The Framework: Subject of Symbolism through the Faculty of Fine Arts.
In our times, studying symbols from different spiritual traditions has begun to be realized from the academic rigour. Avoiding any defined belief or doctrine, and also the possible syncretical abuses of certain spiritual or esoteric mediums.
Fields like Philosophy, History, Anthropology and Psychology, have dedicated part of their investigations to the study of symbols which has shown its importance in these connected disciplines.
We believe it is also necessary to revive the study of symbols in their relationship to, and with, art.
It seems evident that in the artistic creations of many cultures, trough the different historical periods, exists a high symbolic content. One cannot deny that what is of beautiful and sublime in traditional symbols overpass the historical or social contexts, in order to approach a certain universal sensibility. For this reason neither African statues, nor Islamic ornaments, Egyptian frescos nor the Byzantine icons, nor Oriental calligraphy, Classical statues or Abstract painting are strangers to our studies.
The subject of Symbolism from the University of Barcelona is only an initial framework, a point of departure seeking to relate and collaborate with other entities or groups working on similar or parallel investigations.
The title: ARSGRAVIS. Making Visible the Invisible
Ars gravis or “grave art”, in the sense of “profound, noble, important, transcendent, etc.”, but also and basically, a “weighty art” or more exactly, an art that “gives weight” to the subtle and invisible. With relation to this Art (with capital letter), Emmanuel d’Hooghvorst wrote: “To give body and measure to the immensity is the mystery of pure Art”. The authentic artist is that one who reunites heaven with earth and in his work includes the infinite in the finite, one who coagulates the dispersed and fixes the volatile.
When art is “grave”, the chain link with the universal symbols establishes itself naturally, without effort, so then the immensity of creation is announced in the specific, as explains Henry Corbin when he distinguishes between symbol and allegory: “Symbol is not an artificially constructed sign; it spontaneously flowers in the soul to announce something that can’t be expressed in any other form, it is the unique expression of what is symbolized as reality that becomes transparent to the soul, but that in itself transcends all expression.” (H. Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital)
This art is the mirror in which inspired men and women contemplate themselves and reach a vision of their inner natures, knowing their own mystery. In this way the invisible becomes visible. As wrote Louis Cattiaux in his treatise about painting, the “weighty” art is: “Like the illumination that appears after the unravelling of interior chaos and what one realizes in solitary meditation. It is like the awakening of the secret and powerful being that sleeps in each one of us.” (L. Cattiaux, Physics and Metaphysics in Painting)
The proposal: "Reflections about the confluence between art and symbolism"
The possibility that modern man enjoys of gaining access to different cultures, comparing them, and appreciating their differences and their confluences too, is a strictly historic deed which allows us to understand that there are levels of reality that exist beyond changes, that is to say, they are a temporal.
Two of these levels, proximal to what the ancients held to be sacred, will be addressed in this work: artistic creation, and the transcendental meaning of symbols.
Just like art needs the transcendence of symbols to join together its disparate contents, symbols also need art to vivify themselves in its experience . Transcendence and experience are two complementary facets of the human spirit, and they have developed under this unity through the coming and going of civilizations. The poet, the painter, the musician and the architect, update the symbols of the ancient texts and breathe new life into them. Without the practice of art, the letter kills and the possibility of salvation disappear. The aesthetic experience means putting into practice what is written in the code of the Old and New Testaments, and manifested in the rites.
"Symbols" take part in the sacred and the profane, as they show pure light under the appearance of mundane images. They are the bridges that cross the disjunctive darkness that separates men from their mythical origin. We should recall that the word "symbol" comes from a Greek very meaning "to unite", as they unite heaven and earth and the infinite with the particular, which in the alchemists' language would be the volatile and the fixed.
Symbolic images are not referential signs of meanings established by human conventions; rather, they are the forms of universal contents that are alien to historic conventions. In a society like ours, where sight seems to predominate over the other senses, this teaching should perhaps arouse more enthusiasm.
In order to revive the symbols, it does not appear to be enough to know the socio-cultural context in which they were born. Nor, perhaps, to regard them as universal images of the collective unconscious, classifiable as basic models of human behavior. Each of the foregoing considerations contributes to the knowledge of the different facets that concur in man when he creates symbols, but they are missing something that - moreover - is the most capital element. The symbol of the sacred can only be understood to the extent that it is experienced.
But, how can 21 st century man experience sacredness? We have already pointed out that it is only possible to depart from history "with" history. The contents cannot be different, as they are universal by definition, but the form has to be strictly new.
In this regard it seems important to us that for the last two centuries, the experiencing of sacredness has sought refuge in artistic practices and the creative genius has been erected as a bastion to ensure a genuine spiritual praxis. Just by scratching the surface of the assumptions of romanticism, impressionism, symbolism, abstraction, surrealism, or whatever other movement or trend one can think of, one can see that a sensitive experience is reanimated in the creative act and the attending aesthetic pleasure, opening pathways to gain access to the sacred contents of the images. When a work of art "works," that is, fulfills its function, it awakens the most interior secret inside man.
Contents of "ARSGRAVIS Project"
E-Book: "Art and Symbol"
Using as a point of departure the engravings of a brief and valuable alchemical treatise entitled: “AZOTH, or the Means to Make the Occult Gold of the Philosophers” (1659), a series of visual discourses, as many as the images of the book, have been created in order to develop the symbolic content of each image. The authorship of this treatise is attributed to a Benedictine monk named Basil Valentin, who had “lived” in the second half of the Fourteenth century; nevertheless whomever he may have been, what is certain is that he dared to publish something that had been, until then, secret: the way and the matter necessary to make the Philosopher’s Stone, or the “occult gold of the Philosophers”. So, in the small “symbols”, as are named the engravings in the “Azoth”, demonstrate, without profaning, the formulas and secret operations involved in the Art of turning lead into gold and death into life.
The e-Book is divided into two parts: the first, theoretical, explains the relationship between art and symbol, besides the historical references to the works of Basil Valentin and the role that the images have played in alchemical tracts.In the second, six visual discourses based on the figures of the “Azoth” try to suggest and awoke the symbolism contained in the Valentin’s engravings through the works of art of different cultures and historical ages.
A pdf with the original text of the “AZOTH, or the Means to Make the Occult Gold of the Philosophers” is included.
Texts. Theoretical sources:
From two symbolic sets, that will be able to be extended and amplified to other significant fields of meaning, an effort has been made to create a base of theoretical references with respects to the traditional symbols. When choosing the fragments, we have looked for ways of providing an hermetic and symbolic basis without forgetting the texts of the western tradition as well as a selection of other traditions, many of them proceeding from a summa of the universal wisdom elaborated by W. Perry (A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom). Because there is no way of understanding symbols without submerging oneself in the original sources of the tradition, as Carlos del Tilo notes in the presentation of this section.
Images. Symbolic Figures:
Using as a point of departure the great traditional symbolic themes, several visual discourses have been generated looking to contemplate the images in relationship, so that said relationship may carry us to discover the significance of each symbol from an inductive mode, more than a discursive one. It definitely deals with a new manner of "reading" the works of art, beyond the esthetics.
About Louis Cattiaux's work.
The work of this twentieth century French artist will serve us as an example of the union between art and symbol, because beyond being a painter with a strong spiritual content, Louis Cattiaux was the author of "The Message Rediscovered", a splendid book, where through the form of short aphorisms, the Hermetic foundations of the Western tradition are shown. He wrote also a theoretical study about art entitled "Physics and Metaphysics of Painting".