Saturday, August 27, 2011

Excessively Pretty Art

ONE OF THE fun things a Catholic can do is criticize both sides of any given secular debate. While it is far too easy to criticize the intentional ugliness of contemporary academic state-sponsored art, we often forget to criticize the opposite: the overly sentimental and excessively pretty art favored by conservative Evangelicals. Simcha Fischer does that here and Hilary White comments on that there. And The Crescat does that all the time.

What I find particularly fascinating about this whole debate is seen in the comments in Simcha's article. People take their tastes seriously and questioning this taste is seen as a personal attack. But the odd thing is that people typically justify their tastes purely through the idea that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Both the Evangelical and the Modernist use this justification.

This ought not be too surprising, since both groups have similar beliefs. Both deny or avoid the metaphysical questions which form the intellectual core of Catholicism. Both groups are uncomfortable with the transcendental values of truth, goodness, and beauty, and so similarly see these things as a matter of subjective preference.

I think this is perhaps why since my youth I've always preferred Catholic and Jewish (and Eastern Orthodox) women more than Protestant women: and that was long before I became Catholic. Due to the influence of their religion and culture, their attitude towards beauty was more objective and natural than the artificial beauty or intentional ugliness more generally found among Protestants. I wouldn't be catholic if I failed to mention that natural and objective beauty can be found in traditional cultures throughout the world. I see two erroneous arguments. First, cosmetics are designed to enhance beauty, therefore more cosmetics will make someone more beautiful. Second, a human being has an intrinsic, ontological beauty  due to being made in the Image and Likeness of God; therefore, nothing needs to be done to be beautiful. Both are wrong, but rather popular opinions.

We should not be afraid to examine ourselves, and determine why we find something beautiful. Is it merely fashion, or do deeper principles apply?

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