Art, Science, Religion

Throughout human history, there have been periods when art, science and religion formed a trinity of transcendent character. In others, on the contrary, they not only dissociated but even persecuted each other.

Art, Science, Religion

In the Paleolithic period, for example, we observe that one cannot conceive of rudimentary art and incipient science as separate branches of religion. Both were an essential part of the magical-religious phenomenon in which prehistoric humanity was immersed. The same thing happened in much later periods, such as in ancient Egypt, where there continued to be a symbiosis between the three branches of knowledge that concern us.

Over the centuries, however, these three branches of knowledge tended to separate. Religion closed the field of its competencies in metaphysics, devotion and the transcendental; art tended essentially to intuitive knowledge and beauty; while science focused on the tangible, the world of matter and rational analysis.

Such a disintegration of the three focuses of knowledge of the human being, in its rational, emotional and intuitive aspects, has great importance for the evolutionary development of the species, since it allows him to approach, from very different angles, what constitutes the definitive essence of the purpose of our existence: to investigate what we are and what the world is.

Unfortunately, religion, far from allowing humanity to enter freely into the reality of its own being and the essence of the laws that govern our universe, tried to dominate and put under its tutelage art and science, going so far as to pursue to death any concept or activity that did not conform to its guidelines. As an example, it is enough to remember the inquisitorial processes of the famous Aragon´s doctor and humanist Michael Servetus, or of the no less famous Italian physicist, mathematician and astronomer, Galileo Galilei, who, in 1633, was condemned to abjure “his erroneous ideas”.

In this way, for many centuries the Roman Church curtailed the progress of the sciences, while using art as a means of spreading and consolidating its dogmas.

However, it was especially from the Renaissance onwards that art sought, on the one hand, to penetrate the so-called Pagan Mysteries of ancient Greece (inspired by Egyptian hermeticism), and on the other, to bring science ever closer. Some of the most important results of this are the application, in the pictorial works, of the golden ratio and the linear perspective.

The Counter-Reformation once again curtailed the outbreaks of freedom born with the Renaissance, practically until the end of the 19th century, and it was no longer possible to escape from the iron grip imposed by the dominant religion.

During the nineteenth century, with the rise of various esoteric currents (Rosicrucian, Theosophy, etc.), and the active development of science, art is inclined either towards the application of new scientific theories, or towards the inspiration that comes to them from Eastern religions and heterodoxy. 

We find examples of the above in the application by Seurat, among other “pointillist” artists, of Chevreul’s theory of colors, in the influence that scientific discoveries, theories and inventions had on plastic works, as is the case of photography and cinema, or of Freudian theories in “surrealism. In the middle of the 20th century, the most significant examples of esoteric influences are to be found in “symbolism” or in painters such as Wassily Kandinsky (founder of abstract painting) who, in his work “On the Spiritual in Art”, explicitly recognizes what his work owes to the theories of the great esotericist Helena P. Blavatsky; or in Piet Mondrián, an active supporter of theosophy.

Apart from the authors and movements cited, and a few other specific cases, it could be said that 20th century art is completely dissociated from religion, in an extreme search for “absolute freedom”. Between 1945 and 1960 we observe approaches by artists such as Mark Rothko, Hans Hartung or Antoni Tápies to primitive oriental currents, such as Taoism or Zen philosophy, but this is more a formal search than a vital incorporation of the essence of such philosophies.

With the diffusion of audiovisual media, such as video, computers, Internet, or virtual reality, many artists are inclined to the interactivity between man and machine. In particular, through virtual reality, the artist incorporates cyberspace (a term derived from “cyborg”, a word coined from the 1970s by NASA scientists to designate the fusion between the human body and technology) as a means of multiple, open and interactive interpretation. With this, we observe how the machine increasingly determines both perception and artistic production itself. From such experiences in art, the intuition factor is closely interrelated with the science factor and examples of body implants and prostheses (electronic systems coupled to the body, in a pressing desire to enhance human faculties), which, although they have literary antecedents in works such as “Frankenstein” or “Blade Runner”, have never before gone beyond mere theoretical formulation are presented.

Trying to take “a step further”, some artists immersed in the so-called “biological art” experiment with living beings (fluorescent rabbits, etc.), genetic manipulations and interactions with virtual characters. The spectator ceases to be a passive instrument and assumes the role of creator. He does so by means of interactive converters on the Internet which, through a set of image and voice recognition cameras, interpret the information provided by the spectator-user, and then return it in the form of images, gestures and movements, colors and sounds.

Until then, in Western culture, the natural took precedence over the artificial. But with the new ways of experiencing reality, art became completely desacralized, leaning unequivocally towards science.

Science, in its investigations about the immensely big (the macrocosm) and the immensely small (the subatomic particles), paradoxically sees itself needing to assume transcendental postulates as the only way to find meaning with respect to a few experimental results that, as in the field of quantum physics, can no longer be explained or covered by simple logic.

In any case, we appreciate that both the artist and the scientist of the 21st century are looking for solutions to the most pressing questions of the human being: “How does the mind work, where is the consciousness located, what is reality and how to understand it? Questions that, in short, are nothing more than an attempt to investigate, from a current perspective, the already classic approaches of the ancient Delphic Mystery School: who are we, where do we come from, where are we going?

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Date: July 1, 2020
Author: Jesús Zatón (Spain)
Photo: Geralt-Pixabay CCO

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