When I was madly studying for my CLEP test the Deputy Headmistress/Zookeeper/Head Librarian handed me two books she thought would help me study. One of them was simply titled “Civilisation” and had a photograph of a statue relating to Charlemagne on the cover. When I began reading it, however, I discovered that it is an art history text. This was rather a bummer for my studying purposes, but it is really (as far as I can tell) an excellent book. Because I’m one of those Copy Many Quotes People, I’ve decided to share some of my favorite passages with readers here.
The first sentence that made me think that this book wasn’t going to be your run of the mill text was: “…I may add that the men of the Dark ages took a less patronising view of birds than do the makers of Christmas cards.” Such a practical attitude towards art warmed my heart. Yes, I like sappy paintings (PreRaphaelites, for example) but art should also be something strong and forceful. If it is only sentimental then it is not really art (which is one reason why Elsie Dinsmore books are not good literature, but that’s another tale for another time).
Later on we get an excellent definition of what really differentiates a civilisation from, well, a non-civilisation:
“Civilisation means something more than energy and will and creative power…How can I define it? Well, very shortly, a sense of permanence.”
A page later, Kenneth Clark goes farther in this definition, “Civilised man, or so it seems to me, must feel that he belongs somewhere in space and time; that he consciously looks forward and looks back. And for this purpose it is a great convience to be able to read and write.”
What should we conclude, then? That Christians should be civilised (yes, I know I win the “Duh! Award” of the week). We *are* to be looking both behind us and before us (although mainly before us) and this sense of belonging gives us the anchorage to truly produce real art. Not sentimental art, real art.