By way of reminder, what I am doing here is trying to help people appreciate and understand the art they look at. I am not going to attempt to get you to "enjoy" that art. No one can do that. You're not going to enjoy all art just because you understand it and that's fine. I understand sushi and I can appreciate the exquisite art of preparing it, but you won't catch me eating it because though I understand and appreciate it, I do not enjoy sushi at all. Sorry.
So what we're going to do is to try to understand and appreciate the art by understanding and appreciating where the artist is coming from (i.e. his/her world view). By "world view", I mean the comprehensive conception of the world and how this world works, i.e. our assumptions about life. The way I'll do this is to trace the historic progression of the dominant world view as it evolves through history. One note here...No one really holds to just one world view, no matter what we say. For instance, a religious person may intellectually hold to a theistic world view but act as though there were no God or higher power at all. A nihilist may say there is no real "importance" to life at all and that there is no basis for any moral standards at all, and yet act and live as though something like global warming WAS important and that it's "wrong" to be homophobic or racist.
So, when we talk about someone's world view, we're painting with a broad brush -- there will be exceptions because most human beings are anything but consistent. That said, there is something to be learned from looking at the dominant world view an artist (or anyone for that matter) has because it helps us interpret everything else about them. It's not really fair to judge someone with my own standards even if I believe those standards are correct. What I would like to encourage you to do is to learn the standards of someone else and interpret their life and their art on that basis. Why? Well, because that is just respectful and I hope that's still a valued attribute to everyone reading this, no matter your world view.
Enough of a prologue. Let's get into it.
First of all, for thousands of years, the dominant world view was that of THEISM. The basic assumptions about life according to a theist can be summed up this way:
There is a God. He* has created everything there is.
He has revealed himself to the world (he wants to be known).
He is actively involved in the world of human affairs, i.e. what we call miracles are possible if there is a God.
God controls all things and provides a sense of order.
*By using the pronoun "he", I am simply acquiescing to the historical way of referring to the God of the Bible since that God is not portrayed in the scriptures as an "it" but as possessing a personality. That said, I need to be careful because that God is not portrayed as possessing a Y chromosome. The God of the Bible is not male; neither is he female but the creator and wellspring of all that is male and all that is female.
According to theism, there is actual
Good and evil
Right and wrong
True and false
...and what you do (good or evil, right or wrong) ultimately matters.
The historic theistic world view states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. It states unequivocally that human beings are significant because they were created in the image of God.
So, a question...
What would you expect visual art, music or poetry to look or sound like that is coming from a theistic world view? Other than the obvious (saints and halos), any art that CELEBRATES ORDER may well be coming from a theistic assumption of the world. Sometime, look up the "Golden Section" or "Divine proportion" (same thing). It's an amazing proportion that artists and designers have been using since the days of ancient Egypt. That proportion is 38:62 By and large, your navel is at about the 62% mark from your feet to the top of your head, your elbow is about 38% from your shoulder to your finger tips. The dorsal fin of a dolphin is 62% back from the tip of its nose to it's tail. This proportion is in plants and animals nearly everywhere you look. It even dictates the planetary rotations of all the inner planets out to Jupiter, and is clearly seen in the location of bands in the rings of Saturn. Architects have employed it in the design of the Great Pyramid and Parthenon and it was used in the proportions of the Ark of the Covenant in the book of Exodus.
The existence of order in any artwork (visual art, music and poetry) is a "tipping of the hat" to the theistic world view.
As far as music goes, take a break and go and listen to Bach's Fugue in G Minor. I don't care if you like or love Bach. Just do it. I chose this rendition of it because it comes with cool graphics (so it'll be entertaining!). Look at and listen to the incredible order in this piece of music. This is literally mathematics set to music, and it definitely comes from the strong theistic world view of Johann Sebastian Bach.
For an example of poetry coming from this world view I've selected a verse from Bach's hymn "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring", and as you read it, rather than agreeing or disagreeing with his assumptions very clearly written here, read it and understand simply WHAT his assumptions are. According to the lyricist of this piece, (ask yourself) is there meaning to life, does life matter, are people important?
Jesu, joy of man's desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne
So that is Theism. In a theistic world view, you have a God who is there, who wants to be known by humans. BUT…everything eventually morphs. In my next post in this series, I'll look at the next world view, Deism and it's powerful influence on painting, music and poetry as well.