21 April 2008

Continuing my question.

Several good points have been raised in the comments for the post below, and I thought I'd start another post and bring out some of what has been raised.

Jeffrey begins with the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and therefore what is beautiful to one person may be hideous to another. This immediately raises the question of power and authority: who decides what is beautiful? Jeffrey correctly provides the answer: The vatican and the local bishops- in short those who are set in charge of our diocese and churches. We may make our opinions known, but the final decision is theirs. Canon law also states that it is absolutely forbidden for anyone in print or other media to encourage disobedience against an ordinary for a legitimate exercise of his office. My question becomes, then, is criticising the decision of the ordinary, as in "What was he thinking when he did that?" fall under encouraging disobedience. I would say no, not exactly, but a few degrees away from the above statement, for example: "What kind of moron would approve of that design?" and we're getting a little closer, or so it seems.

On a tangent, I would like to note that the idea of beauty in the eye of the beholder- the relativity of beauty, if you will- has become so commonplace, that it is accepted as an unquestioned truth. But it is actually only recently that the idea has become so entrenched. Prior to that time, were an art critic to say: "This is a great work of art," he would not believe himself to be expression a subjective opinion, but rather an objective fact. Education was in part an effort to train the students to recognize beauty, and to learn to appreciate it according to its worth, or its rank. They could say that this painting is greater than that, artist X is a better painter than artist Y, for such and such reasons, and hold that to be true as a fact. In a more whimsical mood, they could debate across the arts, and ask questions like, "Was Mozart a better composer than Michelangelo was a sculptor?" The basis for a debate like that, impossible in today's mindset, was an examination of the objective greatness of each in their field.

I mention this point for a few reasons. First, if you ever read any kind of criticism of art or debate about art that is more than a hundred years old (or less, C.S. Lewis was still defending this idea just fifty years ago) you will not understand any of it unless you realize that the authors assumed objective knowledge was possible. Secondly, ideas have a way of returning. I don't think this idea is quite as dead as many academics would have it. If I am right, then we have some reason to hope. It is difficult to argue that the music or the decorations should be done in such a way if the opponent will merely write off what we say as a mere opinion.

Next comes BroAJK and his excellent point, that ugliness is not the problem as much as banality and sterility. He even has the audacity to tell me that I am asking the wrong question, and the further audacity to possibly be right- on my blog!

Oscar Wilde once said that any style is good, except the boring. BroAJK may be saying something close. The art we use is indicative of our attitudes towards God, and the greater abuse is not ugliness, but indifference. What does it say if we can't be bothered to put any effort, or any thought, into the matter, and instead just throw together any old thing? In this case, and I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong, it is not the decorations themselves but rather the attitude behind the art.

There is much to be thought about with that. While I agree in principle, I keep thinking of examples of some really ugly things out there that were deliberately made with time and effort. People did their best for God. Unfortunately their best was none too good.

The last was Therese, to whom I must apologize. Therese gave a long comment explaining her attitudes at her church, and her hopes there. Unfortunately, Therese made a little mistake and spoke of her priest using a "bong" during the Mass, and I haven't gotten that image out of my head yet, and it quite crowds out much of what she had to say.

I have more to say yet, but it is late and I am too tired to write any more just now. I'll put this up for now, and see what, if anything, comes of it.

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