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But Is It Art?

When the flush of a newborn sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,  
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;  
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,  
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”  
  
Wherefore he called to his wife and fled to fashion his work anew—
The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;  
And he left his lore to the use of his sons—and that was a glorious gain  
When the Devil chuckled: “Is it Art?” in the ear of the branded Cain.  
  
They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart,  
Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: “It’s striking, but is it Art?”
The stone was dropped by the quarry-side, and the idle derrick swung,  
While each man talked of the aims of art, and each in an alien tongue.  
  
They fought and they talked in the north and the south, they talked and they fought in the west,
Till the waters rose on the jabbering land, and the poor Red Clay had rest—  
Had rest till the dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start, 
And the Devil bubbled below the keel: “It’s human, but is it Art?”  
  
The tale is old as the Eden Tree—as new as the new-cut tooth—  
For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;  
And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,  
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: “You did it, but was it Art?” 
  
We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,  
We have learned to bottle our parents twain in the yolk of an addled egg,  
We know that the tail must wag the dog, as the horse is drawn by the cart;  
But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: “It’s clever, but is it Art?”  
  
When the flicker of London’s sun falls faint on the club-room’s green and gold, 
The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mold—  
They scratch with their pens in the mold of their graves, and the ink and the anguish start  
When the Devil mutters behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it art?”  
  
Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the four great rivers flow,  
And the wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago,
And if we could come when the sentry slept, and softly scurry through,  
By the favor of God we might know as much—as our father Adam knew.

Rudyard Kipling

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

9 Comments

  1. “Pingback: Pope Francis Names Americans to Key Sex Abuse Panel – BP ”
    .
    It is important to understand that when the person consents to sin and crime, even before the act, that person excommunicates himself from God, from the Catholic Church and from his people. The criminal is self-ostracized, no exceptions even with inclusive language.

  2. I just watched the video. Well done. It’s an interesting subject to me. I personally believe that truth, goodness, and beauty all have an objective element to them. You can talk about a subjective aspect of them to some degree – truth and opinion, goodness and values, beauty and taste. I know very few people who believe in the idea of objective beauty. It’s a somewhat unpopular idea even among staunch traditionalists.

    One part of me thinks that the notion of objective beauty is a battle for another time. A society can function without that notion, albeit in an ugly way. When we’ve lost the notion of objective truth, well, that’s a much bigger battle. On the other hand, if we help people to allow themselves to admit that there is good and bad art, maybe that will prod them toward a greater acceptance of objectivity.

    One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is consistency. I didn’t think that most people bothered with consistency in their personal philosophies – it requires more introspection than I though most people engaged in. But seeing the way that gay marriage and marijuana legalization have swept through the country lately makes me think that people actually think things through. I would have expected that the weight of old morality would have kept us from changing these laws, but it appears I was wrong.

  3. “But seeing the way that gay marriage and marijuana legalization have swept through the country lately makes me think that people actually think things through.”

    Actually I rather think the reverse. I think many people today get their ideas from popular entertainment which actually explains a lot. Of course one must also recall that in regard to gay marriage it is largely judge imposed in most parts of the country, which supports my belief that a break down of moral reasoning, even an inability to do so except in the simplest of clichés, (I have a right to my own body, marriage equality, if I can have my beer he can have his joint), afflicts society as a whole and not just among those who never read a book.

  4. I hope you’re right. Your thinking has fewer unpleasant implications, and it doesn’t require the assumption of intellectual consistency. There’s no way to untangle the ratios of cultural versus philosophical libertinism on the law.

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