Seeking what is True, Good, and Beautiful
For centuries our world has sought to define that which is beautiful. Yet, is beauty definable? Many say, beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder, therefore, we can’t define it. I too have accepted that response many times. In the Art world, we have been encouraged to be unique and impacting, however, beauty is rarely, if ever, mentioned. I never really thought too much about it, but in looking back I wonder why that is.
I was given an opportunity to speak at the Culture Project for a Non for Profit Mission group on Art and Beauty. The theme I chose was: the true, the good, and the beautiful, and through my research I found many altered explanations. There I sat for hours striving to find solid findings to back up my artistic experiences and I was coming up empty handed, or so I thought. Yet, when I came to the theories of Plato and Aristotle, I read something quite different. Plato compares the theory of the true, good, and the beautiful to that of ‘chairness’. If we were to think of a chair we may all think of quite unique styles of a chair but each share a commonality to what a chair is. This concept of chair is determined neither by our thoughts nor by an individual chair and thus comes from outside of us. Furthermore, if we were to get rid of all the chairs in the world, the concept of chair still remains. Plato shows us thus:
So, for any determinate thing, there must be some form in virtue of which that thing is what it is.
The form is separate from any particular instance of it. (The form isn’t in any particular chair.)
The form is separate from any individual’s mental image of it.
The form is superior to particular thing or any mental image of that thing because it is perfect and because it doesn’t deteriorate or cease to be.
Thus, Plato applies this theory to truth, goodness, and beauty. For instance, the form of truth is separate from any true thing and so forth. Plato goes on to say that one can know truth and beauty by knowing what is good. Now here is where Aristotle argues a bit, saying that artists are often inspired without naming any good per-say. They simply create when it feels right. As an artist, I can relate to this much of the time. Yet, as I was reflecting on that fact, I wondered, “Maybe there is a subconscious understanding of good in ones heart.” This also led me to see the overarching theme across all that I was finding regarding beauty. Each person named a “feeling,” a moment that was awe inspiring which greatly affected their experience of what was beautiful. My question is, what is this universal awe felt?
I venture to say that this awe-inspiring reaction in the soul is touching on the good that has been placed within our hearts. Furthermore, that which is truly beautiful will invoke what already lies inside our spirits. In essence beauty can and does awaken the truth and goodness written on our souls. John Paul the 2nd, a philosopher, wrote a letterto artists of faith everywhere. This letter challenges artists to see their work as a vocation to create beauty that will bring a soul to experience what is written on their heart. He goes on to relate to that awesome experience when encountering beauty and names it even further. JPII profoundly says, “You well know that there are many impulses which, either from within or from without, can inspire your talent. Every genuine inspiration, however, contains some tremor of that “breath” with which the Creator Spirit suffused the work of creation from the very beginning. Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. He touches it with a kind of inner illumination, which brings together the sense of the good and the beautiful, and he awakens energies of mind and heart, which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace”, because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond.” We all have experienced this breath at some point in our lives no matter how great or how simple that moment was. Thus, let us reflect on beauty more. Whether we are an artist striving to recreate these moments or not, may we keep seeking to see what truly lies within that which is beautiful.