Can Beauty Co-exist With Truth?

Some of the most artistic photographs are of human misery or community blight. Not beautiful, certainly. But truthful and “artistic.” The composition is original, or at least inventive. The point of view is distinct. In fact, the picture is more than its subject because of what the photographer brought to the scene.

Is “artistic” the best that novelists can do, given the fallen world we live in? If we tell the truth, beauty of necessity will inhabit a small place in our art or it will be painted in shades of black and gray. Dulled down. Muted.

Because of Truth.

Man sins, so there is crime and hatred, politicking and greed, immodesty and lust. Ugly stuff.

And even in the story of redemption, there is blood-sweat and beatings, betrayal and cursing, nakedness and forsakenness.

Where’s the Beauty in Truth?

Perhaps the problem is in thinking that what is true is Truth. It isn’t. It is true that Man sins in horrific ways, but Truth is Jesus Christ. (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” – John 14:6). Consequently, in showing what is true in the world, we may omit the Truth eternal.

In the same way, what we think of as beautiful is so incomplete, so imperfect, we’ve concluded it’s universally unknowable (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”)

Because of Creation, I have no problem believing that Jesus is Beauty, even as He is Truth, though Man may well miss what that actually means.

The fact is, we see through a glass darkly, so we cannot see Truth purely nor can we see Beauty exclusively.

Since we are hindered regardless of our efforts—whether to create a true work or to create a beautiful work—maybe it’s worth the effort to try to do both.

Is that possible?

If we create a work of beauty, are we not of necessity leaving out an element of truth? And if our writing is true, will we not of necessity have to include the ugly?

When it comes to art, it seems beauty and truth might be incompatible.

Do we not smudge out the sublime in order to convey the mundane?

If we retain the lofty, do we not lose the honest scrutiny of a wayward heart?

Believe it or not, I think there’s a practical point to these ramblings. I suspect the way a writer answers some of these questions may determine what kind of writing he does.

Some writers want to communicate Truth while some want to create art. Some believe what you say is most important; others believe that how you say it counts more.

When it comes to fiction, is Beauty actually incompatible with Truth, and the writer must simply pick a side?

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Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 7:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 Comments

  1. Hmmm. Very thought provoking. I think that beauty and truth are inseparable. If you are not giving me truth then you haven’t given me beauty. Truth is of God and beauty is of God and deception is of Satan and ugliness is of Satan.

    So I think that beauty and truth go hand in hand.

    If you tell me man sins and is headed for hell, that’s truth, but it’s not the whole truth. If you add that God made a way for sinners to be saved, then you are giving me all of the truth (for that issue) and you are giving me beauty.

    On the other hand, if you tell me God loves sinners, that is truth, but it’s not the whole truth. God also has wrath that is coming upon man. Some think that telling about God’s love is beauty and truth, but it’s not beautiful if it’s painting a warped view of God. So sometimes we use truth, to tell lies.

    I think what we say and how we say it are of equal importance. Just like we cannot love God (the first commandment) without loving man (the second commandment) and we cannot love man without loving God, we also cannot speak truth without beauty. Truth is inherently beautiful because it shows us God in some small way. And we cannot speak with beauty if we are not speaking truth. Because deception is anti-god and it is ugly.

    Those are my theories, anyway.

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  2. I agree with Sally. I think beauty and truth are inseparable; lies are intrinsically ugly. The idea that truth and beauty are separable is a very modern notion. Right up there with that modern notion that faithfulness is not intrinsic to faith.

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  3. I’ve been thinking about this since you both commented, Sally and Anne. I think you’re right, from God’s perspective. But I do think Man sees beauty and truth as separate. For instance, when we see a rainbow, most people only see its beauty. They don’t see the truth of God’s creative power, His faithful promise, the implication of future judgment. It doesn’t mean truth is absent but it is unseen.

    What about when Man replicates that rainbow? Did he paint the beauty only or also the truth? I suggest, only the beauty. He is unaware of the truth, so how could that be part of his work?

    The fact is, he can still make a beautiful rainbow. But he can also distort it by giving it meaning (say, gay pride) that has nothing to do with the truth behind the object. Is it still beautiful? It is. But Man co-opts God’s beauty for his own purposes all the time.

    Man distorts what God made. In fact, Man himself became a distortion, so we whose lives were to shout to the universe what God is like, because we are made in His image, have become so marred God is hard to see in us.

    Consequently, the beauty we create we often take credit for (something that hides the truth).

    Yes, perfect Beauty and Truth are inseparable, but we aren’t capable of making the perfect. And in our flawed replication, I think we often favor one over the other—which I believe creates the dilemma Christian authors often find themselves in—if I tell the truth it isn’t beautiful (mistaking Man’s idea of beauty for God’s), or If I show beauty, it isn’t a reflection of truth (mistaking Man’s idea of truth for God’s).

    Becky

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