lagoon nebulawikimedia

Lagoon Nebula
Image from Wikimedia Commons

This and other images may be found at European Southern Observatory

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years

Genesis 1:14

“As Above So Below,” this ancient phrase of multiple permutations is shared in its many forms by alchemists, mystics, gnostics, magis, and holy men and women of every faith and nation at least since people started leaving evidence of their existence; the idea that we reflect–or should reflect–the symmetry, balance, and glorious beauty found in the heavens.  Our modern language habits still reflect this idea, when we describe our positive aspirations as reaching for something “higher,” and we can see how this awareness affected prehistorical societies through their structures as evidenced in archeoastronomy (forensic geologist Dr. Scott Wolter uses the science to date and contextualize remnants of ancient civilizations here, and Santos Bonacci takes a more mystical approach here).

This alchemical idea is expressed in the conception of the human body and life on earth.  Not only is the order and balance of the heavens to be ideally expressed in the order and balance of the human form (planetary bodies have been traditionally ascribed as having resonating affects on different chakras or power centers of the human body, for example), but our own actions and built environment should also reflect the harmonious music of the celestial spheres.  Art is an ideal embodiment of this concept–it is best and most powerful as it explores the “celestial” realms of higher truth, regardless of media, and architecture transcends its role as a built environment when the architect and builders work with this concept in mind.  Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, in his Ten Books on Architecture, discusses the interconnections of the human form, the built environment, and the need of the architect to equally address strength, functionality, and beauty, and his works still impact architecture and design around the world two millenia later.

Should art be limited, then?  Absolutely not.  Art and art construction reflects the human capacity to “rise” above the mundane nature of the world.  Humans are builders, we constantly make things–we can’t help it.  Whether that creativity is exhibited through teaching, agriculture, communication, family life, entrepreneurial enterprise or the more plastic arts of textiles, sculpture, tattooing, painting, it really doesn’t matter.  Art is best when the beauty we strive for–not “pretty,” “safe,” or “wholesome,” but beauty, the observable quality of truth–is something beyond our own mortal, self-indulgent natures.  The idea that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” or the concept that beauty is entirely relative to the nature of the observer, is comparatively recent and a child of the commodity aspect of the Industrial Revolution.  The language of beauty, like any other form of communication, is understood as our capacity and vocabulary increases; a lifelong fan of Picasso may not see the beauty in Rembrandt, for example, until his or her visual vocabulary expands to accommodate the work.

How does earthbound art mirror the heavens?  When it reflects balance, proportion, and harmony.  Whether or not we’re comfortable with the work is immaterial–discomfort may very well be a sign we have to grow a little–it is much more important that the work be honest and true, like our reaching towards the heavens or the heavens themselves.