Friday, December 15, 2006

Reflections on beauty

I wrote the following essay today for my English class, and I thought it was good enough (or at least thought-provoking enough) to post here. Enjoy blasting away.

Prompt: Read the following quote from Dorothy Allison’s essay, “This is Our World.” Then write a thoughtfully reasoned, persuasive essay that defends, challenges or qualifies her assertion. Use evidence from your observation, experience, knowledge to develop your position.

“Art should provoke more questions than answers and, most of all, should make us think about what we rarely want to think about at all.”

Essay: A crucifix in a jar of urine. An empty room with the lights clicking on and off. Three blobs of different colored paint on a white canvas. These are just some of the creations classified as “art” by the experts who are supposed to know. In the quote by Dorothy Allison, she seems to take the same position that these experts do: the most important facet of art is that it is supposed to make you think. If a piece of art provokes thought, then it is a good piece of art. Although I feel that this aspect of art is important, it is not the defining criteria of “good” or “bad” art. The defining criteria should be “that which is beautiful.”

At first glance, this criteria may seem too broad, too easy to meet. However, this is because the word beautiful is often misunderstood. Beauty is much more than “pleasing to the eye” or even “something that takes your breath away.” Ultimately, beauty is that which reflects God’s attributes and priorities. This means that often skill is not enough to make good art. One must also be in touch with what God’s priorities are. This does not, however, require that one be a Christian in order to be a good artist. Many people are in touch with some of God’s priorities and are able to render them beautifully in their art, even though they are not Christians.

A good example of this is Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was not a Christian man by any stretch of the imagination, yet he was in touch with one of God’s priorities: the beauty of his image as represented in human beings. Thus, when he painted the Mona Lisa, he was demonstrating the beauty of God’s image even though he would have denied it. That is why the Mona Lisa and the many other paintings he created are considered great art.

An artist does not need to show something positive for it to be good art, either. Take Pablo Picasso, for example. In the abstractness of his art, as he rearranges faces and body parts and changes perspective and dimension, he is communicating a sense of chaos, and yet it all falls into order when looked at as a whole. This communicates the great truth that through what can seem to be a chaotic world we live in, there is ultimately an order and design to what we do. Thus, Picasso would also qualify as great art.

So what about Allison’s criteria? What part does “thought-provoking” play in determining the value of art? In a real sense, “thought-provoking” as a standard is good, yet incomplete. The best art reflects God, not just questions about him. I guess that ultimately it should be put this way: good art makes you think, great art makes you think of God.