Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Art for the modern world

Matthew from the Holy Whapping has an interesting posting about art (in the large sense) as applied to the modern world: the use of good, classical designs of beauty for common things like gas stations!

Speaking as a Chestertonian computer scientist, I would be delighted to see a beautiful wood - er - cabinet for my CRT/computer... maybe some gold leaf, scrollwork, etc... perhaps opening as a kind of diptych with paintings on either side: On the left, St. Joseph teaching the boy Jesus to read; on the right St. Thomas Aquinas with a scroll bearing Ens - as GKC asays, "There is an IS!"...

Well, if I don't get back to work, I won't be able to afford it if someone ever makes it. But here is Chesterton's own views of this remarkable idea:

Nobody would be more really unsuitable to the machine age than a man who really admired machines. The modern system presupposes people who will take mechanism mechanically; not people who will take it mystically. An amusing story might be written about a poet who was really appreciative of the fairy-tales of science, and who found himself more of an obstacle in the scientific civilization than if he had delayed it by telling the fairy-tales of infancy. Suppose whenever he went to the telephone (bowing three times as he approached the shrine of the disembodied oracle and murmuring some appropriate form of words such as vox et praeterea nihil), he were to act as if he really valued the significance of the instrument. Suppose he were to fall into a trembling ecstasy on hearing from a distant exchange the voice of an unknown young woman in a remote town, were to linger upon the very real wonder of that momentary meeting in mid-air with a human spirit whom he would never see on earth, were to speculate on her life and personality, so real and yet so remote from his own, were to pause to ask a few personal questions about her, just sufficient to accentuate her human strangeness, were to ask whether she also had not some sense of this weird Psychical tête-à-tête, created and dissolved in an instant, whether she also thought of those unthinkable leagues of valley and forests that lay between the moving mouth and the listening ear - suppose, in short, he were to say all this to the lady at the exchange who was just about to put him on to 666 Upper Tooting. He would be really and truly expressing the sentiment, "Wonderful thing, the telephone!" ; and, unlike the thousands who say it, he would actually mean it. He would be really and truly justifying the great scientific discoveries and doing honour to the great scientific inventors. He would indeed be the worthy son of a scientific age. And yet I fear that in a scientific age he would possibly be misunderstood, and even suffer from lack of sympathy. I fear that he would, in fact, be in practice an opponent of all that he desired to uphold. He would be a worse enemy of machinery than any Luddite smashing machines. He would obstruct the activities of the telephone exchange, by praising the beauties of the telephone, more than if he had sat down, like a more normal and traditional poet, to tell all those bustling business people about the beauties of a wayside flower.

[GKC, The Outline of Sanity CW5:152-3]

[Also see What's Wrong With the World, CW 4:112: "I have often thanked God for the telephone."]


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