According to Richard Kearney, making art is a sacred act. Kearney sounded like Plato when he says, “God becomes human, so humans can become divine.” This means that God speaks to humans in a way such that they become inspired by the divine to create art. To Kearney, art is a unique relationship between God and the artist. There is a dialoged between the divine and the artist that inspires art and subsequently the viewer thereafter. For Kearney, in order for something to be art, people need to be changed by it. He gave the example of Aristotle who believed art had the ability to change people to become more compassionate citizens. Kearney also talked about idolatry. He wanted to address that when people make art, they are inspired by God, they do not become Gods themselves. Humans can participate in the process of creating art, but this does not make them “mini-Gods”.
Art begs for human interpretation. When Kearney showed Sheila Gallagher’s “Pneuma Hostis” and “Jacob’s Ladder”, both made of gold leafed cigarette butts, he explained how they represent movement and migration, ascent and decent, a crossing between the sacred and the profane. They evoke the dance of life and death. They symbolize that transcendence can be found in the most basic of things.
Gallagher, an artist not a philosopher or theologian as she blatantly pointed out, spoke about her process of creating first and interpreting after. She talked about how art can bring us to silence. For her, sometimes art is better nonverbal. As she said, “There is faith in art’s non-saying.” For Gallagher, art has an active relationship with the artist, audience, and the other pieces in an exhibition. It isn’t just about the individual piece; it is about the collection as a whole working together to reveal an overarching meaning.
It was fascinating to see the wide variety of materials Gallagher used in constructing her pieces. From live flowers, to smoke, to melted pieces of plastic dug out of her neighbors’ trash, Gallagher has created a number of fantastic masterpieces. For me, the live flower installation collection, which depicted garden scenes, was truly beautiful. My feeling of delight toward the Gallagher’s pieces were disinterested, I did not desire the collection, nor did the collection instill in me any desire. The feeling was not of the agreeable, nor of the good, nor of the useful; although it was a feeling of necessary universal validity. I feel like anyone looking at this collection would find it beautiful. I can imagine that the pleasure I felt was from the harmonic free play of my faculties. My imagination and understanding were working together to create a representation of what I saw before me.
It is interesting to think of Gallagher’s collection in terms of free beauty and conditioned beauty. Of course, the collection, being an art collection, is conditioned beauty. As art, it is tainted and restricted by concepts, culture, and community, while still empowering and inspiring the audience to engage in a collective purpose, which for Gallagher is understanding the significance of gardens as being a place where the wild and the natural meet with divine healing power. But at the same time, this collection is not only made of live nature, but it portrays nature. It is as if there is an element of free beauty in Gallagher’s conditioned beauty. This is one of the reasons why I find the collection so beautiful. It evokes a fantastic harmony of free and conditioned beauty. A pieces as a whole conveys a conditioned message, while the individual parts possess the free beauty of nature. I would love to see her collection in person, to touch the delicacy of the petals, smell their fragrance, see the vibrant colors, and embrace the feeling of organic life. I believe this would be a truly beautiful experience.