Monday, April 24, 2017

Art as a Practice of Honesty or Beauty

Art may be defined as: "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power" (emphasis mine). There seems to be a lot of talk these days about how some artists are so 'real' and 'honest,' which I take to be within 'emotional power,' but my question is, where have the artists making beautiful things wandered off to? The honest artist is stuck in the quagmires of this world, thundering grumbles and groans while no one is there to help them - at least, so they think. To borrow an idea attributed to Kierkegaard, you can't see clearly when you have tears in your eyes. The honest artist has mud on their eyes, is unable to see their comrade's hand of help, and so, they look pitiful and confused. They are confused from the inside. But from the outside, why, they look so naive and silly you'd think that they were playing a game of hide and go seek with a ghost! The space of the beautiful artist is unknown, on the contrary, as their concern is not this-worldly but hidden entirely in God.

My fear with this praise of honesty among some of those in the Christian art world is that they are abusing it, that they are making a lie out of honesty. It is a lie to use honesty for the sake of vainglorious purposes. Honesty is true to God; vanity is only true to self. If honesty is what promotes this swearing-like-a-sailor hooligan of an attitude*, then it has traded its character of respect for one of rebellion. What does it rebel against? It rebels against moral laws, and since laws are thought by contemporaries as being in relation to the legal, morality undeservedly becomes legalistic**. It is a lie to oneself to deny that art should be beautiful.

* I'm not solely addressing cursing here, though to be honest, I was motivated by the recent controversy surrounding The Classic Crime's soon-to-be-released album. I take it that vulgar language may be defended as being more 'honest' than non-vulgar language by some, so I used it here as an example. Plus, I find 'swearing like a sailor' to be a humorous idiom.

** Inspired by an idea on page 18 of Ecumenical Jihad by Peter Kreeft

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