The Cave & the Cathedral: Meaning-making in the Dark, Plenary B from Circe ’12, by Greg Wolfe

This session began with 7 minutes from the film, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” in which we viewed ancient cave art with musical background.  Greg then developed his talk from these drawings along the line that art is more than simply self-expression, it is the desire to make meaning out of what is known.  Whether drawing, writing, painting, sculpting, or arranging musical notes, the human desire, yea in fact purpose, is in part to make meaning of his world.  “Love is the opposite of power.”

One of the great comments made by Wolfe was his reference to the following extended quote from Ingmar Bergman:

“People ask what are my intentions with my films, my aims. It is a difficult and dangerous question, and I usually give an evasive answer: I try to tell the truth about the human condition, the truth as I see it. This answer seems to satisfy everyone, but it is not quite correct. I prefer to describe what I would like my aim to be.

There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site. They worked until the building was completed — master builders, artists, labourers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of Chartres.

Regardless of my own beliefs and my own doubts, which are unimportant in this connection, it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship.

It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans; ‘eternal values,’ ‘immortality’ and ‘masterpiece’ were terms not applicable in his case.

The ability to create was a gift. In such a world flourished invulnerable assurance and natural humility. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.” (my source is a blog, don’t know the primary citation:

“We withdraw from life into the dark to recreate life by meaning making.”

Owen Barfield: ““We must not forget that in this time perspective had not yet been discovered, nor underrate the significance of this. True, it is no more than a device for pictorially representing depth and separateness, in space. But how comes it that the device had never been discovered before – or, if discovered, never adopted? There were plenty of skilled artists, and they would certainly have hit upon it soon enough if depth in space had characterized the collective representations they wish to reproduce, as it characterizes ours. They did not need it. Before the scientific revolution the world was more like a garment men wore about them than a stage on which they moved”.

Barfield being one of the Inklings, Wolfe asserts that one of their purposes, perhaps their main one, was to redeem Romanticism.

He recommends a reading of Barfield’s “What Coleridge Thought” to prove this thesis.

Our individualism moves us toward community, but works to prevent it.


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