I asked for new voices and have received some wonderful writing. Here is another piece by musician and scholar Christina George. Dr. George is a pianist and musicologist who graduated from Biola University and the Torrey Honors Institute in 2014. She has just completed her PhD in Musicology at Claremont Graduate University, and her research deals chiefly with the nature of “good taste” with specific application in music. Christie is married to the love of her life, Garrett, and they currently reside in Cincinnati.
Here is an insightful piece by Dr. George on what our taste says about us:
I am very grateful to have recently lectured to a group of college students who are in earnest pursuit of truth, and who embrace learning with real curiosity and love. During this time, we examined the nature of good taste, insofar as taste is one’s capacity to detect and create that which is beautiful. We arrived at the conclusion that beauty is a direct and particular outworking of the divine; thus, objects which are beautiful reflect this divine source, and good taste is the cultivated capacity to see what is beautiful—to detect and love this truth in an object of beauty.
This rootedness in the divine stands in opposition to common, current notions of taste which relate it chiefly to one’s preference and to the artist’s goal of “expressing himself,” ultimately communicating something about his life, values, or personality. As it turns out, in order to think well about good taste, we must first think well about the nature of the self. A consideration of the self—one’s tendencies, capacities, habits—and the nature of beauty itself, lends to an old question, “Is something beautiful because I like it, or do I like it because it is beautiful?” In light of the proposition that all beauty stems directly from God, I urged these students to consider that it was a primary goal of Christians, as confronters and sub-creators of the Beautiful, to strive for this infinite and singular source in their artistic production, criticism, and affection.
And as happens with the best kind of learning, the students asked good questions, one of which has stayed with me these past several weeks. Put simply, he asked, “But if we are all simply striving after the same, unified, singular source (God)—as we create works of art— don’t we risk being the same as everyone else?” I heard this as a plea: “What if my work isn’t unique? And what if that makes me less loveable?”
We are afraid of losing ourselves.
But if God is the source of beauty, it seems the cultivation of good taste requires a willingness to submit to the reality of his perpetual effect and imprint in the world he has created and given us to steward. This is difficult in a culture which is deeply afraid of submission. We fight for freedom of the self and are confronted daily by words like “equality,” “rights,” and “diversity.” Truth is replaced by the politically correct. For decades, standards of excellence in visual art and music have encouraged artists and musicians to “push beyond” what is considered to be simply conventional or cliché. Surprise and reaction have been elevated far beyond rightly ordered affections. We chase after what is new over against what is Good.
Ultimately, this reflects a love of self which is situated in the belief that the self—on its own and distinctly from its neighbor—is best able to determine what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful. And this is where the cultivation of good taste becomes confused.
The temptation to be unique, to embrace the “cutting-edge,” to avoid the cliché, is the oldest temptation there is. This was the first temptation in the garden. Man longed to have knowledge without being tethered to the author of all knowledge. But without God, we are left without goodness. We are left without the greatness which alone can extend down to our wretchedness and draw us to Himself.
Pascal, writing of this very thing says, “But the wisdom of God teaches this: ‘It is I who made you. I created humanity holy, innocent, perfect. I filled him with light and intelligence. I showed him the glory of my wonders…But humans were unable to sustain the burden of such glory without falling into presumption. Humans wanted to make themselves the centre of their own attention and to be independent of my help. They took themselves away from my dominion and, wanting to find happiness in making themselves my equal by finding their happiness in themselves, I left them to themselves. Humans, it is hopeless to look for the remedy for your own wretchedness in yourselves. All your intelligence can only bring you to realize that it is not in yourselves that you will find either truth or good.’” (Pascal, Pensées, XII, frag.182.)
The bad news, then, is that we cannot save ourselves. But the good news is—we were never meant to.
Beauty is one of the chief mechanisms by which this grace is manifested to us. It is given to us, we are attracted to it, and we are allowed to participate in the miracle. As artists—or simply tasteful people—submission to God as the divine source and end of beauty is not “giving in.” We do not risk monotony or sameness. Rather, this submission uniquely allows us to acknowledge the reality of our wretchedness, without which we would not long to be saved. It is this submission which truly frees us. It is this submission which allows us to be fully ourselves.
So, I hope that our taste does say something about us. I hope that in loving what is beautiful, we increase in our love for God himself. I hope that in working to create and identify beauty, we see the imprint of God all around us. I hope we embrace self-expression which is anchored in the truth that in order to know ourselves, we must know God.