Abbot Suger, Pixar, & Art as The True Door

If it was the Romans who cut off the head of St. Denis, then it must have been Abbot Suger who found it and put it back on St. Denis, for under his leadership, the parish experienced a flourishing of art and architecture unprecedented by any other time.

I like to think of Suger as the Steve Jobs of twelfth century France. Both were born of humble (and likely illicit) origins, yet they both overcame their setbacks and became visionaries of their respective eras.  Whereas Jobs pioneered the realm of computer graphics, Suger likewise said a defiant “No” to the Dark Ages by pioneering new architectural techniques that would allow for more light to penetrate and illumine church interiors, leading to the height of religious architectural achievement. Moreover, Jobs, after founding Apple computers and receiving the boot for his overly-forward thinking, went on to empower Pixar as the world’s greatest animation studio. In a similar way, Suger is considered the founder of the Gothic style of art and architecture by setting up St. Denis as the first ‘studio’ by which all others would judge themselves.

Yet Pixar was not successful by Jobs’ efforts alone. It was John Lasseter, the first animator hired by Pixar, who having been fired by the Disney Animation previously, went on to reestablish the glory of Disney via Pixar. In this respect Lasseter is considered the new Disney, closer to the heart and passion of the original Walt for bringing the ‘art’ back to animation in revitalizing the craft of Story for animated films (opposed to all the abhorrent direct-to-video sequels being released at the time such as: Cinderella 2 and Beauty & The Beast The Enchanted Christmas. Gag!). It’s no wonder that Lasseter is now Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

As we learned in studying the “development” of art from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic to the protohistoric time periods, technology does not precede art. It is but a tool that serves to challenge and improve art. Lasseter understands this concerning the advancements in computer techonology, saying, “If you’re sitting in your minivan, playing your computer animated films for your children in the back seat, is it the animation that’s entertaining you as you drive and listen? No, it’s the storytelling. That’s why we put so much importance on story. No amount of great animation will save a bad story.” Art does not proceed from technology—technology serves to empowers art to new heights.

And new heights indeed were achieved by Suger (literally) by the architectural advancements he sponsored, which would lead to the Gothic movement that swept across Europe, and quite frankly, the creation of the most beautiful churches ever constructed. On the doors of St. Denis, Suger had inscribed:

All you who seek to honor these doors,

Marvel not at the gold and expense but at the

craftsmanship of the work.

The noble work is bright, but, being nobly bright, the work

Should brighten the minds, allowing them to travel through

the lights

To the true light, where Christ is the true door.

The golden door defines how it is imminent in these things.

The dull mind rises to the truth through material things,

And is resurrected from its former submersion when the

light is seen.

(Suger, Administration

I suppose that is the purpose of all good art : serving not as a technological wonder, but as a True door toward the True light.



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