For my American Literature class this semester I was given the assignment to develop my own philosophy of aesthetics in essay form. Aesthetics is the philosophy of art. My professor wanted the class to spend some time thinking about why they like certain books or movies. Is beauty relative?
Though the assignment seemed kind of strange and abstract at first, I actually really enjoyed writing my essay. I had never really thought about why I thought something was beautiful, but it’s an interesting question. What makes a certain art appeal to someone? Can you separate beauty from truth and goodness? I attempt to answer these questions in my essay. Remember, this is just my personal opinion.
“How beautiful!” Though I have muttered these words countless times over my twenty years, I have never spent much time considering why I come to this conclusion. Do I like this movie simply because of the cinematography? Or is it the acting? The storyline? Deciding on whether something is beautiful or not is not a simple process. The process is incredibly personal, it is doubtful that any two people use the exact same criteria to evaluate beauty. Can beauty even be defined? The question begs answering. While truth and goodness are tied to beauty they are also separate. However, I am of the opinion that beauty cannot exist without truth and goodness. When evaluating whether something should be classified as beautiful or not, I am inclined to consider what something makes me feel, inspiration always appears beautiful to me.
My standard for beauty is closely linked to morality. I view moral good as beautiful. Courageous acts in film and literature inspire me. When I feel an inclination toward goodness after contemplating a painting or reading a book, I classify it as beautiful. The purpose of beauty is not simply to entertain but to inspire. It is for this reason that I cannot ever consider anything immoral beautiful. While immorality can appear beautiful, as it does not inspire a greater good, it is not actually beautiful. Those who become addicted to pornography see it as beautiful. It cannot be so, it is a deception, a feeling which can never satisfy. It involves moral degradation of others and creates an unhealthy addiction. Pornography does not promote good deeds, it promotes sin and selfishness. Though extreme, this example illustrates that immorality can imitate beauty but immorality is never beautiful. The true purpose of beauty is to inspire humanity toward something greater.
|Candlelit Rosary on campus
Contemplating the relative nature of beauty results in much confusion. Bring any two people to an art museum and each will have their own inclinations toward specific works. I enjoy Van Gogh’s works while my friend prefers Monet. For both opinions to be valid, doesn’t beauty have to be relative? To a certain degree, yes. People will always have differing opinions. However, I feel that while the degree of beauty can be relative, beauty in itself is not relative. Some things can never be beautiful. Films such as Fifty Shades of Grey cannot exemplify beauty. They promote moral degradation which is never beautiful. They may appear beautiful, but it is a facade. Therefore, while in terms of degrees, beauty is relative, there is a category of things which simply cannot ever be beautiful.
“In contemporary America, most people are not moved by claims of truth or goodness. Relativism has made truth to be whatever you want, thereby turning the good into whatever makes you feel good. So how can you engage the average nonbeliever? How can you place him on the road that would lead him back to the Truth and the Good? Show him beauty.” Fr. John Cihak believes that beauty is a tool for goodness. I completely agree with Fr. Cihak’s statement because I believe that the beauty given to humanity on earth is a miniscule example of the beauty of Christ in Heaven. Therefore, beauty should point us toward Heaven. Beauty can also be considered a mean to goodness. I tend to prefer older, classic architecture which reminds me of different historical periods. I am reminded of the rich history of those who have walked this earth before me. The beauty is see in classic architecture encourage me in my own endeavors.
One of my favorite authors, L.M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) is one of my favorites because Montgomery is able to create such rich characters which while imperfect, still manage to inspire. characters make mistakes, they are not saints. However, the way in which Montgomery writes clearly shows that these are actual flaws: she does not make light of characters’ mistakes. After reading L.M. Montgomery, I always feel as if I want to be an author who can inspire people through ordinary people and situations. Her work makes me want to become better. Additionally, I am inspired by works such as The Lord of the Rings because I find the heroism and bravery beautiful. For example, the selflessness of Samwise Gamgee toward Frodo is inspiring. It serves an example to others of the treasure of true friendship and love.
Real beauty encourages bravery and goodness. The purpose of beauty is to inspire humanity, encouraging a search for truth and goodness. A beautiful film is one which ends and leaves the audience with an inclination toward performing good deeds. A painting I consider beautiful inspires me to create my own art. My favorite books make me want to become a better person, I am left with the feeling that I should do something for society. As I believe that beauty is an instrument of goodness, the standard I have for beauty excludes moral corruption, which may appear as an imitation of beauty. Beauty should serve as a means to goodness, a small stirring inside you which leaves you hungry for more: the ultimate beauty of Heaven.