“Beauty without virtue is like a rose without scent”

I have just completed my 18th year of teaching and in those 18 years, I have learned the value of reflection.  As the school year draws to a close, most of us are looking forward- to the last day of school, graduation, summer vacation time, mission trips and for some, starting college.  The future is bright and exciting and we move forward with eager anticipation looking to see what God will do next.  It’s such a busy time of finishing up and planning for the future, that often we forget to, as the saying goes, stop and smell the roses.

I love roses, not only because they are beautiful to look at, but mostly because of their scent.  And, it is true that to truly enjoy the scent of a rose, you have to stop, and breathe in the sweet aroma they provide.  Let me also say that I do not enjoy artificial rose scented products- candles and so forth.  To me, they are too sweet.  They lack subtlety, grace, balance and truth because the scent is in fact artificial, fake.  There is a Danish proverb that says,

Beauty without virtue is like a rose without scent,

meaning that it’s possible that something can be beautiful and yet be devoid of value. The value or the essence of a rose is in fact its unique scent.  Without virtue, something that is beautiful seems fake, like the smell of an artificially scented rose candle.  It has a pleasant smell, but there is a sense in which our noses aren’t satisfied because we long for the real thing- for the truth.  In other words, a pleasurable appearance alone is not enough to satisfy.  Our souls long for more than surface Beauty, we long for virtue, for goodness, and for truth.

I’m sure many of you saw the recent film version of “Les Miserables.”  Anne Hathaway’s powerful performance of “I dreamed a dream” was, from a purely visual aspect- ugly.  She is dressed in rags, her head practically shaved, she has a dirty face with tears streaming down her cheeks, a runny nose, and a raw vocal production and yet…. powerful.  Why?  Because it was real, and it was truthful to the character, and therefore incredibly beautiful.  It was beautiful because it moves and transforms the audience by speaking about our common experiences as human beings and because she allowed herself to be vulnerable, fragile, and broken, and in doing so, she touched those places in all of us too and we wept with her and for her character.

We live in a culture that I believe is quickly losing the ability to recognize and appreciate Beauty.  I think those of us in Christ, at the very least; tend to have an appreciation for God’s creation.  We see mountains and flowers and a Texas sunset where the clouds are pink and fluffy like cotton candy and we see God’s hand and what He has made and we recognize that it’s beautiful.  But on the whole, the secular culture continues to have a greater influence over what our culture defines as beautiful- from art to music to theater to film and so on- than the Christian culture does.  Why is that?  You could say it’s because of our sin nature, and that the natural man craves the world and that certainly is true. But it’s more than that.

To be commercially successful in the entertainment business today, more often than not, one must create entertainment that degrades, demeans, and demoralizes all in the name of Art.  It takes little to no effort to understand this kind of entertainment because it is shallow, and it’s purpose is not to inform us about our humanity or uplift us as a culture, it’s purpose is to make money.  And yet, we eat it up, but like many forms of sugary and carb-laden snacks, it satisfies us for a very short time, provides no real nutrients to our soul, and leaves us wanting more, if not something completely different.

If you ask a Christian where beauty comes from, they would tell you it comes from God.  I would agree, and I think much of what the secular world puts forth and calls Art, is not beautiful, because the secular artist no longer looks to God for their inspiration, they look to themselves, their pocketbook, and to the human mind, which without God has no virtue.  So then, as educators of young artists, it’s important that we teach students where to find inspiration to create beautiful works of Art. The truth is, the closer you get to the Lord, the more you understand what Truth, Beauty, and Goodness really are.  And, it’s not about creating the perfect piece of art or giving the perfect performance.  God is glorified in our process of creating as much as He is in the final product.  One might say that the process of creating art is like our spiritual sanctification.  We keep moving forward toward the goal- we keep what is working, refining it, and we discard what is not.  The creation of art that glorifies God is a sacred journey.

As a singer, there is nothing more frustrating for me than when I want to sing a phrase in a certain way, but my technique limits me and I can’t sing what I hear in my head.  As teachers, our goal is to give students the technique they need to be able to take the inspiration they have in their heads and realize it in their art.  We want them to take the God given talent they have and apply the techniques they are learning so that they will develop their craftsmanship to the point where they can create what they see and hear in their heads.  Our mission is to cultivate the next generation of artists, who are secure in their own unique gifts and prepared to go out into the world equipped to do this incredible, virtuous work for which God has called them.

To be an artist is a noble calling.  In all the 19th century novels, artists are noble because they are starving and yet they won’t quit and get a “real job.”  The truth is that being an artist is a noble calling, because it’s the artists who inform our culture about Beauty.  What can be more noble than that?  So as artists, we must work at our craft will all of our hearts, so that we develop our technique and craftsmanship, and that we let Christ inform and inspire us as we walk our creative journey with Him.  Do this, and we will inform our culture about Beauty.  Not the fake rose scented candle kind of beauty, but virtuous beauty that reflects who we are in Christ, and that has a sweet aroma of truth and goodness.

1 Comment
  • Laura H
    July 31, 2014

    Thanks! I needed to read this friend. This is a great time for reading this post as I work to learn more about the beauty in God’s creation and what it is to try and create in various forms. It is abundantly clear to me that we are simply trying to mimic our Great Creator when we put our hands to clay or paint; when we put our hands to piano or guitar. We wish to be closer to Him by penning beautiful words, music or creating through other means. I see a lot of perfectly put together pop songs, drawings that mimic photography so nearly perfectly as to be almost unrecongnizable as art. These things don’t satisfy the soul. The recordings are clear, distinct and perfect sounding. The painting or sketch is so perfect it looks real, but they are missing something vital. They don’t touch your soul. I think your article expresses that very problem. L

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