In his book The Everlasting Man, GK Chesterton wrote; fortunately for me, on page 34, because I’ve yet to push past page 100:
“Art is the signature of man.”
He makes the point that man stands alone, above all else; as special, supernatural, the very image of God:
“Man is the microcosm; man is the measure of all things; man is the image of God.” (pg. 35, thank goodness)
He uses art as his argument for that. From the beginning of time, man has had the awareness, the desire, and the need to express himself if for no other reason than to externalize his within on the without. Evidence of this is the art of the caveman (or cave-lady): do you think he or she painted with colored clays and water on the wall of a musty cave in 10,000 BC so that a young boy in France could discover it, and GK Chesterton expound upon it, in 2000 AD; and I could blog about it in 2100 AD? Of course not; it was done because of the human essence–that what religion calls soul; what de Chardin refers to as the within, meaning consciousness.It is from de Chardin that I also borrowed the without, which is a term he coined to refer to the material, physical world.
I’ve spent hours watching apes and monkeys at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE with my granddaughters. Never once did I see a pattern scratched into the dirt with a stick. I did see some excrement smeared on a stone, but failed to discern a particularly pretty pattern or design.
I’ve spent hours SCUBA diving under the sea. As intelligent as the Cetacean are reputed to be, never once did I see an exhibit of dolphin-art, whatever that might be—nay, not even a dolphin-collection of pretty shells.
I live in the country, kind of, at least enough so that I often see animals, large and small. Never once have I observed a deer gazing west towards the sun’s settling rays, spell-bound by the beauty of the colors thrust heavenward.
The agnostic and the atheist would say that man is an animal, only special in the sense of having evolved to a higher level of function, but an animal nonetheless–we’re born, we thrash around a bit, we die, end of story says they. On the contrary, both Chesterton and de Chardin make eloquent cases for the exceptionalism of man in The Everlasting Man and The Phenomenon of Man, respectively. We are special. You are special. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.