Sproul on the Arts Report #3
R. C. Sproul: Recovering the Beauty of the Arts
“Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder”
In our adult Sunday school class, we are watching a series of lectures by R. C. Sproul on the Christian and the arts. I'm summarizing them and writing my responses. Here is an index to these posts. Today's post is a summary.
Sproul began by talking about “subjective” vs. “objective” standards for art. I've been fumbling with some ideas of subjectivity and objectivity in one of my responses, too, but in a different way. Instead of turning to “science,” as I'm trying to do, Sproul turned to “Classical” culture. First he spent some time denigrating our current culture, claiming that it denies objective truth and absolutes. Well, sure it does, but James K. A. Smith and others have written about the positive side of postmodernism, poststructuralism, relativism, and pluralism for the Church, so I don't think we should get too exercised by this anti-objectivism. But anyway, I'm supposed to be summarizing, not responding.
Sproul went on to say that obviously there are subjective responses to works of art, and personal preferences for one work or another. But, he said, the question is about NORMATIVITY vs. RELATIVITY, and that the question turns on the word “ought”: Is there an art that Christians OUGHT to appreciate?
He did not answer the question outright. Instead, he talked about the words “value” and “ethics,” saying that traditionally, we have though about the ethics of a choice, which is objective, and now we think about the value of a choice, which is subjective. That seems a bit simplistic to me—but let me proceed.
He added to this question another one about “Art Appreciation”: Should we transcend our personal preferences?
Then he reframed the question as a difference between CHAOS and COSMOS: chaos is unintelligible, disordered; a cosmos is a place with an inherent, systemic, knowable order (the kind articulated by empiricist and rationalist philosophies). Then he talked about logic and chaos theory, which both as “Is there an order?” Both presuppose a formal, rational, harmonious structure. He mentioned Plato's Academy, over the door of which was a sign reading “Let none but geometers enter here,” meaning that therein the study of Form was pursued in its mathematical relationships.
So then he introduced Aristotle's Classical “Primary Necessities for Order,” suggesting that they were thus the objective standards by which we can judge Art: