Aesthetic Education; See the Art in and Around You

October 13th, 2010

We’ve previously defined aesthetic as the cumulative effect of every component within a specific framework.  Art produces aesthetic, but not just art produced by humans.  God is an artist too, and it is a sin to be indifferent to his creative work, the pinnacle of which is mankind. If only we realized the wonderful artistry found in each one of us we would not be as likely to sin by showing indifference let alone contempt towards each other and the world.  How do we recognize this Godly beauty in creation?  How do we develop it within ourselves?  How do we bring it out in each other?

Every person you’ve ever met has an aesthetic, and I’m sure you are well aware of this whether you’ve thought about it or not.  I’m referring to the cumulative effect of a person’s existence upon your senses.  Analyzing a person’s aesthetic is a completely rational way of evaluating another’s impression on your own mind.  Some components of a person are obvious:  physical appearance, personality, body language, accent, interests, intelligence, etc.  These are the things that determine whether or not a person is attractive, fun, annoying, or simply “nice”.  But there is something about a human being’s aesthetic that is unique; it’s that ability to behave in the way the person chooses.  It’s the ability to go against what is natural to human behavior or to not.  These choices are what weigh most heavily on a person’s aesthetic.

This trait of the ability to choose is what animates us and gives value to our lives.  It’s also what gives us the ability to develop virtue and vices.  It creates harmony because it makes chaos possible.  It is the center of our existence and causes within us a spectrum of possibility ranging from beauty to depravity.  It is this one thing that saturates our being and causes all of our other components to be seen by others in a way that will either please or irritate them depending upon the condition of their own aesthetic.

The evil, twisted, or unnatural aesthetic mutilates the beauty of natural human tendency.  It kills, covets, hates, gossips, and corrupts all that is good, having an inherent effect on the person and destroys them.  The aesthetic that chooses what is good goes along with unnatural human tendency and produces love, joy, peace, etc.  It is choice that creates beauty, but because of our desires that are contradictory to the way God designed us to be we all degrade our natural beauty to an extent no matter how good our choices are.  This causes our personal aesthetics to clash and grind against one another so that the whole of creation is degraded by our conduct.

So then, there is inherent aesthetic contrast between a good man and an evil one.  Obviously we’re all evil to an extent and fall somewhere on the spectrum of beauty and depravity.  But it’s important to identify extremes, decide where we fall, and how to progress on the path towards harmony.  But after we’ve done that, we quickly realize that we are not capable of reaching perfect beauty.  We strain ourselves and punish our flesh in a attempt to achieve a character produced by a righteous life.  Then many good-willed people justify their imperfections with the sorts of things the despised use to make themselves feel better; the main justification being the inappropriately ascribed subjectivity of beauty.

We are all created by the work of God, but we are still in progress: designed to make a choice as to whether or not we are going to allow God to animate us, or let our standard-less selves to animate us.  Whether we are to become beautiful works of art by the greatest artist in the universe who spilled His blood over us to complete us and perfect our beauty for the Artist’s glory, or to remain imperfect by rejecting completion.

We creatures are not left without a clue planted within ourselves.  It’s a taste of the perfect beauty we’re made to long for.  It’s the aesthetic of God longing to shine through our distinctive individuality.  This distinctive aesthetic is beyond words, music, or any other form of expression.  It can only be truly observed in the people you do life with.  And even then only in the people who have let themselves be the jars of clay God calls us to be; cracked and broken vessels overflowing with the Spirit of God.  But even with non-believers, glimpses of it can be seen longing to break forth but are suppressed by their desire to create a cheap imitation of themselves, thinking that they are fighting a tendency to be something ordinary.

We, along with the whole of creation, are simply components of one massive work of art.  Human art is a means of trying to assemble reality and make sense of its intricacies.  It is the physical form of asking questions, leaving finding answers to the perceiver.  It points us to the created world in such a way as to seek truth; God’s truth.  Since we ourselves, the physical world, and the spiritual world are all works of art, seeking the deepest truths of life through human art is perfectly logical.

Art does not teach us to know, but to seek to know.  To dwell on mystery.  To ponder various ways in which reality can be assembled and look at truth from a different angle; an intellectual exercise that brings life to your spirit (Roman 12:2, Phillipians 4:8).  Listen, look, read. Attend to various aesthetic objects so that your perception of reality can be sharpened.  Every angle available from which your are able to observe truth should be utilized.  Therefore, Aesthetic Education in the Church is not only necessary, but it is essential.


Art and the Sin of Apathy

September 10th, 2010

On Monday through Friday I wake up at 7:00am, make a latte or some coffee, and spend the first hour or so of my day with God.  My wife wakes up at 8:00, I spend some time with her over breakfast and a little more coffee, and we’re both off to work by 8:45.  The job I have isn’t great, but between our two incomes we make it just fine.  Plus I very much enjoy the people I work with and building relationships with my co-workers has proven to be a very positive part of my life.  At 5:00pm I punch out and head home where my wife and I make dinner and discuss the intimate details of our young lives together.  On Wednesday nights we go to prayer meeting at our church.  On Friday nights we spend time building relationships with people in our church over dinner and games to start the weekend during which we take care of our domestic logistics and rest from a productive week of work and study (we try to learn more about various subjects with our spare time with the resources available to us).  This is the way our quiet and beautiful life together has been for some time now, and although children or unexpected changes may shape our life differently in the foreseeable future, for now things are stable and there is no reason to alter anything in any way.

For those of you who haven’t realized that I haven’t actually been describing my life, welcome back to reality.  I have only been describing the life I long for in my weaker moments.  While its a perfectly plausible and very happy reality for many people my age, I am unable to pursue it because of the task that God has clearly set before me.

Retain the image I have set before you and take it to its logical conclusion.  A happy couple with no real ambition outside of loving God and loving others.  They have a good marriage with no pressing needs or concerns; just two people living comfortable in the presence of God.  Let this comfort go on long enough and eventually their passion for life will fade.  Scripture will become words, the redundancy of work will not bring fulfillment, relationships will become stale.  How can this be kept from happening?

This is one of the best apologies I can give for undertaking this seemingly masochistic pursuit of music composition.  What better way is there to look at specific aspects of the world in a fresh way than through a form of expression that uses a completely universal and wonderfully unique method of creative communication?  What a fresh and wonderful way of portraying the noise of our distracted culture John Corigleono presented in Circus Maximus.  What a beautifully passionate and hopeful outlook on death Takashi Yoshimatsu presented in his “Fuzzy Bird Sonata”.  How do people fight their apathetic outlook without various forms of artistic expression helping them attend to existence in ways they’ve never considered?

At this point I feel the need to discuss apathy.  First of all, it’s a sinful attitude to be indifferent towards God’s creative work which is part of his glory.  If it’s a sin to be indifferent to creation, how much more to be indifferent to his word, his will, or your fellow man for whom Christ died?  Is God an apathetic being in regards to anything?  Since he is not, we cannot be either and art keeps us from this sin.  Apathy is a powerful temptation because it is a seemingly useful tool for acquiring happiness (or a cheap substitute for it).  One way to eliminate pain is to stop caring about the part of you that is in pain.  You get upset with politics so you stop caring; life gets a little easier at the expense of something important.  Thus apathy leads to bliss which is an “emotion” enjoyed by fools.

So then, apathy is to be avoided at every level.  Care deeply about God, people, the created world, and the dark powers that work against them.  Do everything in your power to maintain your passion for good.  But how?  Well, as I was saying, perceiving the world in a variety of different ways will help you to continue caring.  Keeping a fresh perceptive on the whole of life will keep you from the sin of apathy and help to bring you into a full and rich awareness of the wonderful life that God has given you.

Sorry if I sound pretentious, but the fine arts (by that I mean work that actually attempts to say something worthwhile) are more important than the football game. Spending an hour with great art will open your senses to new ways of perceiving creation, people, God, and your own life in wonderfully rich ways.  Do consider it.


Aesthetic Education; Loving God

July 22nd, 2010

So far this series of posts has dealt with matters of intellect, enhancing people’s awareness of the world, and their overall cognitive abilities.  To the academic world these are matters of significant consequence (Although I am quite certain that I have not persuaded anyone).  But now that we’ve defined our terms and unpacked some sensitive concepts it is time to apply them to things of great consequence to the church and her members.

Getting to know God and becoming more like Him should be a Christian’s chief concern in life. Following His commands is a given, and not sinning would be a very simple task provided we grew to love God with all our hearts.  There are two methods that God as given us to grow closer to him: general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation is God’s word given to us through the prophets and any teaching or analysis done that originates from scripture.  The church handles the word of God quite effectively for the most part, and I have taken a lot from the teaching I have received.  But, unfortunately, simply teaching the word only goes so far and the intense division in the church we have today bears witness to this.  The word of God is only part of the picture, and for the church to not teach general revelation as much as it teaches special revelation is to limit the church’s perception of God’s glory and majesty along with the deep knowledge and wisdom that result from studying his creative work both aesthetically and analytically.

To only study the word is like getting to know a person only by talking to them.  When I first met Liz (my fiance) we got to know each other initially through conversation, but as our friendship deepened conversations by themselves only went so far.  We started to experience life together; listening to a stream together, attending to a specific part of the sky, running, going to the symphony, studying pedagogy, and countless other activities enhancing not our factual knowledge of one another, but in a profound sense our aesthetic understanding of one another.  I didn’t ask Liz to marry me because of the factual knowledge about her that I had accumulated; it was because of the things I had learned abut her aesthetic characteristics in between conversations that I fell in love with her.

Do we somehow expect our relationship with God to develop differently?  How is it that He can give us such a clear picture of what kind of relationship he wants with us using marriage and we (mostly) ignore it?  Just as it is impossible to fall in love with another person by talking it is impossible to fall in love with Christ only by studying the Bible.  You have to spend time with him outside factual knowledge and dive into the richness of his creative work.  By enjoying other people’s perceptions of that work, creating representations of your own perception, and perceiving his wonders first hand, you will gain an aesthetic understanding of our Savior beyond words.  This is when and how you will fall in love with Christ.  Feel free to memorize every word of the Bible, but until you learn to actually perceive Him in the world around you, you cannot know Him well enough to love Him.

Now, when it comes to the study of scripture, it’s impossible to even understand the depth and beauty of the Bible until you’ve experience life with God.  Much of he factual knowledge in the Bible is rooted in the aesthetic understanding of the world.  I, for example, was bored to tears trying to read the major prophets until I had composed the Dark Process since that was how I learned to understand a large work rooted in emotion rather than story.  Several symphonies and concertos by various composers also acted as gateways into the major prophets for me.  But this isn’t even the best part; I met with God and glorified his name in the midst of these aesthetic experiences that also enabled me to enjoy His Word.  So it hasn’t been the Bible alone that has caused me to love God, it has been the perception of His creation through the lens of Scripture which I gained through an understanding of creative work..  That said,  I also want to make it clear that the lens of scripture is vital to the accurate perception that draws us to worship.

Aesthetic education teaches the believer to learn about God through general revelation.  It is through God’s gift of his creative work perceived through the lens of His word that we will learn to love Him.  Therefore opportunities for aesthetic education in the church are essential to foster a passionate and unifying adoration of our Savior.


Aesthetic Education; Foundational Perception

July 11th, 2010

Education – the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

Art – the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

Aesthetics – the branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments.

(Definitions taken from dictionary.com)

It is difficult to assess value to something that doesn’t seem to have practical value in everyday life.  However, when an object or activity is held dearly by those closest to us, we have no choice but to either accept or seek to understand its value.  Many times we simply choose to accept that someone values something apparently useless, but when cost or time become an issue, practical value must be evaluated.  If it can be spared for the sake of continuing the livelihood of an individual or an organization, then it is eliminated.  But one must be very careful since some very important things have no obvious value.

In our educational institutions, music is one of those very expensive things with little obvious value.  It’s a good thing to have around, but if it gets in the way of physical discipline, academic achievement, or recreational activities, it is dropped. The question that we must ask is, “How much value is there in art education, and does this value justify the neglect of funding sports, clubs, advanced sciences, or field trips?”

In order to begin to address this issue, I must pause to clarify the difference between art education and aesthetic education.  It is the same difference as between the light bulb and our vision; construction and use.  Art education teaches how to create a subject that can communicate to another person.  Aesthetic is the cumulative effect on a person’s perception that is generated from every component of the art.  Aesthetic education is the most important part of the arts because it is the part that carries over into all other facets of life since it teaches us how to observe and make new connections.

Creating art requires enormous amounts of time, effort, and–in the case of music–money.  Art education can therefore seem like an expensive waste of time and effort since it has little obvious practical value.  But many people love it dearly and they convince the people who don’t understand it to not let it die.  But what happens when funding is not available? What happens when a person’s time is limited?  Do we let it slip from the educational experience?  If given a choice between science and music, what would we choose?  Why are most of you jumping to the obvious choice?  I suppose it is true that understanding the physical world is more important than putting on a Christmas concert isn’t it…

Can’t a compromise be reached?  What about art appreciation classes that don’t require that expensive and time consuming creative act?  Can we teach aesthetics without teaching art?  The problem is that students must create art in order to learn how to observe it because the most basic way of learning how to observe anything is to create it.  Taste is enhanced by cooking, watching sports by playing them, shuttle launches by playing with tube rockets.  Observation is always more effective when you know a little about how it’s done.  Therefore it is safe to conclude that the most effective form of aesthetic education is art education.  It is ineffective to sit through a lecture about how to observe art when we have not produced it.  Just as you can’t teach students to read without ever teaching them to write, so you can’t teach students to observe without teaching them to create.  So then, the first step in aesthetic education is art education.

Why is education important?  In high school, I supposed that it was because I needed to know about the Korean war and how to solve a quadratic equation.  But I have since forgotten most of the details of both and have still been able to get jobs and continue on to graduate studies.  Obviously that information has not been necessary for my contribution to society. Education is apparently not for filling our heads with facts that we will use throughout out lives, but rather to expose us to large concepts and realities that will help us to continue learning throughout our lives.

Now, why is aesthetic education important?  Education is learning to learn, but we learn details we won’t remember simply because the only way to become an efficient learner is to practice learning various subjects.  But how does one begin to practice learning when they haven’t leaned how to engage their minds in something that isn’t tangible until the mind brings it into the learner’s imagination?  What is art education?  Is it not making something intangible a reality?  Is art not therefore in the center of learning to learn?  Is not art/aesthetic education leaning to observe?  Learning takes place through observing, so if we never learn to observe we can never learn.   Art education teaches to observe.  Art education is education.

For imaginative and intuitive students, aesthetic education is the key to a lifetime of learning.  Omit this, and you not only omit a major purpose of the educational institutions, but you omit a vital part of many student’s education (maybe for all students). So then, science or art?  Simply, yes.

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