Beauty, Art and Us

I will rebuild your foundations with precious stones… your towers with rubies, your gates with stones that glow like fire, and the wall around you with jewels. (Isaiah 54:11,12)

I recall when we moved into a new apartment some years ago.  Spacious  rooms, fine floor. We had the walls scrubbed till they shone.  My sparsely  furnished bedroom took on an airy beautiful look with the lights on at  night.  Such great thrills from just walking in and looking around!  Yet the  floor wasn’t laid with gold, nor the walls with jewels.  The ceiling had no  covering of stones that glow like fire – just plain white Asbestos boards.  And it all looked so very beautiful!  It left me wondering how I shall feel walking around the streets of Heaven. What is it in humans being that makes us appreciate beauty so?  What makes us purr with admiration and passion at a glimpse of anything that  bears loveliness, elegance or splendor? What makes even little children  show preference for beautiful toys and playgrounds? What ever it is, I believe it must be beyond man. Perhaps we need to  look to the hands of the creator to find the answers.  In the first place our  world is dressed up in beauty.  Obviously, the great scientist who  engineered the universe is also a master artist.  And He did not simply set  down an ordered functional universe, but he also chose to tap into his  artistic genius, splashing beauty all over his creation.  He even scattered  shining jewels and precious glowing stones in the bowels of the earth.  Fortunately, he put in man also the ability to appreciate beauty when he  encounters it, to look around ‘at all He had made and see that they are  beautiful.’ (Gen. 1:31)

And beauty, or rather human appreciation of it, is perhaps the only  reason why we have artists..  Where would be all our poets and writers and  musicians and singers and fashion designers and decorators and painters if no one cared about beauty, if no one cared about how anything looked or  sounded or felt?  What would our lives be like then?  So we can say that  beauty begot art, and that the power of beauty lends art the potency by  which it sways and ‘enslaves’ human hearts.

And the truth is that we are more devoted slaves than we realize.  Or  than we usually chose to admit.  The arts exert a strong hold upon our  minds, influencing our lives in such unobtrusive ways that this takes some  reflecting to realize.  By ‘the arts’ of course I mean that vast field of  creative activity every one knows so well (literature, fine art, music and  dance, theatre and films), especially those works that serve for mere  entertainment. How much of our thinking, attitudes and belief is actually due to the  influence of the music we listen to, the books and magazines we read, the  plays and films we watch?  In other words, how ‘enslaved’ are we to the  arts and to beauty?

God gave us beauty, and the ability to appreciate it, and thanks are due  Him.  For art that results from this gift, that shows in a sense that we were  made in His image, thanks also are due Him.   But there is a sense in which  we must view art as we view food.  God gave us food — created us to  depend on regular intake of matter for survival;  granted us not just the  quality of feeling hungry but also of enjoying eating. You should thank  God for your taste buds. What an ordeal eating would be if there ever was  no basis for such a word as delicious and the only thing appetizing about  any dish was the hunger in your tummy!  Thank God for the great gift of food  and for the pleasures of eating.  And because food is so very important to us, there  are things we do with or about food.  For instance, we watch what we eat. Bad  food could kill you.  Feeding consistently on some particular good foods could  make you so fat (or thin!) that living becomes a misery.   Yes, we watch what we  eat.  It makes much sense to ensure not just that our food is colorful and delicious  but also that it contains the basic nutrients required for healthy growth and living.  Like food, art satisfies our hunger, a different kind of God-given hunger that  must be gratified for our souls and minds to thrive and for our humanity to be truly  nurtured.  As it is for food also, our consumption of art needs to be regulated.  Our  enslavement must be checked and controlled. Good must be done us, not ill.

And here, as I’m very much aware, we begin to step into deep waters. What is healthy art and what isn’t? Who decides what? What criteria should we use to  define and to judge works of art?   You probably have many more questions. Or  answers. Feel free to share!

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