Art and the quest for the infinite

by Kevin Birnbaum

Illustration of Dante’s Paradiso by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

Last night I attended the Solemn Dominican Rite Requiem Mass for All Dominican Souls at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle. The Mass itself was wonderful—profound, reflective, perfectly choreographed. But the music provided by the Tudor Choir—a Requiem Mass by Philippe de Monte, Dominican chants, and motets by John Tavener—was transcendentally beautiful. The shimmering clouds of sound floating out from the choir loft seemed to have the power nearly to carry one away to heaven.

The experience verified something Pope Benedict XVI said in his general audience on Aug. 31, 2011:

It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem, or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that “speaks,” that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind.

A work of art is a product of the creative capacity of the human being who, in questioning visible reality, seeks to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, color, and sound. Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite.

What about you? What works of art have touched your soul and whetted your appetite for the infinite?