One of my favorite films is undoubtedly the 1984 masterful drama Amadeus. The film is superbly cast, acted, and shot; it relates the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through the envious eyes of Antonio Salieri.
While the film undoubtedly takes its liberties, one point that seems to be fairly accurate is that Mozart possessed a deep appreciation for scattalogical humor. At least, based on his letters, his humor seemed to favor the puerile and crude.
At one point in the film Mozart remarks, “Forgive me, I am a vulgar man, but I assure you my music is not.”
While the film’s depiction of Mozart’s life is rife with flatulence and sensuality, his music is awe inspiring, and many times, it points his listener to God.
Today this juxtaposition of the vulgar and divine seems impossible. In light of cancel-culture, we have to do away with artists who violate social norms and commit social vices. And Mozart definitely violated social norms. Today, when that happens we argue the art becomes toxic because society deems the individual as toxic.
So, one must wonder, if we were to examine Mozart through our modern lens, where we condemn the art if the artist’s morals displease us, is listening to Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, KV. 427, Kyrie, which sings glory to God, toxic?
What Even Is Art?
Throughout the ages, individuals have pondered what is art —It’s function and purpose? We can study Aristotle or Diderot or even John Paul II in an attempt to grasp what art is.
One theme that is quite popular in art theory is transcendence. Art seems to possess the unique ability to tap into the mysterious and sacred. It can convey what is so often impossible to express. It points us upward to the divine.
When we strive to bring art into the world, we reveal something magnificent.
Something that is beyond us: Beauty.
This gives art an almost sacred quality because it transcends the finite and points us towards the eternal.
If we understand art as such, rooted in the objective but linked to the transcendent, our approach towards art should be laced with reverence.
Evelyn Waugh explains art in perhaps my most favorite terms:
“There is an Easter sense in which all things are made new in the risen Christ. A tiny gleam of this is reflected in all true art.”
But now, we walk into churches shaped like flying saucers, stores that are cold, badly lit, and smell weird, and go to museums to see paintings that look like a toddler has colored on the walls. We turn on the radio and our ears start to bleed as we hear things like Addison Rae’s song “Obsessed,” which basically is a narcissist’s anthem.
“You said you’re obsessed with me and I said ‘me too.”
What a healthy message for our young girls. Worse, Addison “dances” provocatively throughout her music video as she praises herself — does this really count as art?
Unfortunately, the mess continues— We have platforms like Tik Tok that enable young teens to go viral as social media artists. Here they get to objectify themselves sexually as they shake their booties in the camera and leave little to the imagination. It’s all in the name of self-expression and today that is the basis of art, right?
What Went Wrong?
Has it ever dawned on anyone, that when we go back in history and gaze at glorious works of art from people like Raphael or da Vinci or composers like Mozart, that maybe the difference is that they actually had something to communicate? And being able to communicate they were able to elevate culture, and not decimate it.
They sought to communicate real Beauty, which objectively comes from God.
If we look at gorgeous cathedrals, like St. John Lateran or Notre Dame
(before the fire), or St. Patrick’s in New York, they inspire awe and wonder because they seek to glorify God. No one has to explain their splendor; it’s self-evident. These buildings strive to touch Heaven, and in doing so, they bring men to their knees in wonder.
They communicate the glory and goodness of God, and that transcends man’s finality. Yes, it even transcends his vulgarity because he is seeking something greater than himself: the Almighty.
But when we cut ourselves off from God and erect a throne to the self, how do we communicate the Good, the True, and the Beautiful?
Is it even possible?
It seems that much of our modern art has very little to say because self-expression no longer means conveying what is good and holy. Instead, it is a rambling of self-consumed nothings. As a result, we can no longer transcend vulgarity because vulgarity is all we know.
Is it really any wonder that much of our modern art looks like a child’s scribbling and our hit tunes are people gyrating to self-obsessed debauchery?
“Quantum notiores, tantum cariores; ‘the better we know it, the more we love it.’
Until we restore Beauty, our art will suffer.
When we root art in objective value, as opposed to subjective-nothingness, we get a glimpse at the eternal. Why? Because instead of just throwing paint on a canvas or writing anthems of self-obsession, we seek out something greater and more fulfilling. As a result, we will find something true and timeless.
When God has been removed from society, art is incapable of drawing us up towards Heaven, We are trapped in the finite without any clear sense of what is Good, True, and Beautiful.
Thus, arbitrary things like cancel-culture thrive in a vain attempt to somehow regulate the moral disaster that inevitably follows.
We can argue that certain artists should be condemned because they offend our personal sensibilities, but since objective morality is passe, artists like Cardi B can go forth promoting promiscuity, corrupting our daughters, and call it art.
Once we lived in a world where artists had their own moral struggles, but because they knew that Goodness existed and was something to seek out, they were capable of creating something magnificent. Hence, “Forgive me, I am a vulgar man, but I assure you my music is not.”
But when individualism takes the place of the Divine, our art becomes more degrading and dirty— there is no room for grace.
Instead of being broken individuals, seeking God, and therefore miraculously capable of bringing Beauty into the world, the world has rejected God’s Beauty. As a result, we cling desperately to our own crudeness and try to glorify it.
The problem is not the vulgar man, the problem is that we’ve rejected that the vulgar man can be redeemed by God.