Is beauty really “in the eye of the beholder”?
We are repeatedly assured that there is no objective standard by which to judge art. Art is a “level playing field,” they tell us. Value, like taste, is culturally and individually defined. To this way of thinking, it’s prosaic at best and evil at worst to pass judgment on a work of art based on your own preferences or personal convictions.
But does this claim stand up to scrutiny? Is there really no criteria by which to judge art?
Years ago, as a cross-cultural missionary, I was introduced to Darrow Miller’s first book, Discipling Nations. I came to page 169 and was stunned to read the following:
Cultural relativism poses one of the greatest challenges to human development in our generation. As taught in the “soft sciences” of psychology, sociology and anthropology, it holds that the values in one culture are no better (or worse) than those in another.
Why was I stunned? Because missionary anthropology as I had learned it regarded cultural relativism as the gold standard for cross-cultural service. Now here was someone challenging that in print!
And rightly so. Darrow’s observation about culture applies to art, one expression of culture. If we affirm that God exists, that the universe is real, that objective truth and morals are based in created reality … why wouldn’t we also acknowledge the concept of objective beauty, i.e. that which is established by the nature of God?
All beauty springs from God’s nature. At the same time, hideous evil has existed ever since Genesis 3. Our art may reflect either. Humans, made in God’s image, are co-creators with God. We paint. We compose. We sculpt. We write. Our works can express beauty. They can also perpetuate the hideous.
All that is to introduce an interesting contrast between two art practices which recently crossed the DNA radar. One is driven by contemporary society rooted in secularism: subjective, relativist, and abstract. The other is framed by the cultural trinity.
Our friend, Rick Pearcey, pointed us to one destructive “art form”: classes to teach pole dancing to children.
For the second, art that edifies children and communities, see our recent post about Culture House.
- Gary Brumbelow