Wednesday 1 July 2015

Divine Love seems to modern perception merely simplistic, childish and sickly sweet


The Face of Love by William Arkle

Note by the painter: This is another attempt to portray the almost shocking quality of pure Divine Love, which to us who are unprepared for it appears to be both childish, and perhaps even sickly sweet.

But we must realise how diminished our sense of spiritual judgement has become and it is most important that we learn to read and respect this purity of attitude and recognise the value and strength which it contains.

We may even say that this is the quality of love we all dimly seek but have become ashamed of and have hidden away behind a substitute forms of aspiration.

From The Great Gift, by William Arkle (1977). 
William Arkle is probably indirectly responding here to some comments of Colin Wilson in the Introduction to his earlier book A Geography of Consciousness (1974). Although generally very positive about Arkle, Wilson is critical of the paintings, with comments such as:

Although it was striking... it was not, in the last analysis, a good painting... in spite of its abstract nature, it lacked real complexity. [The paintings] all revealed the kind of mysticism that Blake communicates... the feeling that the world is basically a beautiful and good place, and that man only fails to see this because he shuts his eyes to it... I still found them unconvincing. 

I hesitate to the use word naive, but that is certainly one of the artist's faults. The trouble is that we live in a complex age, and affirmation - whether in music, painting or poetry - has to take account of the discords as well as the harmonies...

The major writers, artists and musicians of the past hundred years have tended towards pessimism, and their pessimism has seemed more convincing than the optimism of the eighteenth century rationalists...

[One painting] is a tall, castle-like building in a landscape... but the colours are all too light and glowing; pinks and pale-blues and apple-greens. It is all sweetness and light... it reminded me of a Sunlight Soap advertisment...


Colin Wilson's comments are not malicious, and they do describe exactly the secular impression of many of William Arkle's paintings.

But the fact is that Arkle was a well-informed individual who had trained as an engineer, served in the military during world war two, and was indeed a tough-minded mystic  - as can be heard from a lecture, discussion and question session here recorded:

So we can assume that Arkle knew exactly what he was doing in making the painiting so simple, childish, 'soapy' clean and sweet - and that he was doing it for a reason which seemed to him more important than the obvious objections.

Arkle's paintings strike us as simple and child-like because that he precisely how he understood divine love. And, the fact that we may regard his pictures as naive, child-ish, simpl-is-tic, sickly sweet and one-sidedly optimistic in a complex and pessimistic age... well, that is because we are corrupt.

Our sophistication is decadence; sophomoric, not adult. Our demand for pessimism, complexity, ambiguity is due to our selective-blindness to hope and goodness.


If Arkle is correct; then one major reason that we live in a secular, nihilistic, alienated, pessimistic age is that we have come to regard with a mixture of disgust and disdain the purity, simplicity and child-like nature of divine love.

To us, the real truth seems too easy to be true - in our pride, we covertly want truth to be so difficult that only an expert, intellectual, aesthetic elite can perceive it (with - naturally -  ourselves, as an integral part of that elite).

In a world where actual divine love is Kitsch - we are pre-immunized against life, meaning, purpose, hope, and God.