The natural and supernatural—to our minds two strictly separated realms—lie for the primitive man in one plane, like two concentric circles, which he calls the usual and the unusual. There is no absolute line of demarcation.
Thus between religion and art, and between other domains, there is no actual contrast. What for us is a series of neatly separated planes, the primitive man sees as concentric circles. Life, for him, is still a unity. In our system of language, every act, every happening, can be judged scientifically, logically, religiously, or ethically. By primitive criteria, it can possess all of these characteristics at the same time, one merging into another. Even if we do not always hold ourselves to this separation, we have learned at least to avoid setting up ethical criteria in an economic situation. For the primitive man there are, of course, various motives and criteria as well; but one does not purposely differentiate them. A person performing a religious act can eo ipso act aesthetically. For example, one who dances acts through motives and pursues goals which to our minds, are at once recreational, economic, aesthetic, and religious. One of these motives or goals can predominate. Then, to retain our metaphor, one of the concentric circles is larger than the others. Nevertheless, they all exist at the same time and have the same center. This center is the single, unbroken life itself. There do not yet exist an ‘earth’ and a ‘heaven’; there is neither the concept ‘religious’ or ‘aesthetic.’ In other words, the problem we are considering does not yet exist for the primitive mind. We do not need to search for paths and boundaries when there are no boundaries and therefore also no paths. All primitive art is religious, but not in the sense that it is purposely dedicated to religious goals. It is, rather, religious in itself, even when specifically religious objectives are lacking.
Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art—by Gerardus Van Der Leeuw
Part One: Beautiful Motion