No Solo Here
Art For Goodness’ Sake
Hence, art should be used to redeem humanity and help individuals learn community and shared care for one another. Each level in Purgatory will describe and show these remarkable sculptures that are more beautiful than reality itself. What is important is not simply the fact that God can outdo any human sculptor, but that the meditation upon the images begins to transform and change the inner reality of the penitents, drawing them closer to one another. There is an assumption here that while the art itself does indeed matter, what is also important is the intentionality of both artist and viewer. While Bertolt Brecht stated “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it,” Dante believes that art is to shape humanity, not reality. The different images are to create within each penitent self-awareness and a deeper desire to grow more and more Christ-like.
Hence, for me, the question becomes not what kind of art should be created, whether the chiaroscuro of Rembrandt or the color fields of Rothko, but rather how one comes to the art and how willing one is to be laid open or taught by what one perceives. We have an admission here that the alabaster sculptures are so realistic that one can’t know if the singing or the very incense is real or not.
58 The foreground, peopled by figures grouped
Dinanzi parea gente; e tutta quanta,
59 in seven choirs, made one sense argue 'No'
partita in sette cori, a' due mie' sensi
60 and the other: 'Yes, they sing.'
faceva dir l'un "No," l'altro "Sì, canta."
61 In the same way, the smoke of incense
Similemente al fummo de li 'ncensi
62 sculpted there put eyes and nose
che v'era imaginato, li occhi e 'l naso
63 in discord, caught between yes and no.
e al sì e al no discordi fensi.
127 What makes your mind rear up so high?
Di che l'animo vostro in alto galla,
128 You are, as it were, defective creatures,
poi siete quasi antomata in difetto,
129 like the unformed worm, shaped from the mud.
sì come vermo in cui formazion falla?
130 To hold up roof or ceiling, as a corbel does,
Come per sostentar solaio o tetto,
131 we sometimes see a crouching figure,
per mensola talvolta una figura
132 its knees pushed up against its chest,
si vede giugner le ginocchia al petto,
133 and that unreal depiction may arouse
la qual fa del non ver vera rancura
134 in him who sees it real distress,
nascere 'n chi la vede; così fatti
135 such were these shapes when I could make them out.
vid' io color, quando puosi ben cura.
136 They were indeed hunched over more or less,
Vero è che più e meno eran contratti
137 depending on the burdens on their backs,
secondo ch'avien più e meno a dosso;
138 and even he that showed the greatest patience,
e qual più pazïenza avea ne li atti,
139 weeping, seemed to say: 'I can no more.'
piangendo parea dicer: "Più non posso."
Hence, in this place of art and change, even to the point of weeping, of seeming to believe that one can no longer carry this great weight, one continues to suffer, willingly, as seen in the humble corbel, in order to achieve that for which God has created one: to be holy. And for Dante, this art represents that and enables that and encourages that.