“A very strong unity is usually a sign that the work may be art.”
David Martin & Lee Jacobus – The Humanities Through the Arts, 8th ed.
What elevates a work of art from the realm of the mediocre to a truly outstanding achievement? In a word: unity. If an artist can take all of the various elements of a piece and bring them to work in harmony, pointing to one clear “truth” or message, than that artist has done something truly remarkable.
Unity in the Last Supper
Take Leonardo da Vinci, for example, and his infamous Last Supper painting (pictured above). The painting is obviously meant to direct our attention toward Jesus, the central figure of the painting. Now let’s look at the various techniques da Vinci used to make his message so beautifully clear:
- Shape – Jesus holds his hands out, palms up, causing His body to form a triangle. This directs our eye to the triangular peak, which is the face of our Lord.
- Shading – The lightest area of the painting is the blue sky shining through the back windows, which lie directly behind the face of Jesus and highlight His expression.
- Line – The other bodies in the painting slant away from Jesus and tend to bunch together, drawing a direct contrast to the figure of Jesus, which stands alone.
- Implied Line – Nearly every face in the painting has its gaze directed toward Jesus, creating an implied line of sight which causes us to follow their gaze toward the painting’s central figure.
- Perspective – da Vinci uses two-point perspective in this work to make the painting seem three-dimensional and cause the back of the room to feel farther away. This is accomplished using invisible diagonal lines, which are mathematically proportionate to one another and all lead the eye to fixate on a single endpoint: the face of Jesus Christ.
See how it’s done? Perceptible unity is difficult to achieve, but when it is done well it gives the entire work a sense of purpose and meaning. This is why we know that the natural world must have had an Intelligent Creator. With all the millions of diverse moving parts, every single cell and organism in our universe works in perfect harmony, pointing to a single truth: the existence of God (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20).
Unity in Our Life
As I thought about this, I realized that perceptible unity doesn’t only cause works of art to stand out – this same principle is what causes the lives of certain individuals to stand out above the crowd. Think about it – a person whose entire life (family life, personal life, work life, church life) all point to a single purpose is the type of person we will look up to for years to come.
It comes down to living with integrity. The dictionary defines integrity as “the state of being whole and undivided,” and comes from the same root as our word integrate (“to combine different elements together to make whole”). In order for us to live with integrity, then all the different parts of our life must stand in agreement… we must “be the same person” at all times, no matter where we go or who we’re with. For the Christian, each area of our lives should point to one single focal point: bringing glory to Jesus Christ.
Would you look at that? It looks like Leonardo da Vinci was really onto something, after all.
“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely.”
“The righteous who walks in his integrity – blessed are his children after him!”
2 thoughts on “U: Perceptible Unity – The Mark of Great Art…and Great Lives”
Well done, thou good and faithful servant!