Hermann Hesse, Narcissus & Goldmund (Art & Philosophy)

“…[W]hat has art meant to you, what has art brought to you?”

“It was the overcoming of the transitory. I saw that something remained of the fool’s play, the death dance of human life, something lasting: works of art. They too will probably perish some day; they’ll burn or crumble or be destroyed. Still, they outlast many human lives; they form a silent empire of images and relics beyond the fleeting moment. To work at that seems good and comforting to me, because it almost succeeds in making the transitory eternal.”

“I like that very much, Goldmund. …But I do not think your definition quite encompassed the miracle of art. I believe that art is more than salvaging something mortal from death and transforming it into stone, wood, and color, so that it lasts a little longer. I have seen many works of art , many a saint and many a madonna, which did not seem to me merely faithful copies of a specific person who once lived and whose shapes or colors the artist has preserved.”

“You are right in that,” Goldmund cried eagerly. “I didn’t think you were so well informed about art! The basic image of a good work of art is not a real, living figure, although it may inspire it. The basic image is not flesh and blood – it is mind. It is an image that has its home in the artist’s soul…”

“How lovely! And now, my dear Goldmund, you have strayed unknowingly into philosophy and have expressed one of its secrets.”

“You’re mocking me.”

“Oh no, You spoke of basic images, of images that exist nowhere except in the creative mind, but which can be realized and made visible in matter. Long before a figure becomes visible and gains reality, it exists as an image in the artist’s soul. This image then, this ‘basic image,’ is exactly what the old philosophers call an ‘idea.’… Now that you have pledged yourself to ideas and to basic images, you are on mind-ground, in the world of philosophers and theologians, and you admit that, at the center of the confused, painful battlefield of life, at the center of the endless and meaningless death dance of fleshly existence, there exists the creative mind… In you, this mind is not that of a thinker but that of an artist. But it is mind, and it is the mind that will show you the way out of the blurred confusion of the world of the senses, out of the eternal seesaw between lust and despair…”

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