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.

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