Loren Adams and the Re-enchantment of the World.

Loren Adams’ paintings argue for their own permanence.

Over the course of the last fifty years, Adams has steadfastly remained true to his artistic vision concentrating on Realistic renderings of the coastal landscape, seascapes and marinescapes and he continues to follow his vision to this day. He has avoided stylistic movements championed by various cultural theorists, artists and art critics of the period and has continued to develop his understanding of the landscape and marinescape in terms of a spiritual journey.

Loren Adams’ art re-enchants the world by referencing the imaginative, spiritual and aesthetic aspects associative of transcendental experience and the aesthetic experience of the transcendental is an affirmation of re-enchantment. That which is beyond the world is made experiential by re-imagining theologies associative of faith and belief. The artist wants us to look beyond what we see and also see the beyond in the immediate present,to discard the authority of dogma.

Should art rather than religion be a vehicle for re-enchantment, to bring back to the world a sense of mystery, spirituality and indeterminacy? Does the intangible, indefinable and transcendental define the aesthetic experience? In the following essay I suggest that the transcendental in Loren Adams’art cannot be experienced unless understood within the context of re-enchantment. Re-enchantment is an aesthetic vehicle by which the transcendental is experienced and is necessary to achieve that experience.

Art became prominent, as a rival source of meaning to religion, because it seemed to represent a different way at looking at the world from science, in that it preserved the mystery of things and didn’t undo the mystery. As a result of art’s prominence, the subject of aesthetics as a philosophy of art was born. Art doesn’t provide us with information as science does, the factual content is not the primary thing but the experience of art is, that is the aesthetic experience. Images give us aesthetic pleasure looking at something and the value in this kind of pleasure is similar to spiritual exaltation.

Re-enchantment, offers the world a return to ‘the sublime values that have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations’[2]. The experience of the transcendental as the sacred is perhaps why French sociologist Emile Durkheim suggested that all human beings have a sense of the sacred manifest as ritual requiring the collective need for reverence. The sacred belongs to our way of thinking about each other, about the ordinariness of life, and is directed towards a world which we cannot cross through science; Adam’s paintings express the sacred without themselves being sacred.

Dis-enchantment, a term coined by German sociologist Max Weber, references the cultural rationalization and devaluation of religion in modern society. It describes the character of a modernized, bureaucratic, secularized society where scientific knowledge is more highly valued than belief, and where processes are oriented towards rational goals, as opposed to traditional society where ‘the world remains a great enchanted garden’[3]  Cultural rationalization associated with dis-enchantment references the replacement of traditions, values and emotions as motivators for behaviour in society with concepts based on rationality and reason. Faith based understanding is denigrated as having no rational consequence and is therefore valueless in such a society.

The images Adams creates are renderings of the transcendental,,that is of a world beyond the limits of our understanding of rational knowledge, a world which we cannot enter but which we experience through the aesthetic, spiritual and moral life. These intimations of experience of the transcendental suggest that knowledge of transcendental things is not based on factual knowledge but is beyond the reach of ordinary understanding. It is as if the edge of our knowledge is bounded by a two sided division of factual and faith based understanding. It is therefore important and necessary to distinguish the way of explanation (science), from the way of interpretation (as in moral and aesthetic understanding). We know the world in more than one way. Factual knowledge is explained whereas other forms of knowledge are known by means of understanding.

This brings us to what Roger Scruton describes as intransitive meaning, in that meaning is something else that is meant and is relational. When looking at a landscape painting by Adams there may be meaning even though there is nothing else that it clearly means, and as Scruton suggests when confronted with these things we are standing at the boundary. The painter cannot show us the transcendental but can take us to the boundary, to look from beyond to a region we know only in this way, by acquaintance as it were. The transcendental looks out at the viewer, which he or she cannot reach but has knowledge of. Adams, as a true artist ‘is somebody who is always stopping to be addressed by things and to recognize that transcendental perspective that has picked him out in the way that God has picked out Moses’. For example Moses and the burning bush, is an encounter with something but with what, an encounter with something and being addressed by something beyond this world, which represents a paradigm of an experience that we encounter in many other forms?


[1] The following article on the work of Loren Adams is based in part on two  presentations given by Sir Roger Scruton, one at a  conference entitled The Beauty and Restoration of the Sacred, sponsored by the Catholic Art Guild October 2017 and the other at a presentation given by Sir Roger Scruton entitled The True, the Good and the Beautiful, at The Wheatly Institution, Brigham Young University, April 6th 2017.

[2] http://www.bookbread.com/tag/richard-jenkins/

[3] Richard Jenkins, Disenchantment, Enchantment and Re-Enchantment (2000) 1 Max Weber Studies 11.