A Survey of the Philosophy of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. An Online Course taught by Dr Carrie Gress for Pontifex University
When I first decided, many years ago now, to become an artist, I wanted to know how to create beautiful art. Given this goal, it seemed obvious, along with all the other aspects of my formation, that I should start reading about beauty itself.
However, to my surprise, I found very little to help me from Catholic writers. Books on aesthetics talked at length about the nature of beauty – and some seemed true (although many didn’t) but barely anyone seemed to offer anything that was of practical use to an artist.
Everyone told me to read Jacques Maritain. I’m probably going to commit a heresy that will offend Thomists here, but I wasn’t at all convinced by him either. As I read through Art and Scholasticism, which was admittedly, full of complex reasoning about the nature of beauty, I still wanted to ask the question: and how do I use all of this to help me judge what is beautiful? I am an artist, how is all this going help me to decide whether or not to direct the brush to the left or to the right? But there was very little there to help me.
Finally, right at the end of the book, he told us that the embodiment of all that he had been describing was in the paintings of Braques and Picasso. You have to be joking, I thought. I knew that their work was designed so as to promote an anti-Christian worldview, yet he seemed to be unaware of this. After pages and pages of proofs justifying the objectivity of beauty, in the end, even for Maritain it came down to an arbitrary application of personal taste to tell us that beauty is what he happens to like. Why not just forget the first 300 pages, I thought, and tell us that the answers to what is beautiful, is that it is what clever philosophers say it is? This principle of elitism was no different from any university in the country, where the intellectuals use wordy arguments to tell you what they like is good and you’re a Philistine if you think differently.
Although many Church Fathers had written about beauty, they didn’t treat the subject separately and so it was difficult to know where (Read More)