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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hess

Let's Talk Art

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

Have you ever wondered why some art is good and other art is... well not so good?

This first blog series will be focused on my hopes for this platform. I want this to be a place where artists can share their thoughts on their work and where people of all backgrounds can talk thoughtfully about the purpose and meaning of art. I want to share my journey as I create stories that are fun and, I think, wrestle with important questions. But I also want you to join me on this journey! Every good work of art is a collaborative work, something done for and among a community of people. My hope is that this platform will provide at least one point of connection for this community.

So... I want to start by sharing with you my own personal aesthetic throughout the course of this blog series.

What’s aesthetics you may be asking? Aesthetics is the study of art or “the theory of beauty” (Slater, Barry Hartly. “Aesthetics .” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Art is a funny thing. Everyone seems to have his or her one opinion about what makes for good art, but what is it in the first place and what makes some works better than others? These are tough questions to say the least, but it’s here that I think we should start this journey into story and creativity.

So what is art?

My friend R.G. Collingwood (a philosopher long dead now so not really my friend) came to the conclusion that art in today’s day and age refers to those things that are made simply for the purpose of the enjoyment of beauty (Philosophy of Art). Things like paintings or good books, movies, plays, music and so on. These many expressions of creativity have always been around. It seems that humans have always had a need to create, to make something beautiful, to tell stories that wrestle with our hopes and fears. But if art has always been around what makes for good art? Do you just slap some paint on a canvas and call it good? Aren’t there stories out there that just drive you crazy because they make no sense?

Don’t get me wrong; there are those who believe that art is entirely subjective, but I’m of the opinion that, while likes and dislikes in the realm of the arts does involve subjectivity, there are some objective ways to judge art. Take Rembrandt’s famous painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” for example. The painting, pictured to the right, captures the scene in the popular parable of Jesus when a lost son comes home to his father and is accepted back into the family (Luke 15). It’s a touching image, giving viewers a glimpse of grace in action. It has inspired thousands over the years, even leading Henri Nouwen to write a wonderful book on grace and transformation aptly entitled The Return of The Prodigal Son. Clearly Rembrandt, and those like him, have made art that connects to a wide audience spanning over the course of centuries, but why does art like this rise above the rest?

“The aesthetic activity is the activity of speaking”

Collingwood gives some insight into the query laid before us. In his search into the meaning of art he came to the conclusion that an “artist’s business is to express emotion,” (Philosophy of Art), but there’s more to it than that. Good art involves honesty, but the artist must also connect with his or her audience in a way that fosters deeper meaning. Collingwood says it like this, “The aesthetic activity is the activity of speaking,” (Philosophy of Art). There you go! Good art is art that not only expresses emotion, but also invites its audience into the artist’s own creative world where a collaborative conversation is had that fosters deeper understanding for everyone involved. By looking at Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” we not only see an excellent example of Rembrandt expressing his inner longings for a love that overcomes even our greatest sins, but we are caught up into the story ourselves as the scene touches the same longings in our own hearts. J.R.R. Tolkien, writer of The Lord of The Rings, seems to agree with this understanding when he writes about his own craft, saying, a good “sub-creator” is one who “makes a Secondary World which you can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true.’” (On Fairy-Stories). For a painting, book or movie to be good it must produce an “imaginative experience identical with that of the creator", sustaining a “’willing suspicion of disbelief’” (Philosophy of Art & On Fairy-Stories) long enough for shared meaning. Yet, I think there is even more to what makes for good art, something that propels a good work into the realm of greatness!

What makes for not just good art, but great art?

I think great art is made when an artist not only connects with her audience through her work, but does so in a way that says something new as she speaks on behalf of her audience “saying for it the things it wants to say but cannot say unaided,” (Philosophy of Art). Tolkien says much the same thing when he writes that good fantasy connects to “ancient limitations” and old ambitions and desires,” (On Fairy-Stories), bringing a sense of relief from our sorrows and hope that there truly is something to those old desires within us.

In summary...

it seems to me that great art is art that speaks not only for the artist, but for all those who share the artist’s longings. Those who enter her creation find new meaning and a promise that we will not return to our lives the same person we were when we started out on the journey. If this is the case, and I think it is, will you join me on my own journey into stories and creativity? What do you think makes for great art? What issues are important to wrestle with in our art and our stories? How are you doing this yourself? What have been some important stories for you over the years?

I would love to hear from you and start a conversation so feel free to comment below or message me. You can also download my free short story, The First Encounter by signing up for my e-mail list below! In a few weeks I hope you will join me as we wrestle with another question: what makes art Christian?

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