Beauty (Aesthetics)

The Creator created creatures

who creatively create from creation.

beauty-hummingbird

Truth, goodness, and beauty

are generally accepted indications of human creativity.

Pleasure in life suggests outside standards which allow for innovation within life’s margins. Architecture, theatre, painting, poetry, music, artwork of all kinds by all people everywhere suggest humans were made to express and enjoy aesthetics.

beauty-michaelangeloBiblical Theology of Aesthetics

God is Truth: all truth is His, and truth reflects Himself (1 Kgs. 17:24; Ps. 25:5; Isa. 45:18, 19). God is Beauty: equality, harmony, symmetry, and proportion have their source in Him (Gen. 1:3, “He separated,” meaning all things are given their exact place; Ps. 27:4; 90:16, 17; 96:6-9). God is Good: He sets the standard for both expression and evaluation (Gen 1:3, “He saw that it was good”; Matt. 19:17; Mark 10:17-18). All good things come from God (1 Chr. 29:14, 15; Jas. 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:17). Creative skills come from God including intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship (Ex. 28:3; 31:1-11; 35:30, 31; 36:2; Isa. 28:23-28).

The Creator created creatures who creatively create from creation. Humans are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27).  beauty-artPeople represent God and are God’s representatives on earth (Ps. 8).  God’s likeness in humanity imbues creativity, intelligence, willfulness, design, purpose, planning, imagination, and appreciation with the creation (Pss. 111:2; 145:3-13). Creation was intentionally made to entwine utility (trees made good for food) and aesthetics (trees made pleasing to the eye, Gen 2.9). God combined strength, balance, function, and beauty in His creation as do His creatures (Gen 1; 2:5, 8, 15).

beauty-architectureArtists used their God-given gifts (Ex. 26:2) of artistic design (35:32) and abilities of intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship (35:31) who could also teach (35:34) and who were stirred to do the work (36:2). Songs were rehearsed in Israel (1 Chr. 15:19-22). Order, arrangement, preparation, skill, creativity, and professionalism are important. 1 Chronicles 15:16-16:6 records a full choir, orchestra, and a dance troupe punctuated with “shouts” and percussion (vv. 25, 28).

beauty-rembrantIn the Old Testament The Holy Spirit indwelt people for leadership purposes, including proclamation (1 Sam. 10:5-6) which was also an art form (Ex. 35:21). The instructions for the tabernacle were given through language as written revelation (Ex. 39:42-43)—not the personal, inner experience of the prophet-artist. So the creation of the tabernacle was dependant upon outside revelation not an internal, artistic “voice”. This observation suggests that a biblical view of artistry begins with God rather than humans. Unbelievers contribute excellence in their artwork (1 Kgs. 5:6; 2 Chr. 2:17-18) which pleases God (2 Chr. 7:12-16).

Biblical Philosophy of Aesthetics

For the Christian, all of life is worship: the total response of the total person to the Lord Jesus (Acts 24:14; Phil. 3:3). beauty-durerChristian purpose is to give God glory, whatever the task. God’s glory (literally, “weight”) resides within His creation (1 Chr. 16:28). The responsibility to “throw God’s weight around” falls to Christians in their God-given giftedness, through their God-given vocations (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:23). Talent, time, money, possessions all come from God (Lev. 25:23; 1 Chr. 29:14-15). Believers give back what has been given (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

beauty-dance1 Chronicles 15 and 16 kept the beauty of Israel’s history alive through the aesthetics of song.  Three major statements about art through music are established. First, singing was artistically responsive (1 Chr. 15:16, 25, 28). Art can be a human response to God’s world, His words, and His works. Old Testament stories are punctuated with song and dance, for instance (Ex. 15). The greatest Israelite kings were musicians (David and Solomon). The Psalms were Israel’s hymnal. Second, the song was rehearsed (1 Chr. 15:19-22). Order, arrangement, preparation, skill, creativity, and excellence are important in aesthetics. 1 Chronicles 15:16-16:6 records a full choir, orchestra, and a dance troupe punctuated with “shouts” and percussion (vv. beauty-ballet25, 28). Third, singing was a regular, repeated remembrance (1 Chr. 16:6, 37). Music is “sacred” (1 Chr. 16:42). The event of celebration was over but the story lives on in the song. One cannot remove music from the “story” without losing meaning (2 Chr. 20:21; Ps. 45; 137:4-6). Hymnology teaches Truth (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). Healing (1 Sam. 16:23), hope (Isa. 35:5-8), and celebration (2 Sam. 6:14-15) are all themes contained in biblical song. Aesthetics are God-given expressions for community and remembrance. Court songs, battle songs, harvest songs, work songs, songs of loss and victory—all of life was worship to God’s people.

Aesthetics—value judgments about creation—is dependent upon personal interpretation of reality through the lens of Christian beauty-choirthought (“and God saw,” Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, etc.).  While the culture maintains personal and experiential parameters are outside of others’ authority, The One who made humanity demands certain standards (Gen. 2:16-17). Truth is grounded in eternal verities (Ps. 119:160). Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder; rather, appreciation of creation is based on The Creator (Gen. 2:9). Goodness is not relative; rather, within a fallen world, both method and message can coincide with a biblical framework of creative expression (Gen. 2:19-20).

beauty-theaterChristian Practice of Aesthetics

  1. Appraise the relationship between human creativity and purpose in life.
  2. Persuade students that value, meaning, and order find their source in God.
  3. Approve that pleasure and enjoyment is integral in a Christ-centered view of living.
  4. Recommend imagination is a reflection of God’s image.
  5. Affirm that taste, inspiration, vision, beauty, and appreciation have a source in a biblical-revelation controlled environment.
  6. Research an artist, go on a field trip to an art museum, or discuss the artwork of a specific sculptor, painter, etc.
  7. Discuss the problem of idolatry in artistic communities.
  8. Develop a biblical view of worship that corresponds directly to the arts.
  9. Explain that art in any form rehearses the struggles and joys of life.
  10. Exhibit aesthetics as a display of truth versus falsehood, the latter necessitating redemption.
  11. Display the battle between right and wrong through drama.
  12. Propose solutions to corruption through artists who display redemptive exhibitions.
  13. Harmonize artistic expressions to reflect God’s intention of wholeness.
  14. Express joy of The Creator and His good creation through beauty.beauty-chef

Rehearsal and repetition is the discipline of the artist, overcoming creation’s corruption and the creature’s laziness. Aesthetics can remind the Christian of God’s words and works.

Mark believes beauty comes in many forms through all people. This essay, along with 16 others, will be published in the new Christian Education Encyclopedia in October with Rowman & Littlefield. Dr. Eckel teaches the concepts of aesthetics through The Comenius Institute and to his students at Capital Seminary & Graduate School.

Other Helps

Hillary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin, Art and Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts (Downers Grove, IL, Inter Varsity Press, 2002).

Leland Ryken, The Christian Imagination: Essays on Literature and the Arts, (Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2002).

Steve Turner, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts (Downers Grove, IL, Inter Varsity Press, 2000).

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