Reflections on Beauty

Since my theme is finding beauty in the brokenness, I want to try to bring some substance to the term “beauty” as I am using it. My next few posts will be simply to present a few authors attempting to reflect on beauty.

Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference: beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks to us directly like the voice of an intimate friend. If there are people who are indifferent to beauty, then it is surely because they do not perceive it. (Roger Scruton, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, 3)

color paint

Beauty is the quality connected with those things that are in themselves appealing and desirable. Beautiful things are a delight to the senses, a pleasure to the mind, and a refreshment for the spirit. Beauty invites us in, capturing our attention and making us want to linger. They inspire—or even demand—a response, whether sharing them in community or acting to extend their beauty into other spheres.
Beauty touches on some combination of qualities, difficult to quantify, of pattern, design, form, shape, color, sound, light, integrity, and relationship. It appeals to us at multiple levels, speaking to our intellect and our logical capacities as well as our emotions and spirit. (Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care, 39,40)

Beauty tutors our compassion, making us more prone to love and to see the attraction of goodness. Art takes us out of our self-referentiality and invites us to see through the eyes of the other, whether that other is the artist herself or a character in a story. Because beauty endows goodness with mercy, it enables us to see how difficult it is to achieve goodness, how often one good exists in tension with another. Our pursuit of the good is inherently dramatic, and drama is based on conflict. (Gregory Wolfe, “The Wound of Beauty,” Image Journal 56)

violin

True beauty is a multi-layered affair, which is able to acknowledge and embrace friction, violence, brokenness, pain, suffering, and all that a fallen world entails. The best and most enduring works in the history of art, music, and literature—have always been able to visit the darkest places of the human condition and the bleakest moments in human history. Indeed, an important aspect of art’s calling is precisely to expose the world’s fragmentation and pain as signs of its broken and fallen condition. Such “prophetic” art is not necessarily well proportioned or harmonious in the classical sense, but it will be “attractive” or “arresting” in that it captures some of life’s most poignant yet elusive experiences.  In that sense, art thus helps us make sense of our world and, in doing so, can bring shalom to the world, even as it highlights its brokenness. (Adrienne Chaplin, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, 47)

nails and thorns

A deeper understanding of beauty came into being with Christianity. The cross, the instrument of torture and shame, was taken up into a higher vision of beauty. Brokenness and woundedness—the shattering of the ideal—can become the means whereby beauty is revealed. Here is a beauty that is anything but sentimental. It is akin to what Yeats meant by his phrase “a terrible beauty.” Lest we forget, the glorified body of the risen Christ still bears the marks of his wounds. (Gregory Wolfe, “The Wound of Beauty,” Image Journal 56)

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