If a young man, clutching his “Iliad” in one hand and his Catechism in the other, were to tour the University of Dallas in 2021, hoping to find a university to sweep him away from the miseries of high school, he might be baffled at the modern nature of much of the art around campus.
St. John Paul II famously said that “through his artistic creativity, man appears more than ever in the image of God.” If we take him at his word,the art on campus ought to elevate one to Godliness.
Plato argued in the “Philebus” that “the power of the good has taken refuge in the nature of the beautiful.” Do we discern the nature of the beautiful with as much care as we do the nature of the true?
There certainly is art on campus that elevates, and no shortage of it. The Cap Bar is adorned with stunning mosaics, a beautiful 19th century painting of the Holy Family sits on the second floor of Haggar, and on the first floor is a print of Noah’s Ark. This is certainly not an exhaustive list.
Our prospective student would no doubt be satisfied, if not pleased with, much of what adorns the walls of Haggar.
Opposite the print of Noah’s Ark, however, is a towering canvas of blotched, red modernism, which stands in stark contrast to the print. Below the beautiful image of the “Sacra Familia” are rows of old student art ranging from fauvist to expressionism; all are nonetheless modern.
These pieces find their meaning not in clarity, but in distortion; not in elevation, but confusion. While a few artistic elites may point to the hidden messaging in the infamous clarineting nude blue man atop a block tree, those same elites would be hard pressed to find how it elevates or reflects.
Does the power of the good take refuge in the painting of dead flies on sleek bathroom tiles?
Opposite the mosaics in the Cap Bar is a large map of Rome and photographs depicting the Rome semester — no doubt an undisputed good addition to Haggar, as it highlights the school’s Italian identity.
Aristotle says that, “the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance,” and the art in the Cap Bar not only features the significant experience our prospective student is about to undertake, but further reminds upperclassmen of the significant experience they had.
But that memory might be somewhat disrupted by the art adorning the walls to the University of Dallas Police Department.
When they travel through Rome, the greatest of Western Art is woven into the souls of our students, truly uplifting them, only for them to return to Paul McArtney’s head between watermelons! Our art should reflect and continue what so profoundly lifts students during the Rome experience.
Now by no means am I arguing that the art on campus should be held to the standard of what we see in Rome. But art that does not elevate the viewer to God, art that does not reflect the good, art that does nothing to reflect inward significance — that is no art at all.
Every year, students set up tables in the annex of Haggar to sell their own works. Whether it be prints, paints or pottery, the students who showcase their work prove that our community is more than capable of producing truly beautiful works.
UD is full of talented artists who can use their skills to truly elevate the soul. If the good takes refuge in the beautiful, then we as a school should reject distorted modernism, and take care that our art is a suitable vessel for the good and the true.