An aesthetics of one’s own

The small things in everyday life are no less sacred than the great issues of human existence.

Fifth post on CARE OF THE SOUL:

I am a maker. I have been a maker for as long as I can remember. Making (in the form of writing, drawing, painting, knitting, cooking, gardening, blogging …) still gives me the greatest pleasure. It makes my life meaningful.

I guess this is why I feel as if Thomas Moore’s chapter «The Sacred Arts of Life» is written directly to me. Here is a compilation of his thoughts:

We can return now to one of Plato’s expressions for care of the soul, techne tou biou, the craft of life. Care of the soul requires craft (techne)—skill, attention, and art. To live with a high degree of artfulness means to attend to the small things that keep the soul engaged in whatever we are doing, and it is the very heart of soul-making.

When art is reserved as the province of professional artists, a dangerous gulf develops between the fine arts and the everyday arts. The fine arts are elevated and set apart from life, becoming too precious and therefore irrelevant. Having banished art to the museum, we fail to give it a place in ordinary life. One of the most effective forms of repression is to give a thing excessive honor.

Art, broadly speaking, is that which invites us into contemplation—a rare commodity in modern life. In that moment of contemplation, art intensifies the presence of the world. We see it more vividly and more deeply.

Many of the arts practiced at home are especially nourishing to the soul because they foster contemplation and demand a degree of artfulness, such as arranging flowers, cooking, and making repairs.

When imagination is allowed to move to deep places, the sacred is revealed. The more different kinds of thoughts we experience around a thing and the deeper our reflections go as we are arrested by its artfulness, the more fully its sacredness can emerge. It follows, then, that living artfully can be a tonic for the secularization of life that characterizes our time.

The route to this discovery is art, both the fine arts and those of everyday life. If we could loosen our grip on the functionality of life and let ourselves be arrested by the imaginal richness that surrounds all objects, natural and human-made, we might ground our secular attitudes in a religious sensibility and give ordinary life soul.

Becoming the artists of our own lives, we can approach the depth that is the domain of soul. When we leave art only to the accomplished painter and the museum, instead of fostering our own artful sensibilities through them, then our lives lose opportunities for soul.

Fine art, like formal religion, is at times quite lofty, while soul in any context is lower case, ordinary, daily, familial and communal, felt, intimate, attached, engaged, involved, affected, ruminating, stirred, and poetic. The soul of a piece of art is known intimately, not remotely. It is felt, not just understood.

Thomas Moore: Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, HarperCollins Publishers