Beauty, Truth, and Art

Dear Reader,

I have a few things percolating around in my brain these days. One is a quote I heard at the homeschool conference that amounts to: “There is a perfect standard for beauty just as there is for truth or goodness.” This makes sense to me, but I had never thought of it that way. I think I would have always said that while some things, because of their morality, or lack thereof, are definitively ugly, that there is a lot of variation in what can be called beautiful. That beauty is in the eye of the beholder so to speak. But, as was said at the conference, there is only one Beholder (notice the capital “B”) who matters.

The other piece which is floating around in my brain is really a large clump of ideas from Francis Schaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live. This book is a Christian classic (in the sense at east that lots of people talk about it and name-drop it) and so I thought I should finally read it. I am enjoying it for the most part. It is basically a history of western culture and thought from the Middle Ages on. As such it moves pretty quickly and an expert in any of the areas it touches on might find it too brief I suspect. But for a relative neophyte like me, it is quite enough. At times I find myself a bit lost, particularly when Schaeffer discusses various more modern philosophies. It is not Schaeffer’s presentation which is at fault but my own ability to comprehend these philosophies. I would like to think that it is really an issue of the philosophies themselves being rather preposterous rather than my own lack of intellectual ability, but who knows. I also really don’t think that most of the people I know (since leaving grad school at least) ever think about these issues directly or subscribe knowingly to the philosophies, but it is good to know what may be behind the books we read, the movies we see, the music we listen to, etc., so as to be able to detect the subtle undercurrents which may be affecting us.

I haven’t finished Schaeffer’s book yet but the particular nugget that is ponging around in my brain right now (picture the old video game Pong; you know what I mean?) has to do with what he says about the Impressionists. They, according to Schaeffer, represent the stage at which philosophy, having done away with any sort of higher power, has led to a fragmentation. There is no over-arching structure to give it all meaning. The Impressionists show this in their work by the fuzziness of their pictures, the points, the lines, etc., which give the impression of a scene without actually showing it clearly. They haven’t quite got to the complete meaninglessness which will come later, but without a larger perspective to give life cohesion, it is all beginning to fall apart.

Now I have always liked Impressionistic paintings best so I am left wondering do they merit my praise? If they are depicting a philosophy which I don’t subscribe to, should I not like them? Even if I say that they are a representation of what the world without God becomes (falling apart, disjointed, not clear) — this is a kind of truth, but it also would tend to make them less estimable in my eyes.

No, what I see when I look at a Monet is, I think, the opposite. I see how the points of color, which seem so disjointed and almost random, come together to create an image which is lovely. Perhaps this is not what their creators intended, but it is what I see. How even when man can’t see, or doesn’t represent, the whole picture, the whole, like a hidden meaning, is still there behind it all and can’t help shining through. It is like how all the little creatures and blades of grass sin my lawn come together to make an ecosystem– a larger unit with meaning that works together, a greater whole.

So I am wrong? Is Schaeffer wrong? Is there a right way to understand these paintings? Are the beautiful in an absolute sense? Who decides? I don’t really know.



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