Wednesday, May 19, 2010


So let us say that you are going to go to the megaplex to watch a movie. Not having kept up with what is playing lately you decide to look at the ratings to decide which movie you are going to see. What rating system do you use? Stars? Thumbs? Alphabets? Tomatoes? Perhaps you pick the one with the four stars or the A+ but in the end you wonder if it really rated a superior marking. “Critics rave!” did not translate into your world of great movies. Not that you did not enjoy it or think it wonderfully shot or scripted, but there was something lacking – that sense of awe long after the movie is over – the kind that transforms the movie into a classic that you can watch year after year.

In truth there are many different ways to rate a movie or a book or a television show or a work of art. I remember as a little kid thinking that the Academy Awards was the most thrilling event of the movie year. I thought at the time that there was some universal, impartial, and truthful rating system that would truly mark out who created the best piece of art: the best movie of the year would truly be the triumph of mankind’s artistry in that field that year. (And I also believed that if we hadn’t had a quality movie that they just simply would not award a little gold statue that year.)

But human beings do not have an impartial and universal marker for the quality of such creativity. The best sighted person puts on glasses when critiquing art. The glass over the critics eyes are made out of an “ism,” even those who proclaim they partake in no “ism.” The “ism” comes out of our experience of life and colors how we see the world. Therefore when we approach an object who we are comes into play in the we interpret it and how much worth we attribute to it.

To exemplify this, Pope Benedict described in the forward of his book, “Jesus of Nazareth” how Jesus comes to reflect the persons using a historical critical method to classify him. So that “if you read a number of those reconstructions one after the other, you see at once that far from uncovering an icon that has become obscured over time, they are much more like photographs of their authors and the ideals they hold.” Who we are will always play a role in the way we see and interpret the world.

So people approach work from modernism, postmodernism, feminism, fascism, socialism, commercialism, humanism, name-anything-ism. How should we approach such works as Catholics? What should the glasses of Catholicism help us see and critique in such works of man?

At our last G. K. Chesterton gathering we came up with a short list of such things. But the short list needs to be explained a little so this will be a short series.

The first consideration is beauty. Is what is being portrayed in word, art, film, or even interpretation beautiful? Does it lift the spirit, exalt God and man, does it inspire? Does it leave you with something of an inspiration even after you have walked away from it for some time – even if your initial contact with the piece was difficult? Was there something about the beauty of the piece that would draw you back or inspire you on?

“In the end, it is beauty that will save us,” to quote Fr. Benedict Groeschel. God is all beauty as well as the source of all true beauty and true beauty can only lead to the good. For true beauty does not stand alone. Beauty has three sisters with her and she must always stand with them or the beauty being recognized is an imposter.

I had the most difficult time enjoying modern art for the longest time. Much gratitude is extended to those who helped me see, adjusted my glasses so to speak, so that I might appreciate it much better. But even having some of it explained well and in much depth to me, some works still leaves me cold. Here is a partial answer why. Some pieces are simply meant to be beautiful. One piece I remember being explained to me was a blue canvas. “See how the blue seems to rise up off of the canvas! The artist worked hard at achieving just the right hues and technique so that you might be lost in the wonderful effect of the color.” And to be fair there are people who could sit and stare at this all day and not as a novelty but as something beautiful and meaningful to them.

To me and my experience of “Catholicism,” it was a beautiful technique waiting to be made into art. For beauty, when not wed to the One, the True, and the Good is ultimately meaningless. This was somewhat summed up in a line from Don Quixote when he said of the beautiful woman, “Honor and virtue are ornaments of the soul, without which the body, though it be really beautiful, ought not to be thought so.” Beauty is the culmination and crowning of the One, the True, and the Good and cannot (or should not) stand alone.

So, critique #1: Is it beautiful in the way we understand beauty?


Cracked Pot said...

Awhile back, I heard about a study that attempted to understand what features in a human face caused others to see "beauty" in it. "Symmetry" was identified. Perhaps, balance among the features is what we perceive as beauty.

Do "balance" and "symmetry" occur in music? In fashion? In literature?

gucci said...

Do "balance" and "symmetry" occur in music? In fashion? In literature?