Divine Inspiration and Art.


By Max Lieberman and Michael McFadden.

What is it in an artwork that enables it to transcend the limitations of the culture in which it was created, giving it a universal appeal? Why do the works of Shakespeare, Michaelangelo or Mozart have the ability to move audiences so powerfully, hundreds of years after they were produced, in a culture and society with vastly different values and preoccupations to that of their original audience?

It has been argued that works such as these have a depth and subtlety of expression which enables them to transmit the artists’ experience of the sublime, or the divine. In fact the emminent psychologist Carl Jung has said that the “ability to reach a rich vein (the unconscious/sublime) in such materials and to translate it effectively into philosophical literature, music or scientific study is the hallmark of what is commonly called genius.” Definitions of this subtle quality are limited in their value, for this quality by its very nature eludes the limitation which definition implies. Despite the elusive and somewhat ethereal nature of this phenomena, it has been recognised and described not only by artists of genius throughout the ages and across the cultures, but those arch sceptics and rationalists the scientists.

Auguste Rodin, the great French sculptor of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, recognised this subtle quality as the crucial element in great art, arguing that “Great works of art say all that can be said about man and they convey that there is something more that cannot be known. Every masterpiece has this quality of mystery.”