So far the subject of what is Beauty and the question of whether beauty is necessary for something to be called art has been avoided. What we have done is clarified that some people have a broader interpretation of art than others. Some will include almost anything and the other extreme (where I find myself) would say that, while not denying that many things may still be of great interest, the actual category of “art” is comparatively small. The matter of beauty being in an object compared to how a person receives beauty has been explored. Differenting world views have been acknowledged. Great talent vs great art was bandied about. These distinctions can help a person see why one person is enamored with a piece of art while another thinks he is an unsophisticated idiot with more money than brains. Is one wrong and one right? Well, that depends. What are the rules for engagement?
If you are going to judge Icons, for example, and someone paints one with Western sensibilities and ideas of beauty, will you let it into the competition or by the rules of the contest, is it clearly not a true icon? It depends. It can beautiful in itself. It can be perceived by some as beautiful. But is it beautiful as an icon? Is it a failed icon? Is it a failed Western painting? How much is in the receiver and how much is in the object? Am I too narrow minded or too broadminded? Maybe it is art but just the wrong kind of art - or maybe it just isn't really that good in the first place and we are waisting our time debating it.
So what is beauty? I have a lot riding on this question in my priesthood. As a priest I am afforded, under certain restrictions, to have a non-hereditary coat of arms so OF COURSE I had mine made up. (I mean, who wouldn’t? Really?) - actually, plenty of people - but I think it’s cool so there’s that - ANYWAY, my motto is “Tandum Pulchritudine Salvabit Nos” which means roughly, “Ultimately Beauty Will Save Us.” This formulation of this idea I received from the late, great Fr. Benedict Groeschel while on retreat with him at the Trinity Retreat House. There is more to beauty than feelings or ideas of balance in that these things are not what make something beautiful but are characteristics of that which is beautiful.
Okay - as we get the heart of the matter - do you notice I am getting wordier? It is like walking a path in the woods at night. You know the path and feel when you are on it and when you are off of it but instead of just pointing at the trail and saying, “There!” you must describe how to tell when you are on the trail and when you are not. So . . . as I have been long promising, next week we will look more closely at beauty (not necessarily if it is connected art yet.)