Thursday, March 09, 2006
So What Does God Think Beautiful?
As Christians, we believe that beauty does matter, and that it is more than ?aesthetic appreciation.? It is also not something that can be grasped by human aspiration; it must be received as a gift. While the Greeks sought to ascend to beauty through contemplation, Christians believe that beauty was bestowed upon us in creation and was given in its fullest form in the Incarnation. We believe that God is both beautiful and Beauty itself, so that the Greeks were right to recognize an innate hunger for beauty (eros) in human beings. They were also wise to realize that humans must be enculturated into beauty, through acculturation into the community. Christian formation is a disciplined inhabitation beauty.The absence of "beauty" is I think the absence of "joy" that lead to CS Lewis' conversion. I think it very important, but highly problematic, I cannot find a lot of guidance in scripture about what it is that constitutes "beauty," at least apart from creation itself.
Now, based on that last conditional I just wrote, one could argue that when it comes to the arts, that which best represents creation is the most beautiful, thus realism would be preferable to abstract in painting - that certainly would agree with my tastes. But what about something like impressionism. You cannot tell from prints, but if you ever see them for real in a good setting where you can step back from them, they, while not entirely real, reflect reality in a very meaningful sense.
What about fantasy in literature. Lewis, for example, wrote Narnia in part to wake up people's desire for beauty, or joy, thinking that giving them a taste would open them to the reality of God as it did for him. There is nothing "real" about Narnia, yet one finds real reflections of reality in it.
And music, how do we decide about music? Here I am clueless, I know my tastes, but that is about it. I have mentioned here before that I am no fan of contemporary worship music, but that is not necessarily because contemporary, it's because I just think its bad. Black gospel, which is equally contemporary, I suck up like a sponge. Is it because black gospel is more evocative of creation than modern praise music which is pretty contrived stuff? I'd like to think so, but I am not sure I can make the case very well.
As the guy said, "God is beauty," but so many people claim to meet Him is such crap. I could argue that they are not truly meeting God - they are meeting some personal emotional state - but how do I objectively demonstrate that?
I do think "beauty" is our introduction to the otherworldly - to God's realm. I also think there are objective ways to identify the beautiful and the not beautiful. I am tempted to say that is what part of what "discernment" is all about, but that lacks the objectivity I seek as well.
Related Tags: beauty, joy, CS Lewis, spiritual formation, music, art, literature