Torrance on Art

I’ve been studying art and the history of art, and I found this to be a very interesting view.

‘Manifestly art by its very nature is not concerned with explicit formalisation or a one to one correspondence with reality, for it depends on an element of artificiality or even estrangement from nature. To be a work of art something must be able to set the human imagination free from its imprisonment in the mimetic forms in which we are inevitably implicated, and thus provide the occasion for those appreciating it to transcend the limitations of their own place in space and time. But when the imagination becomes completely detached from the compelling claims of our actual existence in space and time, it becomes merely a meaningless dream, indulged in for its own sake like a fanciful game. A genuine work of art must have a grip upon reality in its depth, while declining to reduce that grip to explicit formalisation, and so by its nature indicates far more than it can imaginatively depict to people at the time. In this way, however, a work of art is so full of meaning that it commands a universal range of appreciation in time as well as space, so that though it may have been produced in some ancient culture it continues to be appreciated and understood, for it lifts the mind of each generation to a level of reality that is invariant for each and every generation.’ (T.F. Torrance, ‘Reality and Scientific Theology’, pp. 101)

I detect a note of Schopenhauer here.

5 thoughts on “Torrance on Art

  1. Kevin Davis January 11, 2014 / 11:46 pm

    This is very good. The artist is attempting to be a creator (hence, creativity), working with the material of reality — our reality — not an escapist reality of mere stimulation. In this way, the artist is indeed attempting to follow after God in their creativity. This requires a respect for reality as it is, not a revolt against the forms inherent within reality. When I taught a Sunday school class on art, I said that bad art is a sin! Our entire generation is taught that creativity comes from within ourselves — in fact, it is the exact opposite. Creativity is grace.


    • whitefrozen January 12, 2014 / 8:38 am

      Exactly! Though there is sense, at least in this passage, of a kind of ‘escape’, which is why I made the Schopenhauer reference.


      • Kevin Davis January 12, 2014 / 9:47 pm

        Yes. Maybe we could say, it is an escape into reality. I think Tolkien does that.


        • whitefrozen January 12, 2014 / 9:48 pm

          Ahh, that’s what I was searching for, but couldn’t find. Blast, I was thinking about that most of today. When in doubt, think of Tolkien!


  2. David Hemlock January 17, 2014 / 2:35 am

    “Since the Creator had seen fit to build a universe and set it in motion, it was the duty of the human artist to create as lavishly as possible in his turn. The romancer, who invents a whole world, is worshiping God more effectively than the mere realist who analyzes that which lies about him.” –J. Wain, Sprightly Running (NY: St Martins, 1963), p. 182

    Liked by 1 person

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