Beauty and the Beast(s)

Random thoughts about beauty, truth and creativity

FYI, this is intended only as a few ideas about truth and beauty, not the whole conversation. I’m sure there’ll be more later.–JM

Beauty is an odd thing. Odd both in terms of being rare and elusive. We’ve escaped a lot of discussion in the past few decades by saying that it’s just in the eye of the beholder. That idea meshes well with the overall relativism and individualism that pervades our cultural backdrop in the West. Preferences notwithstanding, the closer something is to truly/wholly beautiful, the more awe inspiring it is to a vast majority of people. Sometimes that comes across as appreciation for the skill, detail or dedication of the creator more than a mind-blown love for the product.

Not all pretty things are beautiful and not all beautiful things are pretty.
There are plenty of pretty things that are of little value- mass produced trinkets that mean very little. There are also things (often books, songs, film) which portray hard, ugly, mean things, but do so in order to tell a truth or point to something outside of the ugliness, often to rescue or redeem those trapped in the darkness.

The idea here is that beauty is inseparable from and directly proportional with truth and transcendence. The more beautiful something is, the more truth is found therein. Beauty and truth then speak to something that transcends the particulars of the setting, story, etc. This is why people can experience the arts across time and culture and still glean understanding from it. Our job as creators is to funnel it and present it as untainted as possible. As Gretchen Peters said about songwriting: “It’s always an imperfect art. The only time a song is perfect is right before you write it. After that, you try to do as little damage as you can.”

If you go to a piece of art with the expectation of getting something and demand of the art that it come to you where you are, you may be disappointed. If, however, you approach it with the attitude of asking where it wants to take you, you may be surprised at what you find. This makes it possible to approach the high arts, folk arts and commercial arts all the same way. In very broadbrush terms, the high arts tend to exalt the creator/composer (think ‘formal’ music, ‘schools’ of art, such as a Beethoven symphony or a Picasso painting), the folk arts exalt the product (think oral tradition such as the blues or bluegrass songs or a particular kind of painting/craftwork, regardless of the creator(s)) and the commercial arts exalt the performer (think of 80% of what has been available in the West in the 20th/21st century, such as a Taylor Swift song or James Patterson novel). Though there are certainly degrees of such things and some products cross boundaries, each of these slants play into the way beauty is/can be organically presented.

(Hole In Our Soul by Martha Bayles is a very interesting read about such things, by the way.)


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