Aesthetics & American Idol

OK, OK, I know I was bad-mouthing “American Idol” this season when it first started, but nevertheless I have been watching and it has gotten interesting. The certain winner will be David Archuleta, who has all of the teeny-bopper votes of last season’s Sanjaya with the added advantage that he can actually sing well. The two best singers, however, in my opinion, are the Irish waitress with the unfortunate tattoos Carly Smithson and the rocker with Tulsa connections David Cook.

That doesn’t mean I LIKE them the best. In this ongoing seminar on aesthetics that we have been conducting, it is important to realize that there is a huge difference between saying “that is good” and “I like that.” The former is an objective statement. The latter is a subjective response. Most confusions about aesthetic matters come from mixing up the two kinds of judgments. Indeed, ignoring the first one, considering the objective merits, and thinking that LIKING something is that same as recognizing its beauty. We can LIKE all kinds of things–things that make us feel gooey inside, nostalgic associations, easy jolts of hedonism, things we agree with, appeals to our sinful nature (which is why Hollywood goes the way it does)–whereas discerning beauty requires knowledge of the art form and careful attention and reflection. Growing in taste involves learning to subjectively “like” what is objectively “good.”

Anyway, the two performers on Idol that I LIKE, though I’m not saying they are necessarily as good as the others, are Brook White, who sends forth such a positive and joyful vibe, and Michael Johns, the bloke from Australia, who sings with soul but who does not overdo the special effects like the others tend to.

Remember the aesthetic lesson of the day: DON’T GO BY WHAT YOU LIKE. GO BY WHAT IS GOOD.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    Thanks for this. I don’t think most people know the difference, honestly. I am glad to here that PCH is doing a seminar on aesthetics. It is something that is regretfully overlooked in our culture, even though it is ever so important.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    Thanks for this. I don’t think most people know the difference, honestly. I am glad to here that PCH is doing a seminar on aesthetics. It is something that is regretfully overlooked in our culture, even though it is ever so important.

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  • Bryan Lindemood

    This concept should be thoroughly covered in every 3rd grade class. I will think about this all day to discern whether I really understand on this “good” Friday. Thanks, Vieth!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    This concept should be thoroughly covered in every 3rd grade class. I will think about this all day to discern whether I really understand on this “good” Friday. Thanks, Vieth!

  • http://www.AtlasTakesAim.com Mason Ian

    Learning to subjectively like what is objectively good at first bounced off of my 3am quick-read blog-scan. But then I realized that this exact thing happened to me and I shall anecdote-ize it thus:
    When first I approached Milton’s Paradise Lost I knew that I “should” treasure it as a sublime and beautiful epic of written art. But i could only (at first) force myself to appreciate it from the outside, like looking at an utterly alien thing that all others considered beautiful. You look at it sideways, squint a bit, trying to see what they see… but it is unutterably alien. Perhaps you see an angle here or there that has a symmetrical form that is pleasing, a curve here, a line there… but the whole is so beyond your current vantage point that the beauty is lost by your own unelevated perspective.
    Then, after forcing yourself to merely “mentally ascribe” the designation of beauty to the form, you slowly achieve the ability to connect the slivers of recognizable traits of beauty that you CAN see from your current state.
    This is achieved in literature by reading more. The more you read, the more you read. Sounds like very droll truism, but by it I mean the process by which reading one book end us turing you on to several other books, other authors, different ideas and concepts and styles. I read Samuel Taylor Coleridge and find a dozen more obscure authors through his quotes and references, which in turn leads me to more reading. Then, after ten years I come back to Milton and find that Paradise Lost IS beautiful to me in a very different way than the alien beauty I had firs admired as an outsider.
    So at first I liked it for reasons outside of myself (others regarded it as the pinnacle of english poetry, etc, etc) then I learned to love it myself, through my own tastes and my own reflection.
    We go from being outsiders to being insiders.
    However, as it was pointed out, hollywood goes another way. The simple and quick way. the way of the lowest common denominator. Grasping beauty and goodness is a slow art that requires years of honing and exercise. Who has time? Pare down the representation of love to three lines of cheesy dialogue and a wet kissing scene and the audience is satisfied right?
    Hardly. Here’s to those who take the time to find and create what is beautiful. It is a long and arduous journey but one which holds the most epic of rewards.

    So, there you have it.. another meandering long post that has tenuous connexion to the blog at hand. :)

  • http://www.AtlasTakesAim.com Mason Ian

    Learning to subjectively like what is objectively good at first bounced off of my 3am quick-read blog-scan. But then I realized that this exact thing happened to me and I shall anecdote-ize it thus:
    When first I approached Milton’s Paradise Lost I knew that I “should” treasure it as a sublime and beautiful epic of written art. But i could only (at first) force myself to appreciate it from the outside, like looking at an utterly alien thing that all others considered beautiful. You look at it sideways, squint a bit, trying to see what they see… but it is unutterably alien. Perhaps you see an angle here or there that has a symmetrical form that is pleasing, a curve here, a line there… but the whole is so beyond your current vantage point that the beauty is lost by your own unelevated perspective.
    Then, after forcing yourself to merely “mentally ascribe” the designation of beauty to the form, you slowly achieve the ability to connect the slivers of recognizable traits of beauty that you CAN see from your current state.
    This is achieved in literature by reading more. The more you read, the more you read. Sounds like very droll truism, but by it I mean the process by which reading one book end us turing you on to several other books, other authors, different ideas and concepts and styles. I read Samuel Taylor Coleridge and find a dozen more obscure authors through his quotes and references, which in turn leads me to more reading. Then, after ten years I come back to Milton and find that Paradise Lost IS beautiful to me in a very different way than the alien beauty I had firs admired as an outsider.
    So at first I liked it for reasons outside of myself (others regarded it as the pinnacle of english poetry, etc, etc) then I learned to love it myself, through my own tastes and my own reflection.
    We go from being outsiders to being insiders.
    However, as it was pointed out, hollywood goes another way. The simple and quick way. the way of the lowest common denominator. Grasping beauty and goodness is a slow art that requires years of honing and exercise. Who has time? Pare down the representation of love to three lines of cheesy dialogue and a wet kissing scene and the audience is satisfied right?
    Hardly. Here’s to those who take the time to find and create what is beautiful. It is a long and arduous journey but one which holds the most epic of rewards.

    So, there you have it.. another meandering long post that has tenuous connexion to the blog at hand. :)

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Perfect, Mason Ian! This says it EXACTLY.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Perfect, Mason Ian! This says it EXACTLY.

  • WebMonk

    You can do the exact same thing with something that is not considered “good” – learn to appreciate it and grow into an appreciation of its aspects. Some modern art probably falls into this area.

    I’ve talked with people who will wax lyrical on a paint-splatter “painting”, three bars of metal welded together, or a half-dozen pieces of broken glass hung with fishing line. I have to assume they’re being sincere, and they have genuinely developed a love of those oddities.

    One guy, (the three-bar welding guy) is a programmer who hated most art until an ex-girlfriend started taking him around. He only did it to please her at first, but after a couple trips started to enjoy the art. The love of art outlasted the relationship, but he likes walking around the DC area and museums to check out the modern art pieces.

    No accounting for taste, huh?

  • WebMonk

    You can do the exact same thing with something that is not considered “good” – learn to appreciate it and grow into an appreciation of its aspects. Some modern art probably falls into this area.

    I’ve talked with people who will wax lyrical on a paint-splatter “painting”, three bars of metal welded together, or a half-dozen pieces of broken glass hung with fishing line. I have to assume they’re being sincere, and they have genuinely developed a love of those oddities.

    One guy, (the three-bar welding guy) is a programmer who hated most art until an ex-girlfriend started taking him around. He only did it to please her at first, but after a couple trips started to enjoy the art. The love of art outlasted the relationship, but he likes walking around the DC area and museums to check out the modern art pieces.

    No accounting for taste, huh?

  • LAJ

    Your discussion brings to mind Philippians 4:8

    Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report. If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.

  • LAJ

    Your discussion brings to mind Philippians 4:8

    Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report. If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.

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