Paul Martin’s article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Spiritus (v. 14, n. 1, pp. 35-54). Here’s an excerpt:
The influential Renaissance architect, artist, and writer Leon Battista Alberti (1404–72) asserted in his pioneering treatise De pictura that painting has a “divine power” as it can make “the absent be present.” He wrote that painters should perfect their art by depicting an historia, a narrative scene drawn from literary, mythological or religious themes, which ought to act as an ideal and virtual stimulus to the mind and senses of the spectator. In theorizing the art of painting he initially proposed a three-fold division: “Painting is realized therefore through the drawing of profiles, composition, and the reception of light.” The first is to do with “circumscrib[ing] the trace of the edges through lines,” the second is to do with “that procedure of depicting according to which the parts are arranged in a work of painting,” and the third is to do with how the use of colors enhances “the grace and beauty of a picture,” though “the highest quality and mastery reside only in the distribution of black and white.” The influential French painter and writer Charles-Alphonse Dufresnoy (1611–68) in his didactic poem De arte graphica divided the art of painting into invention/disposition, design (that is, drawing), and color or chroma. By analogy, if the art of painting is based on the experience of circumscribing, composing, and coloring a picture, then so does the art of mysticism involve an experience of outlining, placing, and coloring a picture, which is the imaged or intellectual form of divine light. (All of this may relate to work upon an immaterial surface—the mind—or to work upon a material surface—the written text.) On further analogy, the mystical consciousness “invents” the machine of divinity as a pictorial rendition, where the mind draws and colors the figure of God in the tableau of the soul. The academic prescriptions on formulating pictures were called into question by the advent of modernist art in the nineteenth century and subsequently by the turn to abstraction in the twentieth century, yet these outlooks are no less applicable to a pictorial reading of mystical consciousness as I shall demonstrate it here.