Beauty Can Teach Us the Art of Living Well

"[T]oday a belief even in the possibility that there are things we can identify as good falls prey to cynicism. Culture reflects this. Across the dizzying variety of digital entertainment media, one constant holds: we live in the era of the 'complex' protagonist, characters whose stories lean toward a kind of benevolent moral ambiguity at best. At worst, they advance the notion that only evil is interesting, while the good is either dull and boring or, worse, a mask for imposing our will on others." - Public Discourse

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The Attractional Quality of Beauty

By Jeffrey D. Burr

This year marked the 10th anniversary of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ArtPrize is an international art competition that takes place over 19 days every other fall. More than $500,000 in prizes are awarded. In 2018, over 1,260 works, created by artists from 41 states and 40 countries, were displayed in over 165 venues throughout the city. With over half a million visitors, it is the most attended public art event in the world.

ArtPrize was launched by Grand Rapids native and entrepreneur Rick DeVos in 2009. But no one could have anticipated the overwhelming response. Restaurants ran out of food. Hotels ran out of rooms. Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner won the public vote that year with his work titled “Open Water No. 24.” On the day of the announcement, people lined up for several city blocks to see his large-scale painting.

A Call to Beauty

The churches I have been a part of have generally not placed a high value on art or aesthetics. We are Bible people. We focus on substance, not appearances. We appeal to the mind, not the emotion. We take pride in our doctrinal orthodoxy and moral standards. And we value frugality. For many in our churches, good stewardship means spending as little as possible. These have become the marks of spiritual maturity and gospel faithfulness.

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Good Heavens: Apprehending Nature's Beauty

Minnesotans joke about nature’s two seasons in these parts: winter and road construction. Fair enough; but head off road during repair season and you discover a state rich in natural treasures. Not the least of these is what we affectionately call the “North Shore” of Lake Superior. The beauty of this haunting, ever-changing body of water, with its rugged shoreline and untamed hinterland, is spellbinding.

A recent family trip located me on a secluded balcony high above the waves that lashed the rocky, Superior shoreline below. The evening air was warm and fresh—the kind of air so satisfying you seem to drink it as much as breathe it.

Looking out over the lake just after sunset, darkness shrouded the distinction between water and sky and between water and land. That period of gloom, just before the rising moon and starry hosts illumine the night, veiled the natural wonders before me like a curtain—a dramatic pause anticipating the show that was about to begin.

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Confession of an Incurable Evidentialist, Part 3

What is beauty?

The beginning of the Rock Music culture in the US is a little difficult to pinpoint, but by the time of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” its presence was evident to almost everyone. With the advent of Rock the youth of America possessed their own music. Their parents dismissed it as dissonant, gyrating wildness and told their children: “That isn’t music!” But the youth—particularly the Baby Boomer Generation—held on to it tenaciously. Rock/Pop has now become the world’s music to the extent that it is heard everywhere and all the time. Now teenagers listening to 100-year old hymns think, “That isn’t music!”

Many post-modern thinkers will probably tell you that the quality of music is a matter of taste, determined by culture and experience. This is a break with how people have thought, literally for millennia. It uses an argument that can easily be turned against itself (you can also say that the proposition “quality of music is merely taste, determined by culture and experience,” is simply a product of culture and experience, and perhaps not valid at all). When we talk about music or art, we also talk about the concept of beauty. I am not telling you a fairy tale when I say that there was a time when people agreed on what is good music, even if they disagreed on style preference. When and how did the change to today’s view of beauty come about? I think the change began slowly with the ideas of Immanuel Kant (and you thought it all started with Elvis, right?).

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