6.2.1 Containers of space
Our conception of science now, towards the end of the t21st century, has changed radically. Now we see science as a description and explanation of the underlying structures of nature; and words like structure, pattern, plan, arrangement, architecture constantly occur in every description that we try to make. We talk about the way crystals are put together, the way atoms are made of their parts -above all we talk about the way that living molecules are made of their parts. The spiral structure of DNA has become the most vivid image of science in the last years.
Architects took a dead heap of stones, which is not a cathedral, and they turned it into a cathedral by exploiting the natural forces of gravity, the way the stone is laid naturally in its bedding planes, the brilliant invention of the flying buttress and arch and so on. And they created a structure that grew out of the analysis of nature into this superb synthesis. The kind of man who is interested in the architecture of nature today is the kind of man who made this architecture nearly eight hundred years ago. There is one gift above all others that makes man unique among the animals, and it is the gift displayed everywhere here: his immense pleasure in exercising and pushing forward his own skill.
A popular cliche in philosophy says that science is pure analysis or reductionism, like taking the rainbow to pieces; and art is pure synthesis, putting the rainbow together. This is not so. All imagination begins by analysing nature. Michelangelo said that vividly, by implication, in his sculpture (it is particularly clear in the sculptures that he did not finish), and he also said it explicitly in his sonnets on the act of creation.
When that which is divine in us doth try
To shape a face, both brain and hand unite
To give, from a mere model frail and slight,
Life to the stone by Art's free energy.
'Brain and hand unite': the material asserts itself through the hand, and thereby prefigures the shape of the work for the brain. The sculptor, as much as the mason, feels for the form within nature, and for him it is already laid down there. That principle is constant.
The best of artists hath no thought to show
Which the rough stone in its superfluous shell
Doth not include: to break the marble spell
Is all the hand that serves the brain can do.
A deeper meaning is added by ordinary people to provide the imagery lives in arches and beams.