The Historical, Religious, and Political Significance of Art: A Cautionary Note


  • Kevin E. O’Reilly Theological Studium, St. Saviour’s, Dublin



A proper grasp of Thomas’s understanding of the life of mind – in particular the interaction between intellect and will that means that, in the words of Reinhard Hütter, the intellectual gaze «is not just conceptual but volitional» – allows one to develop a Thomistic theory of artistic creativity that can deal meaningfully with developments in the history of the arts right down to our own times. In order to make this case this article outlines St. Thomas Aquinas’s thought concerning the dynamic interaction of intellect and will, an interaction that imparts a hermeneutical character to his account of knowledge. This hermeneutical character informs art, which Thomas defines as «the right reason of things to be made (recta ratio factibilium),» and our experience of aesthetic artefacts. Given the various factors that enter into the constitution of a contemporary worldview, which is all too often communicated in artworks, I argue that we must be discriminating with regard to the kind of art that we promote in society.