Good taste, bad taste (36)

I began reading (about 100 pages in) Good Taste, Bad Taste, Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life by Frank Burch Brown. So far a wonderful and interesting read. By taste the author describes a three dimensional process: perception, enjoyment and judgment. There is a wonderful survey of Christian history of discussions about the arts (including literary, visual and musical) that points out that Christians have not, for the most part, developed a theology of art or taste. There are a variety of reasons for this, including: 1) the lack of a distinctive concept of “art” until relatively recent times (cp. “liberal arts”), 2) a spiritualizing trait (at least in part from Greek philosophy), 3) the identity of art with various non-Christian political and cultural phenomena, and 4) the turn to aesthetics in the last few centuries which has made art an autonomous practice simply for enjoyment, without any intellectual, moral or religious dimension.  There’s lots more there, but at least some of the key ideas are present.

For the most part, Christians have been hostile to art/taste (cp. Andrew Sullivan’s comment that the “tackiness” of the church is one sign that something divine is working through it) or somewhat condescending (art is useful for those who can’t read or reason philosophically). On the other hand, there has been much wonderful art (especially music, but also visual arts) created within the church, but without a theological rationale to justify it. The author is preparing (next chapter) to develop a theology of taste, but I should be clear that he is not speaking merely of high culture (there is taste in low/popular culture too). Moreover, there are good illustrations of the cultural dimensions of art and taste, as well as thoughtful discussions of its communal dimensions.

So far, one of the most interesting ones I’ve read this summer, at least.


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