Beauty: A Very Short Introduction
Roger Scruton in his work Beauty is not trying to address the question, what is beauty, but delving deeper into the philosophical conundrum of critique. How does one make aesthetic judgments in a modern/postmodern world when the concept of beauty is so closely tied to truth and goodness but these have all been stripped of any meaning? By rejecting the desecration of art, beauty, and humanity in the rebellion of modern thinking and returning to a proper understanding of beauty with the help of Kant and Hume going all the way back to Plato. Scruton proposes that critical analyses are about changing someone’s perception. In this short introduction, he sets out to show how one can allow the beauty of life found in humans, nature, everyday things, and works of art to communicate its message of hope, love and purpose. The hermeneutical key needed to unlock the door is to see beauty as a “real and universal value, one anchored in our rational nature, and the sense of beauty has an indispensable part to play in shaping the human world” (xii).
What I found most intriguing in his argument is as it progressed, beauty becomes as much about the viewer or partaker as it is about the object itself. But not in the way that the moderns have portrayed in their narcissistic version, for Scruton has a much different approach to the subject. Beauty is more than what we see, hear, taste, and touch. It is not merely a sensory experience, but communication of meaning. Seen in nature, artwork, and the everyday; beauty is about hope, that this world is real, life has meaning and purpose, love is possible, and there is more to it than meets the eye. Good or true art shows us not only what is but what can be. And the beauty we perceive tells us what ought to be, what is right or proper and fitting. To see the world this way requires a certain understanding on the part of the participant informed not by the particulars of technique but the universals of truth and goodness and other virtues, which requires contemplation. Aesthetic judgments are only possible if beauty is not merely opinion or preference. Encounters with beauty are individual subjective experiences but ones viewed through universal, rational lenses.
Therefore, it is vastly important that we continue to teach people how to encounter the arts and life in such a way as to receive the message communicated through beauty. And it is also vital to continue producing art both in the formal works on display and in the informal setting of private life that has meaning. Because humans will never stop creating but in the absence of beauty instead of imagination we are left with fantasy and instead of the embodied human form, we have pornography. For when we can no longer see the beauty of life in the world or art and stop making it ourselves then we lose in part what it means to be human and degrade ourselves to a fate lower than that of animals. Scruton challenges us to reevaluate how we see the arts and the world around us in order to preserve the sanctity of life. For he sees that more is at stake than the world becoming increasingly “ugly.” The loss of beauty is a death sentence for the soul and a fate I fear the world is quickly approaching with little or no regard for the cost involved.
Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and hearing the author’s perspective on both how to produce and understand the arts. In modern culture, art has become a personal, self-expression of one’s own reality. I appreciated how he stated and showed from example that art must be grounded in and portray a higher, universal reality. He not only expresses how to make good art, but also instructs in how to view art with new eyes. These eyes are ones of contemplation that stem from love. I found the title of the book intriguing and was curious to see how it played out in his argument. It clicked for me when he likened an artist unto a priest. A priest has the responsibility to represent and present the face of God to the people and the people have the task of preparing themselves to behold the face of God when in His presence. In the same manner, the artist has the responsibility to present the metaphysical reality that causes the viewer to be reminded of the greater reality beyond themselves in which they are a part. The partaker of the arts has the duty to come prepared to recognize the true, the good, and the beautiful when they come in contact with it. But in order to make or appreciate art you have to know what the good is, you have to know wherein beauty lies. It lies in a spiritual, metaphysical reality outside of ourselves. To know the good is to love the good. To love the good is to want to express and enjoy it. The ability to enjoy the arts requires a proper conceptual differentiation between work and leisure. Work must be viewed and treated as a means to an end and not as an end in and of itself. We were created for work and work is good in part because it allows us to do all the things that we enjoy. Festivals make the arts possible, taking time to rest from work to appreciate that which makes us human. But the arts make the festival possible, for what is a party without a little music, decoration or dancing?
It has puzzled me that when people groups or nations are in major crises and shut down into survival mode, the “non-essential” such as arts and recreation are the first to go. Yet, as Roger Scruton said, maybe it is the useless that really is the most useful. Art is what separates us from the beasts within and without. It is that which reminds and inspires us that we are not alone in our plight, that we are part of something real, bigger than ourselves. Possibly that is why those in crisis, unable to produce or enjoy art feel so hopeless. Only the lover can sing. Only those with contemplative eyes can know and see the good. The loveless, lost and lonely know nothing of music. They neither hear nor can make melody. But the rescued, redeemed and restored cannot help but burst forth in song.
“Who is more real?” I ran across this quote while perusing pinterest this weekend as a tattoo along some girl’s clavicle. And I have to admit, pinterest has this uncanny ability if I allow it to tap directly into several of my weaknesses. But the one I may struggle with the most is judgment, especially when it comes to the ridiculous comments people leave. For this particular picture of the quote beneath the girl’s shoulder, while most lauded the placement, so many felt the need to show their stupidity/ineptness/ downright idiocy by writing, “I don’t get it.” And I cannot say that I “got it” as first either, but I certainly didn’t choose to inform the world of this but took a few seconds to do a simple Google search because there was something about it that fascinated me. The rest of the quote is as follows:
“Who is more real? Homer or Ulysses? Shakespeare or Hamlet? Burroughs or Tarzan?”
― Robert A. Heinlein, The Number of the Beast
I haven’t read the book so I have no idea what it is about and in no way want to endorse or even comment on that matter, but there is just something (for lack of a better word because what I’m trying to say is in itself inexpressible, hovering somewhere in the recesses of the mind enshrouded by the fog, like a nymph that appears just out of reach and as you reach out and are about to grasp it, suddenly it appears even farther away) about that question.
Who is more real, the author or the character? Without the first we wouldn’t have the later but without the later would we have ever known the first? The man we can now never meet or the one we can encounter anytime we want? Who is more real, the man who lived and breathed and died? Or the one that man created in his mind and lives on today in ours? He who never took a breath but cannot die?
And you may say isn’t that comparing apples and oranges? To which I would say, maybe, but maybe that’s the whole point so lets compare them anyway. Is the idea any less real than the one who conceived it? And when the question is presented this way it forces us to define what we mean when we say “real” and what is this whole “more” business? I don’t have any answers, only more questions. Like where does this line of questioning take us?
It reminded me of the first time I came across the question, “Who is John Gault?” There is just something (again with the substitute for the inexpressible) about it that excites yet terrifies. The mere utterance that brings chills down the spine and tingling in the fingertips. You almost can’t help but want to know the answer and at the same time hope you never find it out. You know it could be your deliverance, your salvation, your freedom but from what you’re still not sure. A new perspective can be a new lease on life but at what cost?
It’s like the first, second, and third, maybe every time you read and reread those nebulous words in Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain (or Samuel Clemmons if you prefer, which could spark a whole other conversation along some of these same lines), the part at the very end when he reveals his philosophy. ” Life is just a series of thoughts strung together like a dream.” What if? What if your entire existence is merely a figment of someone else’s imagination? Its like trying to wrap your mind around an exploding atomic bomb, it’s just not going to happen and it really hurts to try because even if you were to succeed there still wouldn’t be anything left of you.
Or like the first time you watch The Truman Show. What if everything you have ever known, ever believed, ever experienced wasn’t actually real? And there we are again, back where we started. What is real? In some sense everything in Truman’s life is “real.” Those are “real” people, “real” events, but it is also true that it is all contrived. Would we then say that when he steps through the door in the sky that the life he has on the other side is more real?
And there is that tricky little “more” word. Is it even possible for anything to be more real? We generally tend to think in real and not real categories and usually label everything from that standpoint. So what, if anything does it even mean for a thing to be more real? Categorical mistake? Or reason to question everything you’ve known or been told? Or can it be that it’s really all just a matter of perspective?
What a perfectly wonderful fall break day. Woke up late, ate a breakfast consisting mostly of bacon, did my devotions outside in the glorious sunshine, read me some Lewis, ate a picnic lunch outside, finally got dressed and ready for the day, went to work, am now writing a paper at work on the Lewis read this morning, then going to my sister’s house for dinner, much-needed laundry and to play with my super cute 2 month old cousin before finally retiring to my house to sleep and repeat much of today’s activities.
Thank goodness for breaks every so often so that we have time to catch up on all that we have neglected or been unable to do so we can start again fresh and ready for whatever comes next; but also so that we have time to stop and reflect on the small graces given to us everyday that we often take for granted. To be able to do any of the things I have done or will do today are each in their own way a beautiful measure of grace extended my way whether it be having a place to sleep, health to rise, having His Word, food to eat, uplifting apologetics, a place to work, family and numerous more things that I have been blessed with for this season of my life. For they are not guaranteed and should be enjoyed in their own right but not held too closely lest we stumble when they are no longer ours.
I haven’t posted much of anything recently because I don’t feel the need to use this as a source for complaining about my circumstances or emotional state, Facebook status updates work perfecting for that, and since getting back from Africa I have been in sort of a funk. Several things in my life have changed since getting back some good, some not as much fun. But this weekend as I was doing some reading for one of my classes and in my devotional reading through the first chapter of 1 Peter I have become really convicted about my state of discontentment. In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis writes about this longing we all have in our souls that cannot be satisfied by anything in this world and how we often misunderstand the object of this desire and become dissatisfied when we don’t find fulfillment there. Augustine put it this way in his own ,spiritual autobiography, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” I have come to know this more fully over the past several weeks and even back into this summer and maybe even further. I struggled with loneliness while I was in Africa staying by myself at the guest house every afternoon and evening. And it has not been easy moving to Wake Forest to go to seminary where I know no one except my sister. I find it ironic that for someone who has moved so much that I would have the friend making thing down pat, but after living in Columbia for 5 years and being really settled in my friendships there, I have completely lost the knack for it. Thankfully my roommates have been great, especially with introducing me to their friends and I’m meeting people all the time, but still have yet to really just click with anyone and find my way into a solid group of people on my own. I’m sure that it doesn’t help that I have been feeling incredibly anti-social and throwing a pity party for myself since I got here. I broke up with my boyfriend of almost 2 yrs and best friend for another year beyond that before I moved here and I never realized how much that would affect me and still continues to affect me. It was really bad when I got here and I still don’t listen to the radio much because I can’t handle listening to love songs. They make me want to cry or hit something, neither very good options when you’re driving. And its all the little things throughout everyday that remind me of him or some memory that culminates into a overall feeling of sadness and slight depression. Before I ever dated someone I was perfectly content with my singleness and now I am starting to dread even going through the holidays alone much less fear spending the rest of my life alone. I think who ever said that its better to love and lose than never love at all is an idiot and never lost someone he loved. I wouldn’t trade the last 3 years of my life for anything but dang, no one warns you that when it doesn’t work it out the way you wanted just how much it aches deep down inside where you didn’t even know you could have feelings. But now I am beginning to see how incredibly self-centered and unhealthy my thinking and feeling and acting has been the last few weeks. If I really believe that Christ is all that I need and he alone can satisfy the deepest longings of my soul more than thing or person then I need to live my life in such a way that is evident. I need to practice Romans 12:1-2 by renewing my mind so I can change my thinking and act accordingly. I decided to do my devotional reading out of 1&2 Peter this semester really only because its one of the few books of the NT that I haven’t done any kind of study on, and have found it to be such a great fit. Its first chapter is so convicting, making me realize that my petty troubles are nothing compared to the great trials of those around the world which are in turn nothing compared to the greatness of God’s grace lavished upon us. Lewis also says in one of his many lectures given at Oxford that we have been called to holiness, not to happiness. God is not concerned with our happiness. I am often so concerned with my own happiness that it affects my every choice and decision. How will this make me feel? How will this make my life better? But what difference will it make in the grand scheme of things if I think I’m happy today or not. Most of the time I don’t even know what I want anyway or what I think will make me happy is really only the proverbial grass is always greener on the other side when that is rarely if ever true. Our perspective on the things of this life are so skewed that I think if we were able like Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings to have our eyes opened to the spiritual reality around us and firmly believe that, “They that are with us are greater than they that are with them” then we, I would live differently. But that requires being willing to completely surrender my life to Christ and for a control freak that always needs to know exactly what’s going on and what’s going to happen next and plans out every step from here to eternity, that is not only scary beyond belief but impossible on my own. Which I guess is the point. But what I am beginning to better understand is what I think I have by holding on to what I want is not really worth much or anything at all when it doesn’t satisfy, comfort or in the end bring any benefit but destruction when all is said and done. You have to let go and accept your circumstances, whatever they may be as opportunities to grow closer to God and learn valuable lessons about yourself and the world he created from his perspective.
I wrote something several years ago out on an offering envelope (which my father will kill me if he finds out. We were brought up from the beginning to respect everything in God’s house as belonging to him and were never allowed to deface anything) that speaks to this.I think maybe I had intended to turn into a poem of some sort.
I may know many things, but I have learned little.
To learn one must suffer.
To love one must first lose.
To trust completely – hurt deeply.
To become wise – become confounded.
To gain one must fall.
I know nothing of love because I have never lost anyone dear to me.
I know nothing of trust because I have not yet been hurt.
I have no wisdom for I am not willing to admit my own foolishness.
I have gained nothing for I have not fallen.
I know nothing of life for I have not yet begun to suffer.
Some of these things are no longer true because I have now lost someone incredibly dear to me and through school have learned more of what I don’t know than maybe even what I do. And yet, I have sooooooooooo far to go. And I‘m not even sure that I even really believe all of this fully. Maybe you can really learn and love and trust without experiencing their opposites or some tragedy. I don’t know, maybe that’s just what it takes to get through my incredibly stubborn hardheadedness.
For the past several weeks I have been attending different churches in the Wake Forest area to determine where I want to attend while I am living here over the course of the next couple of years. I would like to really invest and get involved but mostly just attend the same one the entire time I am here. I went to a different church every year that I lived in Columbia. I would consistently go to the same church for an entire year but ended up going to a different one every year. This was due mostly by choice because I figured now was the only time that I would be able to attend a church outside the Southern Baptist circle and partly because of the service requirements from my school that kinda forced you to choose a church so quickly without much consideration because you had to get in so many hours of “practical application.” Because of that I choose some because they would let me help out in their children’s program without being a member at all and without attending for a year or 6 months. But also I wanted to get a feel for different kinds of churches and methods of children’s programs. But I can’t say that I loved it. Not wanting to fall into that same cycle and thankful not to have to pick one so soon or for an artificial reason, I set out to attend different churches every week of this semester until I figured out what I wanted in a church and found one that met all of those wants. I wanted to take my time and visits lots so when I did commit it could be for long term. I have since then wished I had just picked one and went with it. I can’t figure out why someone would want to church hop. It’s not really fun. But it has been profitable in that I am figuring out what I really could care less about but also what I want in a church. Attire, worship styles and so many other things don’t really bother me at all. Good, solid biblical teaching is a must. I have also discovered that I really like the idea of having both Sunday School classes (or whatever you decide to call it) on Sunday morning and small groups that meet sometime during the week. I also would like to go to a church with multiple services so I can be involved in a kid’s Sunday school class and also to go to church myself and then be part of a group of adults during the week. I am very much of the attitude that I want my cake and I want to be able to eat the whole thing too. I did go to a church that I really enjoyed the week before last that I think I would love to go to but for what I feel like are very selfish reasons. I stated on Facebook that I kinda reminded me of a Baptist version of an Anglican church I attended while in SC. They do actually meet in a school auditorium, which could have influenced it, but I really think it was the overall feel of the service. They didn’t sing much at the beginning and the sermon came much earlier than most Baptist services with more singing afterward and they take communion and recite the Lord’s Prayer every week. There weren’t any creeds or robes or anything like that but the entire service flowed together into an entire worship experience similar to Church of the Apostles. However because all the kids stay in the service for the entire time (which I love, I think church should be a family affair with other times spent in age segregated and appropriate teaching) and they don’t have Sunday School classes, I wouldn’t be able to get involved with children in any way and I would only be going because I liked it which is pretty much what I did at Apostles though I did volunteer in the nursery which I could do there I guess. And they are a church plant that just started so they probably have plans for starting different ministries including one to kids, they just don’t have the manpower, but I don’t know if I want to wait around while they figure that out or if I ready to help them spearhead one. Though, at the same time that could be fun and exciting and it is what I want to do one day, start a children’s program overseas from the ground up. There are so many things to consider, especially when there are so many good churches concentrated in such a small area. I absolutely hate when you need something at a store and go to its section to discover the overwhelming amount of options there are for the exact same product and all its variations. I just wish they had one kind so I didn’t have to figure out which of the multitude I really need and want. I guess maybe I’m just lazy and like things to be simple and clear-cut, but I feel the same way about choosing a church. That I could find one with everything that I wanted and that there would only be one of them and the decision would be made. If only life worked out the way I want it to in my head. If only…
I discovered the purpose for my life this morning in class. Since taking my first philosophy class in college I have struggled with reconciling the dual passions I have been given by God. And this morning the answer came flooding to my mind in the most unexpected way.
I have always loved to read and think and talk about ideas with people and really came into my own when I entered the world of philosophy under the tutelage of an excellent professor who encouraged me at the right moment to pursue a life of concentrated thinking at least for time. It was in that realm that I learned how to understand people and in so doing opened up the avenues for discovering how to love them as well.
But on what seems like, not even the opposite side of the spectrum but an entirely different spectrum all together, I love children and have a passion to teach them in some overseas, cross-cultural context. Spending the summer working with those precious African children completely confirmed this calling in my life and gave me a renewed passion to do it and do it not only right but well.
And now I find myself at Seminary where I am supposed to be studying how to do those very things both from a theological standpoint but also from the practical approach. But when it comes to signing up for classes I find myself gravitating toward the philosophy and literature courses instead of missions. And though most of them were weeded out by not fitting into my schedule, I did manage to find one that fit perfectly and seemed to scream my name the moment I laid eyes on it, Philosophers: Schaeffer and Lewis. The class is a juxtaposition between their philosophical and apologetic works. Both excellent authors and highly respected in their field and loved by many for their contribution to enriching lives on the personal, spiritual level as well as the scholarly, academic side.
But it was gaining insight into the life and mind of C.S. Lewis and seeing in a new light how he so ingeniously brought apologetics to life in his works of fiction that I realized for the first time how the life of a missionary to children could go hand in hand with that of the Christian philosopher. It is in his works we understand in Christianity, reason and imagination both come together in way that makes complete sense.
I had previously given up on the notion that I would ever be able to have both at the same time and was planning to teach children for the next 20-25 years. Then I would return to achieve my other goal to teach philosophy to other potential missionaries because of the profound influence it had on my life and way of thinking that I see now as indispensable to bridging the gap between cultures. For how do you know how someone else thinks and how to make the gospel relevant to him if you don’t know how you yourself think and how the gospel was made relevant to you. And what better way to explain that gospel to a child than through the medium that they readily understand of imagination and wonder, through stories and pictures. I did think it would be fun to write children’s book as a kid. Who knew that maybe one day I will get to live out that dream for a higher purpose?