Love For Nature, For Humanism And Spirituality – There Is No Place For Idolatry In Manet’s Universe

Edouard Manet’s “Interior at Arcachon” (1871)

For millennia pantheism was understood superstitiously – like stones and leaves with anthropomorphic souls, and for millennia after spiritual emanation itself was understood as taking place very far from our life – somewhere above the sky. Spirituality attributed to humans during their earthly life was sensitivity towards what is above and beyond. French impressionists including Manet made an attempt not only to return civilization to nature, but to feel both – the human beings and nature as a part of the very phenomenon of spirituality. They felt spirituality as simultaneously natural and sublime. In the second part of the 19th century the European culture rediscovered nature and human being as such as a spiritual abode. Secular culture was able to return to the pantheistic sensibility in a de-theologized way, to recover it inside human perception and understanding, within societal and historical life. “Interior at Arcachon” depicts not just harmony between civilization (human beings, society and historical process) and nature (the earthly universe) but human reverie for nature as a precondition of human inspiration as spirituality.

Authoritarian/totalitarian power can be immediately recognized by its proclivity to transform people into servants and working robots, into passive and passionate followers of commands and orders. It takes away from the people the very possibility of freedom for independent inspiration of spiritual creativity. Instead it encircles people with war-training, with sells and consumption. In addition, today’s totalitarian societies try to enslave nature through the manipulative power of its ruling elites armed with high-tech technology.

Christianity attempted to ontologically centralize humanness, liberate it from the hierarchy of social power through a direct – mystical and ethical rapport with Christ, to state that not rich and powerful but every human being can be inspired by Christ. This humanistically oriented ontological baptism of human being as such was shattered by the Christian Church’ dogmatic thinking (which reinforced authoritarian – socially vertical and totalitarian – socially horizontal: oriented on standardization of human worldview, social atmosphere in order to subdue human creative intuition with the power of despotic centralized doctrine).

Secular spirituality (as depicted in Manet’s painting) is oriented to correct the socio-morphization of Christianity by the Church by trying to ontologically re-centralize the human being in embrace with nature in God-created universe. Manet’s “Interior at Arcachon” may be seen in the context of the history of human spirituality inside life. We see, here, the un-problematized unity between the secular interior and the inspiring intensity of nature. Manet makes nature the main motif of the interior as space and design, its very center.

Through the wide open window the nature enters the room to participate in human life. Compositionally, it is invited at the table. It gives its light to the sitting woman’s face, and it gives its support to the young man’s head (it organizes his profile orienting it into the future of his intellectual concentration). The table which the landscape sees and settles at is not dining one – it is the one for artistic and intellectual pursuits, for secularly spiritual concentration (SSC) which in this painting has an applied aspect – it has to be registered/elaborated on the paper through linguistic creativity. SSC has to be not only a matter of unity of the human soul with the universe but to become an aspect of human language and thinking. Mystical moment is only the beginning of spiritual experience Manet represented here as taking place in two human beings, may be, a mother and her son. According to the painting, without nature’s participation in human secular spirituality, creativity through writing is impossible.

The light of inspiration that is entering the room creates a strange atmosphere inside the interior. So much light makes the two human figures, things and colors uncertain, unsure of their visual identity. The forms, as though, are signaling about their existence but simultaneously enveloping themselves with the mysterious light. The atmosphere in the room is rather magic, alchemical. The usual “impressionistic” explanation of “atmospherization” of nature in painters-impressionists (transformation of nature into human visual impressions) doesn’t seem to be applicable anymore. It is not the creative posture of the human gaze that is responsible for a kind of dissolution of contours and colors. The point here is, rather, what exactly makes the impressionist sight so magic. Manet’s “Interior at Arcachon” seems to provides an answer. It is not the impressions of certain painters, and it’s not a particular painting style invented by them, and it’s not the specificity of their painterly talent, but rather their ability to see the world and people bathing in “internal/external” – mystical light (which is a metaphorization by the effects of real/natural light on the human visual perception). In other words, it is not the natural light that makes a sensitive gaze to create impressionistic art, but a certain kind of spiritual sensitivity of an artist-impressionist to the aura of mystical light inside the spiritual world (the belief that the matter has a subtle ability to respond to the light with light).

Both, the elder woman and younger man are writing, but if the woman’s act of writing is lit by the sun, more yellow on her face and whiter on the paper, the light on the young man is igniting his imagination. He takes inspiration right from the air, while she – from the landscape. The mystical light ignites her face and her paper – her soul, but in him it ignites inspiration itself! Are we here dealing with the difference between writing prose and writing poetry? It looks that the young guy writes poetry while the woman – prose. But their dependence on the mystical life of the very centrality of the world in human aspirations is especially precious today, when instrumental and anti-spiritual approach to the world became an ideology of power and greed, and as a result nature and civilization are both equally in danger.

There is no contradiction between nature and civilization if both are impregnated by the mystical light of creation (making matter and spirit made of one substance). But woe on those who want to dominate the life of the world and profit on it – who thinks that will of money-hooked profit-makers can become the law of the universal life. The union between spiritual (disinterestedly contemplating) human will and the will of the universe is the spiritual law of life, and we better make the human creativity to be in tune with the mystical light of creation instead of exploiting and destroying nature. Technical science has to be redeemed by secularly spiritual inspiration which Manet depicts in “Interior at Arcachon”.