Thursday, June 24, 2010

Art, Self, and Love

When I was in Eger, Hungary, speaking at the European Leadership Forum, on May 26, 2010, Ellis Potter made some short but telling remarks about art. The plenary session that evening was called, "Culture Night," and attendees were free to attend three different presentations on various aspects of art. After attending these sessions, we went back into the main auditorium for some comments by Ellis, formerly a L'Abri worker and presently a freelance minister in Europe.

He mentioned that many people say that, "I do not know art, but I know what I like." This is meant to silence all criticism and justify whatever preferences the person may have. Ellis responded by saying that yeast knows what it likes--the wet and the sweet. Thus, if you know what you like you have risen to the level of an asexual, one-celled organism. These "I know what I like" comments are gratifying, affirming, and empowering of the self; they do not look out into the broader world for objective value. God is love, and love is other-centered, not self-centered.

Thus, we should develop our artistic appreciations in the mode of love. Subjectivism in artistic taste is demeaning and profoundly unChristian.


BallBounces said...

"Subjectivism in artistic taste is demeaning and profoundly unChristian."

You mean if I like a painting and you dislike it, one of us is objectively wrong?!

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

We could both be wrong, if we are misperceiving the aesthetic qualities of the work.

John Hutchinson said...

Dear Doug:

Though I subscribe to there being boundaries to good aesthetic taste, I am not sure how objective one can be in defining it.

First of all, what objective criteria would be necessary to deem one object as beautiful and another as ugly? From what authority would you justify this objective criteria? Presuming there is no Scriptural (there may be but I have not really thought of aesthetics in relation to chapter in verse), would your objective criteria not be subject to charges of subjectivism? Would your objective criteria be able to clear the verse "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good"
in the sense that something that God made, did not violate your set of objective criteria?

Symmetry was a large value in the Baroque period and I confess that my appreciation for butterfly wings is largely premised on that quality. However, I find the weeping willow one of the most beautiful visions in the world because of its complexity, apparent wildness, texture and particularly in its lack of symmetry. Assuming that all that God was good, what aesthetic value would you insist on that I should maintain? The symmetrical or the asymmetrical? Perhaps you would suggest neither. However, I suspect that you are going to bump up against contradictions no matter what objective criteria you use.

I am not sure that you can place aesthetics on the plane of the rational. Indeed, the suffocation I have with Modernist architecture is due to its rationality.

Anyhow I wait your thoughts.