The Age of Enlightenment spanned nearly the entire 18th Century. While some historians contend that the 17th C Jewish-Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), paved the way for this important intellectual and philosophical era in humanity’s history, I suggest that the age began 16,700 years earlier, give or take, when humans painted the walls of the Lascaux caves. For if art means, per James Joyce, “to recreate life out of life,” is that not enlightenment? (Dictionary.com defines enlighten this way: “to give intellectual or spiritual light to; instruct; impart knowledge to.”) Those cave painters may have wanted to define, or “give spiritual life to,” the fauna and flora in their environment.
History shows us that the Egyptians “gave spiritual life to” their rulers’ tombs with art that combined images calligraphic and life-like. These artists clearly demonstrated an enlightened sensibility here.
This art is extant. Its very survival enlightens us, “imparts knowledge” to us about our human history, unlike the art of Appelles, Zeuxis, Parrhasius and countless other unnamed and unknown enlightened artists. Their work has been lost to time and neglect, with only ersatz copies and written records that attest its existence.
The art of Pompeii exists, if not for our pleasure, for our edification. This is the work of enlightened artisans, not mere decorators. (But is not all art decorative?) Their extant renderings enlighten us about the ancients’ manners, customs and mores with a verve and style that belie their age.
Medieval art advanced humanity’s enlightenment with its mosaics, sculpture and architecture, much of which is still extant due to its durability. The era’s beautiful illuminated manuscripts gave way to that most enlightening of inventions, Johannes Gutenberg‘s printing press, ca. 144o.
Then that bridge between the above and what follows: The Renaissance. With a backward glance and an enlightened eye, this era’s practitioners achieved artistic heights hitherto unknown in human history. Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and their contemporaries, pushed back the boundaries of artistic expression, and much of it is available to us today in the world’s treasure houses of art.
The efflorescence of The Renaissance could not but enlighten and inspire all artists who followed. The Mannerism of the Baroque era gave way to the Romanticism of the Age of Enlightenment, where “reality” became the theme. The glories of this Age of Enlightenment—pictorial, literary, musical, dramatic, operatic, philosophical—are too numerous to mention here. Humanity certainly is the richer for the contributions thereof.
It’s said that the proliferation of photography caused artists to reconsider their roles as picture makers. Then the introduction of Japanese woodblock prints to the West enlightened them as to graphic possibilities hitherto unconsidered. Voila! Impressionism. While not immediately popular in Europe, New York and Chicago Gilded Age collectors were advised to buy, and buy they did; hence, such wonderful collections of the stuff in the US.
Things take off artisitcally in the 20th Century when Braque and Picasso start painting what they “know,” instead of what they “see.” Cubism is born and opens the dialog between art and viewer ever further.
The act of painting takes its place in the progress of art during the mid-twentieth century with Action Painting, famously exemplified by Jackson Pollack. Then, the one creating the art becomes as important as her/his work, e.g., Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst.
This fleeting overview omits a good deal in the artistic pantheon of humanity, obviously. Eastern art, African art, Aboriginal art all contribute significantly to the Enlightenment of the Family of Man. And what about the lively arts—dance, drama, music, opera? And literature? The great artists across these genres contribute so meaningfully to what it is to be human. Would not the world be poorer without them? So what, you may ask (if you’ve made it this far), has any of this to do with Enlightenment?
All this is at risk,
at risk of being destroyed or lost or subsumed by forces who are in our world today that have no regard for human values or achievements. These are forces—an Intervention—from the Greater Community who value this world for its rich biological diversity and for its strategic location in a highly populated region of space, all of which we know nothing about, and could only know from
a Source outside ourselves,
the New Message from God, a “warning, a preparation and a blessing.” One would do well to enlighten oneself about Life In the Universe, one of the texts of the New Message and free online. The Greater Community, another of the texts and also free online advises:
You must learn who is flying in your skies, who is taking your people against their will. This cannot be a deep dark secret now. It must come out into the open so that people can see it and understand it clearly. For, as We have said, it is not a mystery. It is a concealed truth, concealed by many forces.
These foreign races do not want our art, our music, our dance. In fact, they are threatened by them, as they can spark the latent Knowledge deep within all sentient beings.
also all free online, are “a genuine transformational message aimed directly at the underlying purpose of the alien Intervention in order to raise the awareness that we will need to face the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead.” (from The Society for the New Message)
We are yet spiritual and creative in a universe where these are not valued. Our challenge is to maintain our sovereignty and freedom in this environment. If we can do that, we have the opportunity to unite as a human family and be an example for other free races in the universe with our art and cultural heritage intact.
- Enlightenment: Five Views
- Emptiness as Enlightenment