tell you anything… except that there is beauty in and of itself, and there is something very satisfying about that. You talk about Millet’s painting of the gleaners- put an image of it in your blog! Interesting thoughts about intuition- very curious, I’m not sure I’ve looked at it in the way you have presented that God put that in us so He doesn’t have to speak constantly. Like Pan’s comment, I enjoy that you talked a bit about your design philosophy. Maybe include an image of your work that demonstrates the principle of what you’re talking about?

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