This post by Fr. Dwight Longnecker at Standing on my Head addresses beauty and art. (Emphasis by yours truly.)
by Fr. Dwight Longnecker
…So, is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Is everything a matter of taste? If it works for you is it good art? No. The problem in the arts as in morality is that our taste has been totally relativized. We’ve been told by the tolerance thugs that everyone’s taste is sacred and we dare not make any judgement on any work of art lest we make a judgement on the person who painted the picture and anyone who happens to like it.
The relativization of art began with the impressionistic movement–in which art moved away from direct representation of reality to being instead an expression of the impression reality made on the artist himself. Modern art moved quickly towards the total expressionism of the individual artist–the sole criterion of greatness being ‘originality’. At the same time popular appreciation for art moved in the opposite direction–towards hyper realism combined with hyper sentimentality. Thus the popularity of Norman Rockwell and the epitome of realistic sentimentality– the work of Thomas Kincade.
Art is all over the place and nobody seems to have any idea what is ‘good’ art or ‘bad’ art–and just about anything can be produced and sold and someone will buy it and the only value art has is the price tag a gallery owner slaps on the painting. Why is it that everything from a pile of dog turd to a new copies of classical artworks are being produced and sold as ‘art’. Why is it that nobody seems to be able to pronounce on any form of art authoritatively?
Chesterton said “Every argument is a theological argument” and the reason art is relativized is that it Western art has been cut loose from it’s Christian foundation…
…J.R.R.Tolkien said that man was a ‘sub creator’. If we are created in the image of God and God is the Creator, then when we create any form of art we are being fully human and are acting like our creator. These two factors–that images and image making are good because Christ is the image of God (God therefore makes images) and that our creative and imaginative faculties are part our being in God’s image not only validate the action of art, but also give us a foundation for proposing what makes art ‘good’.
The Christian therefore asks what is ‘good’ about the supreme image–Christ the image of God. Jesus Christ–the image of the unseen God–is a good image because Jesus Christ combines in himself all that is beautiful, good and true–all that is god-like. Jesus Christ is an image of reality. He not only reflects the reality and truth and beauty of God–he is the reality, truth and beauty of God. ‘Good’ art will therefore, in some way, reflect and incarnate the beauty, truth and goodness of God.
To do this, good art must first of all be mimetic. That is to say, it imitates reality. A good picture, a good movie, a good story, a good play all portray reality in a fresh way. They help us to see reality in a new way. Art that is totally unrealistic or which portrays reality as negative, ugly or brutal cannot be good art.
Secondly, good art must have meaning. If it is beautiful it must also be true. However, this does not mean that a Christian painting has to portray a Bible story or be overtly inspirational or didactic like the Jesus on the Beach picture. Indeed, such pictures are usually no more than illustrations. They are therefore, one step removed from the reality as a story is one step removed from the actual event. A Christian painting may be illustrative and therefore inspirational, but when it becomes didactic a picture misses the p0int. I knew a wonderful Christian lady who was a fantastic artist, but she felt she had to caption all her pictures with a Bible verse. As the famous film director said, “You wanna send a message? Use a telegram.”
“Christian” art–whether it’s a movie or painting or a story–that is didactic misses the point.The art itself is the message. If the art is Christian and reflects the wonder of the incarnation, then the artwork created by the artist as sub-creator–must also incarnate the beauty and truth in the artwork itself. Continue reading…
photo c/o WGBH Arts
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