One of my professors just passed along this article to me from Christianity Today, centered around the idea that the church has made beauty subjective.
It was one of those pieces that kind of slapped me. But isn’t beauty subjective? Isn’t it in the eye of the beholder? The author, Karen Swallow Prior, says this:
“We no longer distinguish between what Roger Scruton in his lovely book, Beauty, calls “aesthetic interest” and “mere effect.” If beauty is entirely subjective, the only thing that measures its worth is “mere effect”—how it makes us feel.”
Are we just interested in feeling? Is that all our art is about? That’s an interesting question, because it might change how we do art if we say “no.” If you’re asking me (which, you obviously are since you’re here), saying “no, we’re not just interested in sappy feelings” would make our art much better.
What if Christian literature was more interested in speaking complex truth and creating something beautiful and masterful and possibly not easy to digest? What if our music scene was more interested in making good music than changing the lyrics of trashy pop to make it appropriate for our children’s ears?
Prior goes on to bring Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor’s thoughts into the mix. O’Connor says that our Christian fiction has reduced our “conception of the supernatural to a pious cliché.”
Doesn’t that sting? Don’t we want to cling to our pious clichés and say, “well, at least they’re pious! At least they aren’t secular! It doesn’t matter that we’ve over sentimentalized our God to something tiny and simple and cuddly. At least we’ll draw people to Jesus with this stuff!”
As for me and my keyboard, we will try to understand what objective beauty is. We will read great writers and try to determine what makes them great. How did they get there? What do they understand that we don’t? We will look at humanity and try to see deeper than the surface. We will attempt to glance at the heart of people and the heart of God, because if we actually do it well, we won’t have all the answers. We won’t answer all the questions by “The End” and will actually end up being thought-provoking.