This talk concerns the experience of enchantment in, and as, art. At its heart is sheer wonder, proceeding from charm, through delight, to those rare but precious instances of joy. We shall explore how painting, music, and fiction, each in its own way, can give rise to such wonder. At the same time, we shall try to understand its shared dynamics and values. These include relationality, metaphor, wildness, disinterested love, and what Max Weber calls ‘concrete magic’. As such, enchantment is ‘upstream’ of the destructive binaries we have long been trained to adopt: subjective vs objective, self vs the world, spiritual vs material, and so on. Enchanting art transcends these oppositions, not by rising above them but rather going more deeply into the art’s immanent core of moment (not time) and place (not space).
I shall be concerned to respect the peculiar distinctiveness of enchantment, mainly by exploring those positive attributes but also through drawing contrasts with what disenchants, in art no less than elsewhere. These include the operations of the will (will to power, system and programme) and two other modes: the Dionysian obliteration of all difference in unity, and the Apollonian maintenance of difference to separate and control.
Finally, we will consider how enchantment reminds us of art’s truest function: not representation, nor anti-representation, but presencing: enriching and adding to the world of what is. When this presence is apprehended, the person doing so is not only shares the experience of the artist but also the act of creation in nature, of which we are a part. To remind us of this truth is not the least of art’s potential services. But for that we need to refrain from putting art to work (even in the best of causes), rather letting it speak and show us what it will. For enchantment is finally a gift. So I shall conclude with a plea not to put enchanting art to work but to let it lead.