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Hans Arp

In the secret life of an artist there are hopes for perfection and eternity, both tinged with the knowledge that this will never be so. Since it’s obvious that these qualities are not to be found in the flawed embodied person of the artist, the impossible hope is shifted to the work. Some works of art do make the world a better place, and some works of art do manage to hang out for a long time. But perfection and eternity are something else entirely – they come from the domain of religion.

The process of art replacing religion was first noted by Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century, and perhaps our secret lives provided some of the data for this observation. But art is unable to close the deal because eternity and perfection aren’t to be found in these parts. The art delusion is even more far fetched than the god delusion – it’s a matter of the impossible versus the unlikelihood that the good news that’s too good to be true actually were true. Art may step in to replace god, but it’s very fortunate that it’s not up to the task. This failure puts us in a better position to realistically assess our situation.

Hans Arp said, “No one detects now the track of his baby shoes. They left not even a threadlike trace of a tiny hiking-song in the air”*. Arp’s poignant words lead us to a healthier attitude. We should embrace the ephemeral, or at least tolerate it. Otherwise we will be divorced from the world.

*Hans Arp, “The Seraphim and Cherubim” in Three Painter Poets: Arp, Schwitters, Klee, Harriet Watts trans., Penguin Books, 1974, p. 32.

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