For at least two reasons, it is very significant that God chose to indwell the flesh and blood of humanity. First, according to the modern sensibility, bodies are perceived as a material that should be dominated through the techniques of the sciences (such as medicine). Second, according to some in the Christian faith, it would seem to make more sense to define the incarnation as God becoming a soul, as we share corporality with all material creatures while our souls seem to be our distinctive aspect. In contrast to both of these views, a proper understanding of Jesus Christ’s incarnation points toward the real depth expressed by our bodies.
But what has this to do with Art? Well, everything!
First of all, Art happens in the space of sensuality. Art takes reality through our bodies: there’s no such a thing as an immaterial art. Therefore, corporality is a condition of Art, and Art, as a genuine human space, is deeply related with the particularity of the human body among all the other material beings (which are capable of beauty, but not of art). Also, this means that Art, as a language, as something that holds and expresses sense, is ciphered in human coordinates.
Secondly, the human body, in shape and specifications, has always been a main object of Art. I don’t think this needs any more demonstration than opening a book on the History of Art. Moreover, the way the human body is represented is an essential element in defining and categorising different artistic styles and movements. And I do not mean only the visual arts; this applies to all of the arts.
Where does the specificity of human body lay? In its intrinsic unity with the spirit.
This unity is showed in its very configuration. A good example of this is the natural weakness and absurdity of our bodies when compared with the efficient bodies of animals. Our bodies are less designed for survival than for intimacy, and only intimacy truly reveals the uniqueness of our bodies in their spiritual structure. Intimacy is the field of encounter, of interspersion, of two spheres of life; that encounter is an enlightening of sense. Art is the result of the artist’s physical relation of intimacy with truth and beauty, a complicated relation sometimes…
Philosophical Anthropology teaches us that our bodies are the word of the spirit, the living place for the realization of men and women as persons. My body is not a part of me or something I own, it is me myself: it not only participates completely in the realization of my spiritual self, it also constitutes it. Corporality is the specific way on which the human spirit exists. For that reason, the physical human body has a specific meaning and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our lives. That’s why it is a valuable object of Art. That’s why one of its more defining actions is Art: it is our bodies speaking sense.
What do you think? Do you think art discloses the vital complexity of the human body? Do you think all artistic approaches to our bodies do justice to them? How do you think our bodies express our transcendent dimension?
Leticia Cortina Aracil has a degree in Philosophy from the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, Spain. She is currently pursuing PhD research there on Karol Kerényi’s method of reconstructing human spiritual experiences through the archaeological study of art, myths and religious cult. For the last several years, she has been a lecturer of Humanities in the Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, focusing mostly in Anthropology and Aesthetics. She believes that everything human starts with wonder and grows in self-commitment with truth, and she hopes that her work is proof of it.