Sunday, February 7, 2021

Beauty Can Teach Us the Art of Living Well

 From The Public Discourse:

Defenders of the liberal arts point to truth, goodness, and beauty as the noblest ends that make for a worthy life. There may have been times these were held in high cultural regard. Our era is not one of them.

Our era’s strongest challenge to truth comes not from relativism, but from quasi-religious faith in utilitarian pragmatism or almost theological pursuits in identity politics. Both utility and identity fragment our moral universe, but they do so on the basis of ironclad beliefs concerning the nature of reality. As a consequence, we retain all too little in the way of shared language that would help us navigate different competing views.

Walker Percy suggested that many words necessary for grappling with the deepest questions of meaning in life—such as sin, redemption, and love—eventually become worn out. How do we talk about these concepts if the words themselves cannot gain purchase in our neighbors’ minds? For the utilitarians, these are perhaps non-issues. Truth is what generates progress or cash value, and we ought to discard the rest. So, much of what passes for transformative truth these days flows from the Churches of the Woke in calls to redeem ourselves from social injustices, debts that can never quite be repaid. Neither of these, however, accepts the idea that there are distinctive moral truths around which human life ought to be ordered.

The idea of the good is intimately related to truth but deeply enmeshed with questions of character. But today a belief even in the possibility that there are things we can identify as good falls prey to cynicism. Culture reflects this. Across the dizzying variety of digital entertainment media, one constant holds: we live in the era of the “complex” protagonist, characters whose stories lean toward a kind of benevolent moral ambiguity at best. At worst, they advance the notion that only evil is interesting, while the good is either dull and boring or, worse, a mask for imposing our will on others.

But it is no exaggeration to claim that in our culture, beauty suffers most of all. The loss of belief in truth and goodness leads to a sense that nothing is intrinsically worth our admiration or respect. Even those who still believe in truth and goodness may hold that beauty is entirely a matter of perspective. Defenders of the great books tend not to emphasize it much, struggling to articulate how beauty might relate to the rest of this endangered trio. They fail to recognize the ways that beauty might draw us into recognizing the truth about our existence, and from there to a realization of what moral goods might let us live well. (Read more.)


How art can save children from the internet. From Aleteia:

Today, the internet is our Wonderland and rabbit holes are everywhere, pulling us deeper and deeper into a strange and dangerous new world. Before we even have time to think about where we’ve ended up, everything is turned upside down. A hyperlink takes you to a new page with new information, and a hyperlink there takes you to another, and another. One video after another auto-plays on YouTube or TikTok, with a whole selection of enticing alternative videos carefully selected by an algorithm to catch your eye and keep you watching.

These rabbit holes are addictive time-wasters. Even worse, they often lead to videos, imagery, and websites that are less than innocent. It’s a common problem to use the internet with the noblest, purest of intentions but end up lured down a rabbit hole of vice. It’s hard enough for adults to avoid it. We know it’s wrong and fight against it. Even so, we often fail.

As a parent, I’m even more concerned about it in regards to to my children. Young, impressionable minds are unintentionally exposed to disturbing content that they don’t quite understand, leaving them confused and upset. This type of content is particularly dangerous to developing minds and can form the basis for a lifetime of struggle against addictive vices.

Parents would be well advised to not trust the internet, which is littered with rabbit holes that seem to inevitably lead to the darkest corners of the human psyche. I recently read an article at New Liturgical Movement that referenced, “the addictive allure of subversive imagery.” The author, David Clayton, had a unique suggestion to help children resist the temptations of the internet:

Teach them to love beautiful art.

His suggestion reminds me of how, several years ago, I was looking for an illustrated booklet to help my children follow along during Mass. The vast majority of books created for this purpose use cartoon art, but we found one that used high-quality illustrations of beautiful works of art. They loved to look at the pictures and it helped them understand the awe and majesty of the Mass.

I’ve written before about how our house is full of art and how much our children love it. This is why I think David Clayton’s suggestion makes a lot of sense. It seems to me that, if the internet – or billboards, or advertisements, or the example of other children at school – floods our environment with dangerously inappropriate images and content, it would be a great help for our children to be formed not only to resist it because it’s unhealthy for their souls, but also to reject it because they already love something better. If we love the good and appreciate it, it’s much easier to resist being affected by the bad. On the other hand, if we never learn to appreciate beautiful art, then it’s all the easier to succumb to dangerous imagery. For both adults and children, elevating our imaginations changes what we think about and what we’re attracted to.

As parents, we can help our children resist the dark rabbit holes of the internet not only by attentiveness to how they use their screen time, but also by helping them to appreciate great art. This can easily be done in the home by putting art on the walls, incorporating drawing and painting classes into their education, and seeking out Masses that are in beautiful buildings and offer beautiful music and appealing worship. (Read more.)


1 comment:

julygirl said...

What our culture has forgotten and, as the saying goes, 'thrown the baby out with the bathwater'... is that our "righteousness is like filthy rags". We make mistakes, fall prey to evil, have moral ambiguity, etc. etc. etc., which is part of the 'human condition'. That is why it is important and even vital to understand forgiveness and redemption. The penchant to punish is rooted in the 'Protestant Ethic'. If Jesus Christ, whether one believes Him to be divine or just an historical character, could forgive the people who brutalized and murdered him, and did not call out for retribution, than who are we to decide who is worthy or unworthy.