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Never Confuse Art with Beauty

Never Confuse Art with Beauty

Never confuse art with beauty, lest you upset the artist and confound the masses. It is all too common for people to confuse them, probably because we don’t have a very good handle on either. Beauty and art have very different purposes, and it helps no one to confuse them. It is like confusing written historical biographies with written poetry. They may share the same language, and be read by the same people, but their intent and value are uniquely different.

Beauty and Pleasure

Beauty is about the pleasure we derive from experiencing that which is good, true, and lovely. I know, to make an objective claim like that in our culture is often harshly shot down as either naïve or uneducated. Haven’t we all been taught that beauty is relative, and we need to all calm down, and stop inserting definitive statements?

Well, . . . before you object and claim it is all subjective or we shouldn’t challenge the new conventional thinking, consider this: What if someone derives pleasure from evil and injustice. Suppose they are commissioning and creating music and art which celebrates rape, abuse and other evils. Our society has no doubt there is something inherently wrong within them. In fact, if we took them out of the elite and privileged moniker status as an “Artiste”, we would look at them very differently. If they spoke this way in private, professional therapists would categorize them as having a mental illness, and a psychologist would determine they have a Sadistic Personality Disorder. Why? Because loving evil is a sign you are not healthy, whether you are a teacher a student or an artist. Rejoicing in evil isn’t an equally valid perspective. No. It merely demonstrates your sense of beauty has been corrupted.

True beauty is celebrated by everyone with a healthy sense of what is right and what is wrong. They celebrate what is good and true instead of that which is perverted and false. They rejoice in acts of love and forgiveness, they despise abuse and manipulation. It does not mean they avoid the evils of society. It means they always portray the evil as evil, and strive to encourage one another to fight injustice and to pursue that which is true, good, and beautiful.

The Gift of Beauty

But what is beauty? Beauty is the gift of pleasure each man or woman experiences when they encounter a measure of order, symmetry, unity, and balance within a person, a flower, a city, a relationship or even a mathematical equation (check out the book Mathematics for Human Flourishing) Humanity cannot resist the lure of beauty. In fact, as Dostoevsky points out, we cannot live without beauty.

“Humanity can live without science, It can live without bread, but it cannot live without beauty.
Without beauty, there would be nothing left to do in this life. Here the secret lies. Here lies the entire story.” -Dostoevsky

We long to experience it, and offer it to those we love. We see the universal draw of beauty in the billions of dollars spent every year buying flowers for our loved ones. We see it in billions we spend on cosmetics and hair styles. There is something universally appealing and desirable in becoming beautiful. And it applies to more than our appearance. Everyone also longs to be surrounded by beauty. It is why we spend billions on interior design and traveling to beautiful destinations. Men and women spend money on the things that feed their soul, whether they fully understand the beauty that feeds their soul or not.

Beauty and Imperfections

We all want to look beautiful to the ones we love, and we all want to live in a beautiful space. And this is not subjective (which I will cover in an upcoming article). Everyone wants to be free of acne, blemishes and deformities. Why? We all want to be whole, and without blemish (which, incidentally, is the biblical definition of holiness). We long to be without blemish both on the inside and the outside.
The problem with beauty is we live in a fallen world, and while some of us grew up with deformities that left us insecure, even the most beautiful young women and handsome young men will grow old. Our physical beauty was not meant to carry our sense of worth. We will all lose our youthful vitality, as we see our memory lose its sharpness as our skin starts to wrinkle and our muscles sag. And by the way, when you spend time with actors, actresses, and models you will quickly see they rarely feel as perfectly beautiful as they are made out to be. Advertisers touch up the photos, and models stand at just the right angle for their best profile, while designers make clothes to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. This side of heaven we are all fall short of perfection, whether it is our mental sharpness, our physical prowess, or our aesthetic beauty. We all have imperfections. To ignore this reality is to suffer needlessly as you compare yourself to something unrealistic and unattainable. One designer has curiously embraced this notion with her brand D.EFECT. This Lithuanian designer creates clothing with unique asymmetrical or exaggerated details to match the nature of our human bodies. It is creative way to invite us to consider our own imperfections. Here is a short video of models sharing their insecurities. This side of heaven, our imperfections prove our humanity and serve to remind us that we are not yet in heaven.

Art is Communication

Art is a form of communication. Beauty may be present, but it is not necessarily the goal. Throughout most of art history art was equated with realism, aimed at portraying landscapes, people and objects in a way that gave the audience pleasure. As long as that was the goal, these artists were aiming to create something beautiful. Art and beauty worked together. However, as the art world entertained new ideas, the focus of art changed. From impressionism and expressionism, to Cubism and Dadaism, the art world experienced a wide variety of perspectives on art. Sometimes the goal is to give the viewer pleasure and exhibit beauty, but other times it is meant to comment on culture, to surprise or even shock. These can all be seen as valid approaches to art, because they are all valid things to explore under the rubric of communication. For a long time now, art has not been primarily concerned with making something beautiful. In fact, some of the top art degree programs in the country don’t even allow the term beauty to be utilized in their programs.

Art beyond Beauty

To tell artists that art and beauty are the same is to restrict the very expression artists enjoy. If you are not an artist, just consider it as a form of communication. You communicate in unique ways to the unique contexts. You may speak kinds words to your spouse, then tell stories and laugh with friends over coffee, yet if someone breaks into your home, your communication will turn to anger, concern and forcefulness. Art is another form of communication. Art created for a hospital will be designed to sooth, while art (i.e. a script) created for a play depicting war will be designed to expose you to the evils of war. The purposes of art can be limitless, and not necessarily about beauty. Even if the work is done “beautifully”, it still may be designed to challenge your ideas. Consider this: If artists were restricted to making everything beautiful, they could never adequately address the evils of society like sexual slavery because it is an objectively “ugly” reality. To portray an ugly reality as something beautiful would actually be a type of lie or deception. Consider Isaiah 5:20 – “Woe to those who call evil good, or good evil.” We must portray evil as evil, and as such artists must be free to depict evil as repulsive and abhorrent.
If Ecclesiastes 3 is true, then not only is there a time for war and a time for peace, but there is also a time to celebrate the beautiful and a time to mourn injustice.

Savor Them Both

So let art serve the purpose of art, and let beauty serve its purpose. Art can bring us together, challenge our thinking, or be salve to our wounds. Art is about communication. On the other hand, beauty is about our longings, and when art is pointing you to beauty this is why it resonates with your soul. Savor the beauty in your life as a foretaste of heaven. Savor the experiences found in the art for it is part of community. Cherish the community and the culture through the works of artists. Appreciate them for what they are, but never stop longing for the beautiful life, which is the paradise of heaven.

We know we were made for paradise and long for any foretaste we can find. Art may challenge us horizontally, but beauty awakens our senses vertically and directs our heart toward eternity. It can foster within us a longing for heaven. How precious it is to get a glimpse of heaven in this life. This is why we must savor beauty wherever you find it.

Copyright © 2020 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
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6 comments on “Never Confuse Art with Beauty”

  1. Silvana Tei Kenney Reply

    Thank you Joel, i like what the purpose of art is versus the purpose of beauty. But I am still thinking about the thought that Art challenges us horizontally and Beauty vertically. I think that the both can challenge us horizontally and vertically. I might see something beautiful dress and that can challenge me to make something beautiful. While I can see a work of Art that challenges and awakens me to the Divine.

    Just a thought…let’s talk next time at one of our Sunday nights gatherings…
    Always love reading your writing JoeL
    Silvana

    • Joel Pelsue Reply

      Silvana,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m referring to art as a horizontal activity because it is a form of communication between the artist and the audience. It may invite us to consider vertical ideas, but that is secondary. It always starts out horizontal. While beauty is always intended by God to direct us vertically, even though we can miss that invitation by coveting, hoarding, or objectifying beautiful things. Beauty mirrors the character of God, and though it is a blessing to be enjoyed on its own, the intent is a form of communication that is vertical between God and us. This is so misunderstood, that it would take some real distinctions to communicate this more clearly.
      I agree this idea could be teased out a bit more. I’ll put some more thought into that.
      Thank you!

      Joel

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