In my last post, “The Integrity of Using Art, Part 1,” I suggested that when using art, affirming the integrity of the work is immensely important. While what we mean by “integrity” might need additional attention, and perhaps expansion, I wish to return to the question with which I ended: what underlies this assertion of integrity, and how are we to be assured that use does not become abuse?
Modern aesthetics tends to be too much in the grip of an aestheticism that compartmentalizes art: in its excessive insistence that art is art, that art is for art’s sake, that art is resistant to any intrusion from what is other to art, post-Kantian aesthetics ends up divorcing art from its origin in the fundamental creative and tragic powers of human existence. In elevating art into a false self-sufficiency, it ends up diminishing art’s metaphysical power. This power interests me.
And here we find the beginnings of an answer to our question. What underlies this assertion of integrity? Not a false self-sufficiency (i.e., art for art’s sake), for as Desmond notes:
art cannot be the sanctus sanctorum in which the burden carried by religion, science and metaphysics can be sustained, and renewed. Art can be a carrier of transcendence, only if these others are themselves in robust spiritual shape…. Art is not the remnant that will save the rest. The impossible burden of transcendence is God. Without the religious, we collapse under the burden.
Like Desmond, I am interested in art’s metaphysical power as a carrier of transcendence, but what does this have to do with the integrity of using art?
For Desmond, conversations of metaphysics move along a “fourfold way,” from the univocal (which stresses sameness), to the equivocal (which stresses difference/diversity), to the dialectical (which stresses mediation of the different), and then, and this is Desmond’s unique contribution, to the metaxological (which stresses intermediation, i.e., the between). Whereas the dialectical seeks determination, the metaxological recognizes “the overdetermined givenness of being.” The metaxological is, according to Desmond, hyperbolic.
And this is where Desmond contributes to our conversation on the integrity of using art for while art is given it is also suggestive and excessive. It suggests transcendence, and not merely as metaphor, analogy, or symbol, but as hyperbole “from the ‘is’ that is immanent to the ‘above’ that is transcendent.”
But what does all of this mean? As a given, created good, art has integrity, and as a hyperbolic, redemptive word, it exceeds its uselessness, pressing us beyond ourselves and the other into Desmond’s ‘between’ where the question of God is brought to mind. But givenness and excess are related, and this in much the same way as integrity and use. And so I would argue not only that we might use art with integrity, but that failure to do so goes against the very grain of reality.
In my next post I’ll say a bit more about what using art with integrity looks like, and this in conversation with C.S. Lewis, David Brown and Daniel A. Siedell. For the time being, suffice it to say that Desmond’s metaxological metaphysics underlies my previous assertion of integrity in Part 1 with respect to using art, and that Pattison’s “Art and Apologetics” provides a cursory framework for conversation. Clearly there is more to be said. Bear with me.
Christopher R. Brewer is pursuing a PhD with David Brown and he is exploring the possibility of an imaginative natural theology. Along these lines, he is the founder and director of gospel through shared experience as well as the editor and publisher of Art that Tells the Story.
 William Desmond, The William Desmond Reader, ed. Christopher Ben Simpson (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2012), 167.
 William Desmond, Art, Origins, Otherness: Between Philosophy and Art (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003), 289-290.
 Desmond, The William Desmond Reader, 3.
 Ibid., 121.
 George Pattison, “Art and Apologetics,” Modern Churchman, 32 no. 5 (1991).