I’m in the middle of reading Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton. Insert joke here about needing all the help I can get in the beauty department. Ha ha! I know, I stepped into that one. But seriously, Scruton makes an excellent observation about the presentation of beauty in relation to the sensation of beauty. The following quote got my mind jogging and I thought I’d blog it out.
“A beautiful face, a beautiful flower, a beautiful melody, a beautiful colour — all these are indeed objects of a kind of sensory enjoyment, a relishing of the sight or sound of a thing. But what about a beautiful novel, a beautiful sermon, a beautiful theory in physics or a beautiful mathematical proof? If we tie the beauty of a novel too closely to the sound of it, then we must consider a novel in translation to be a completely different work of art from the same novel in its original tongue. And this is surely to deny what is really interesting in the art of the novel — which is the unfolding of a story, the controlled release of information about an imaginary world, and the reflections that accompany the plot and reinforce its significance… To that extent a novel is directed to the sense — but not as an object of sensory delight, like a luxurious chocolate or a fine old wine. Rather as something presented through the senses, to the mind… When we refer to the ‘aesthetic’ nature of our pleasure in beauty it is presentation, rather than sensation, that we have in mind.”
This thought resonates with me on a number of fronts, as perhaps it does with you. When I read his words, as a creative person who has dabbled in a variety of art forms, I thought about the presentation of my art. In the order of his examples my thoughts went from my photography — “A beautiful face, a beautiful flower” —
to my rudimentary efforts in music — “a beautiful melody.” Admittedly, this is something I know very little about, but I can abuse a guitar and have attempted to write my own songs, primitive and simplistic though they turned out to be. I get the idea of presenting a beautiful tune. Most recently my musical endeavors propelled me to create something that some might consider a melody (though no one would dare call it beautiful) to accompany a spoken word poem.
From there I thought about the power of “a beautiful colour.” Scruton hit a familiar note, causing me to ponder the minimalist beauty of Johnny Scribble and his simplistically straightforward color palette. Is the presentation of Johnny a thing of beauty?
I don’t know. Maybe. It definitely causes sensory enjoyment. At least for me… and a handful of 10 year-olds.
Then Scruton delved into the realm of the written word. “But what about a beautiful novel?” With those words I pondered whether my novel, The Gift and the Defender, would be considered beautiful based on its presentation. I hope so. But what a thought! The novel is beautiful when we consider what’s really “interesting in the art of the novel — which is the unfolding of a story, the controlled release of information about an imaginary world, and the reflections that accompany the plot and reinforce its significance.”
And this thought was carried into the art of writing “a beautiful sermon.” My vocational mind buzzed as this example caused me to contemplate the beauty of the most important art form I’ll ever engage in. A beautiful sermon is similar to a beautiful novel as it is “the controlled release of information,” but instead of being about an imaginary world it’s fixed on conveying the life saving knowledge of Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. A true art! The homiletician must craft his words so that they speak the Gospel truth in a way that the preacher’s hearers can grasp while also remaining faithful to the Biblical text that’s the basis of his sermon. I’d like to think that my sermons are beautiful, however, the truth of the matter is, as a sinner, I can guarantee that they’re not as beautiful as they could be. My sermon prep is more often occupied with theological accuracy. But without diminishing the utmost importance of remaining faithful to God’s Word is there also a place for preaching the beauty of the cross in as beautiful a way as possible? I think so.
From the beauty of a sermon, Scruton moves away from art, extending his examples of beauty to include that of science. The sermon is a fitting bridge between art and science as it isn’t firmly placed in either category — while homiletics is an art, it is arguably a science.
The last thing Scruton’s words caused me to think about, as I’m sure you’ll relate, is how anyone in their right mind can find physics and mathematics beautiful, but hey, it takes all kinds, right?