Tradition, II: Why Robots Can’t Be Artists

Art is personal expression with environmental, social, and historical sensitivity. It is by nature reactionary, and therein lies great strength. Be it commentary, critique, challenge, ode, memorial, or else; art is unseverably tied to its world. Thus what is demanded of the artist is a certain depth of cultural involvement and a fruitful sort of sensitivity. These demand a historical understanding achievable only through both contemporary awareness and a grappling with tradition. A grappling with tradition can only be honest, and so fruitful and impactful, if practiced with empathy.

The creations of a machine necessarily devolve into that type of tradition which Eliot warned against: a tradition that follows past successes blindly or crassly in thoughtless imitation, or a type of innovation which is distant (do not read transcendent) from the world. This, then, is not the work of an artist.

Tradition, I: How to be Timely

“Yet, if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, ‘tradition’ should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it  by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.”

T. S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent. I.

Poem 5/19


I believe in one God;

I confess toward the sea.

in the Son;

As their waves teem, I echo their beat.

in the Spirit;

I realize the water is deep,

and I hope.

missing you who once stood next to me.



I remember your words and I long for my place.

Do I fit on these shores? Is my house in the caves?

Do I wander with tides and find comfort twixt grasses,

or swim or run off from these slopes and wind passes?



Edges, rimmings; tided in,

hedges, trims; confided sin.

What is loosed and what’s more stable?

Shifting stones hold wire cable.

Weights keep taut and waves relent,

sunset clouds burn pink, “repent.”

The Way of Life

“If it is true, that a perfect righteousness is set before us in the Law, it follows, that the complete observance of it is perfect righteousness in the sight of God.”

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion II.7.iii

How might we come to assume that righteousness is malleable or shifted according to time and place? What can be learned from scripture but the consistency of the character and will of God throughout scripture, throughout time, a driving force undergirding redemption? That God is who he is, he wills righteousness and goodness of his creatures, and works to bring them to that beautiful state in communion with himself is clear. Thus, if the ideal of righteousness itself is changed, all is lost, or at least confused. Therefore it is Biblically necessary that our word for Christ’s impact on the moral law be ‘fulfillment’ or ‘culmination.’ If then, the righteousness desired by God of man has been presented from the beginning, was made unattainable by the reign of sin, then Christ is the way made to the age-old goal. This way is the new covenant; this way is the fulfillment of the old law.

How, though? Christ fulfills the law through obedience to it and is its fulfillment in his being. He himself does not sin, thus even as human he avoided being under the condemnation of the law (for only those who trespass the law fall under its condemnation). If then, those who are united to Christ are united to him in his death, and resurrection, then the benefits of that victory are theirs. The death Christ died thus was not a debt demanded of him, and so could be for others, as a propitiation for their transgression of the law. His resurrection for them is life new now, fully realized later.

What is this new life now? A Christian, one reconciled to God by being united to Christ, is no longer “under the law” for in fact their appropriate debt to the law for failure to uphold it has been paid through Christ. The righteousness in which they are able to live is a righteousness achieved in Christ’s obedience to the law. Their new life is one free to continue in obedience to the law by faith, which is righteousness, now freely able to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the will of God for his creation, come to fruition: that his people live in faithful obedience to his will, reconciled to himself.

Thus, then, shall we live.



Poem 4/19

Kept from despair in the mean time, but how long?
When such help feels meager and darkness feels thick,
like a dirge in your ears, all the air is afflicted
by fear of a loss and the knowledge of death.

My song falls flat then where it cannot resonate.
Pining yields churning, yields sleepless nights, terrors.
Yours then must aid me, but you too must sing it,
aloud and forever, if ever there’s hope.