What is Beauty?  

Posted by Daniel in ,

What is beauty?
 Over the past few hundred years our sense of what is attractive, and beautiful has been terribly warped.  We are told that a crucifix suspended in a jar of urine, or a plain toilet in the middle of a blank room is art. Now I think quite a few people, even some non-believers, would say the first example is at the best in bad taste, and at worst terribly offensive, and sacriligious. But the second is, I think most people would say, at worst just odd. Yet, many of the intellectual and artistic "elite" give praise to these things, and many other weird, and extremely distasteful works of "art".

Most people agree when they see a piece by Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, or even Monet, that these are great works of art. How do we decide what is beautiful though? I'm mostly considering art, but this can apply to music, furniture, photography, and many other things. We can say, well its what is pleasing to the eye. But even though most people agree on some of the greats, like Rembrandt, there are also many who say that a red square on a white wall is art. Now, this may not be ugly or displeasing to the eye, but pardon me if I disagree with you that this is art. If we simply appeal to what we naturally feel is beautiful, we can go a short distance on this without too many road bumps. But we soon reach a toilet in the middle of an empty room, or paint randomly thrown at a canvas, and there we start to really disagree. Quite a few would say no to these, but then there are also those who say that this is true art. Another example from music is the "song" 4'33" by John Cage, who was a post-modern musician. 4'33" can be played by anyone, anywhere, with any instrument, and does not even require any noise. It can be complete silence, or the roaring of thousands of people. Certainly depending on what happens it could be very enjoyable, but just as easily be a waste of time. Can we truly call this "song" a piece of music? This is the same as art, most would probably look at least slightly askance at this, but there are others who have praised it in the past. We cannot simply appeal to what we feel is naturally right as I hope you see, so where then do we go?

There is also the issue of the paintings from several hundred years ago, that fit into the profile of what most agree is art. Pieces from some of the greats. They are not part of the modern movement, showing incomprehensible, random shapes, or disgusting images, or just splotches of color. However, they contain nudity ranging from not much, to everything (Michelangelo's King David). Now, I think that the human body is a wonderful work of art that God has sculpted. However, it is not something that is to be paraded to the world. I'm not even considering here the possible implications of these paintings in regards to temptation.  So if a painting or carving contains nudity, or fairly severe immodesty, even if its "artistically" pleasing to the eye, in regards to composition, colors, and skill, is it really art, as it is showing something that God did not intend shown to the world? 

Is it something that is totally subjective for each person? where each and every person is totally free to decide what they find beautiful, and no one else can encroach upon that? Yes, I understand and agree that there is a certain amount of personal preference in this topic, as there is in pretty much any topic. However, I don't think that this is totally subjective.

Unfortunately God's word does not lay all this out for us. We have no examples of art, and we really don't even have any guidelines along which to guide us. I certainly don't have much of an answer, which is why I'm writing this.  I'm curious as to what others have to say, and I hope that there will be quite a few responses.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 24, 2010 at Monday, May 24, 2010 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



Interesting topic. I immediately thought - "... Whatever things are lovely, whatever things are pure... Think on these things."

As for the definition of what art is, I think it's mostly an inconsequential and pointless aim to try to define it. One can call anything art (really, anything), but I think the only place we should draw the line would be when that art is a sin. A black wall with a square of white? Boring, but okay, if you want to call it art and people will pay you thousands for it - whatever. Nudity - or worse, "erotic art" - that has crossed the line from "you're weird" to "you're sinning."

Of course, it's not always that simple. In the 1800s, when a German composer named Wagner came on the scene, a lot of his contemporaries viewed his music as vile. His pieces were "progressive" and different, and people somehow found them offensive and even inciting unwarranted passion. Now, personally, I don't care for Wagner. I'm not thrilled by his music as I am, say, Mozart's Lacrymosa, so I don't really see what they're talking about. And some people do the same with music today - even purely instrumental pieces are branded as wicked because they don't correspond with one's idea for "how things should be."

Can instruments, images, or anything else incite emotions? Well, yeah. Art should provoke a response in you or it's not very good, is it? But at the same time, art can't be defined by what you like and what you don't like. Once we set the boundaries - whatever is pure and lovely and certainly not sinful - that leaves a lot of open space for creativity and what is beautiful to one person or the next. And everything that fits into that sphere (weird or completely normal), should just be left alone to the individual.
I think God's given us a lot of freedom like that. :)

May 24, 2010 at 10:37 PM

P.S. I hate Renaissance art. :D

May 24, 2010 at 10:38 PM

True, though of course some people will argue that some things are not pure, and lovely. Though you can't really do much against this. Music is probably one of the biggest areas where people will do this.

May 25, 2010 at 5:39 PM

I think God does tell us what is beautiful and what is not. He tells us what HE thinks is beautiful and what is not. Psalms, Song of Solomon, Revelation, and other books in the Bible hold passages that tell us what is lovely. That should also tell us what is ugly - the opposite... right?

Honestly, I consider Renaissance art (I mean, the nudity "art") as pornography. If people today can pervert the use of a camera, surely they can pervert the use of their own hands.

Jesus said for a man to look on a woman and lust after her commits adultery with her in his heart. So obviously, the same can be applied vice versa, with the way a woman looks at a man. Why put the temptaion there right in front of your eyes in the first place? James 1 talks about when lust is conceived it brings forth sin. Surely, so surely, God has never, and will never think any kind of sin to be beautiful.

As to music, well.... here's a piece of wisdom I learned from a great friend who loves God with all his heart:
"If I have to give excuses to justify something I want to do, it's more than likely wrong."

That's the testimony of the conscience that God gave us.

Beauty is not to be sin, because God created beauty, but God cannot look on sin.

May 27, 2010 at 3:01 PM

That is indeed true, but you do have to be careful when applying that to things that fall under Christian liberty. Now certainly if you have to make excuses to justify it even in your own eyes, than even if its totally fine, you probably shouldn't as you are not firmly convinced in your own mind. (Rom 14:5) However, making an "excuse" for something that falls under Christian liberty, such as what to eat, drink, listen to, etc, does not automatically disqualify something. But it is a very good principle to keep and mind, and one way to double check yourself.

May 27, 2010 at 3:10 PM

I see your point...
So I guess that's where asking God for help to guide us comes in. Help to guide our choices, even our opinions. We can do nothing by ourselves.

May 28, 2010 at 10:20 AM

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