Friday, October 09, 2009


Is It Beautiful?

Roger Overton at A-Team blog recently looked at beauty:
At this point, Christians have ample resources to be able to respond to relativistic claims regarding truth and morality. Postmodernism’s attack on the objectivity of beauty has been just as brutal, but has not generated the same degree of response. Even many Christians believe that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”


As Christians, we must embrace the objective value of beauty if we are to believe that God is in any way beautiful. If aesthetics subjectivism is true, one would be just as correct to call God ugly as they would be to call Him beautiful. More on God and beauty later…
I agree with Roger here - completely, but he makes the same basic argument for objectivism in general, and just applies it to art. It' a valid argument, but it suffers from appealing mostly to the philosophically minded, not the artistically minded. It argues implicitly that one must know there is objective beauty before one can discover it.

I disagree. I'm no expert on art, but my wife is a bit of one so I spend some time hanging around arty things. Here is what I do know. "Ugly" art - most of what is produced today - while it may be praised for its artistic merits, is rarely, if ever referred to as "beautiful." Come on, really, have you ever heard anyone call a Jackson Pollack "beautiful?" They may have a lot to say about it, but that's not one of them.

People know beauty when they see it. I think as Christians we have a different task than to convince people that beauty is objective. Our job is to make beauty. The reason is the argument of C.S. Lewis in "Surprised by Joy." The experience of beauty leads of to Christ.

Creating beauty is not easy though. Most of what we think of as traditionally beautiful, at least such things made by the hands of man as opposed to the things of nature, are kept somehow inaccessible. The snob value to art museums and concert halls - even great cathedrals - makes then seem daunting to the average person. We value it so much that we hide it behind barriers and pretenses designed to make it difficult to get to.

While in England a few months back I accidentally stumbled into tea of a member of the House of Lords. He was most gracious in showing me his home. Among his things was a family portrait from a few generations earlier - it just happened to be painted by Van Dyck. What was the historical equivalent of a family photograph by Olan Mills at the time, is now a work of immense beauty and value. Beauty should be common and accessible.

The church needs to focus on this. We need to stop building and worshiping entirely for function, we need to incorporate beauty as part of the deal. Multi-purpose rooms work, but they are decidedly unattractive. Most praise music is snappy, but entirely too repetitive to be beautiful. Most preachers focus on the argument exclusive of the words chosen to make it.

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