With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Sunday, March 01, 2009


When writing upon the Triumph of Orthodoxy for Vox Nova this week (the post can be found here) I came to the realization that I needed to use a word, but didn't know of a word to use, and so invented one: orthoidos. The word relates to the transcendental of the beautiful in the way orthodoxy relates to the truth and orthopraxis relates to the good. I used the word eidos, Greek for form, thinking it was best suited for the task at hand (for it comprehends more within its domain than eikonos would).

I described the word itself in footnote 4, saying:

Ortho-eidos. As with the good and the truth, the concrete realization of orthoidos can differ according to circumstance; just as the concrete form of truth is found in the correctness of a statement at a given time and place, so the concrete form of the beautiful is found in how fitting a form is as it is used at a particular time and place. Thus “It is raining,” can be correct or incorrect, depending upon the time the statement is made, so a specific form of eidos, such as a specific architectural design, could be legitimate at one place, and, through a change of circumstances, not something which would be proper to reproduce. Changes in how we live will affect the forms of the buildings we construct, and what is appropriate at one time will no longer be the case later. This can be shown by the fact that we no longer need build walls to defend cities.

Anyone know of a word of similar thought and content, or did I create one of the theological missing links?


  • At 3/01/2009 1:01 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    "fools rush in, but that won't deter me from registering some thoughts first" he said right before putting his foot in his mouth...(me, that is).

    It is possible that you have pointed to a "theological missing link" as you put it.

    But, here are some considerations that are critical to the underlying line of thought.

    First, I understand the usefulness of correlating each transcendental to a mode of Christian orthos, and think that you rightly align them. Knowing you and how you think, I also assume that you do not align these in such a way to grant normative status to the various orthoi as they are currently determined (thus the "development of doctrine). Rather, I assume that you would understand each of the various orthoi as an entity in excess of its determinations (as your explanation suggests though not explicitly).

    Now, in light of this my first critical thought arises in the context of the ancient Greek distinction between orthos, orthétés "correctness" and aleitheia "truth."
    As I understand it, Christian doctrine and praxis incorporated the former term as a prefixed way of distinguishing its unique boundaries, let us say, from other doctrines and practices that were not orthétés. The prefix, then, is a delimiting referent intended to distinguish Christian identity.

    So the correlation between the transcendentals and these various orthoi are not absolute, but relative to Christian identity.

    Now, it is true that Christian identity is itself Absolute in a manner of speaking, but insofar as in the created order this identity intends to distinguish itself from its 'others', it is not claiming absolute, universal status precisely because it is negating that otherness in one way or another as not part of its identity. Consequently, Christian identity in this way is not universal in the way the transcendentals are.

    So I wonder how this correlation really stands, and whether it needs some serious qualification. For as both you and I know, there is truth beyond the current limits of Christian orthodoxy precisely because truth exceeds any one determination of it and the same with the good and the beautiful. Vatican II recognized this in Nostra Aetate when it endorsed whatever is good, true and beautiful in other religions, or at least refused to reject it.

    Secondly, the very "nature" of the beautiful means that it cannot be properly reduced to a "rule" or "set of categorical criteria." Kant was right in this regard, despite those other areas where he may have strayed. By attempting to declare what is "right-form," or "right-beauty", one is in effect declaring that there are some forms which are not, in an absolute way, rightly beautiful.

    Now, while I would certainly accept that there is ugliness, as much as there is evil, the nature of the beautiful makes ugliness much more ambiguous. And while in moral thought, it is one's task to lay out a way of discerning the good from the not-good (evil), I would be much more hesitant to take it upon myself, or to endorse any institution that took it upon itself, to be the authority on the beautiful. This may be why, historically, no Christian thinker sought to do this and why in fact there is no such term as orthoidos; it simply has no place in Christian thought.

    The beautiful is what it is precisely because it overflows any limitations put upon it in the created order. As the ancient Greeks discovered in their aesthetics, there is a relative dimension to beauty as much as there is an absolute dimension.

    Upon hearing someone declare a thing to be beautiful, can one disagree on the grounds of necessary reason? Can one set out criteria to determine universally what is beautiful and what is not? Can one, in effect, declare a person's spontaneous intuition to be in error when that one believes he is in the presence of beauty?

    To those who respond: "yes, of course I can tell another his view of beauty is wrong" and proceed to furnish an example such as, "what if a person believes it is beautiful to beat an innocent child,(or any other obvious immoral act)," we would point out that this one has departed from the realm of aesthetics and the beautiful and entered the realm of ethics and the good. A person may very well believe that beating an innocent child is beautiful, but he is wrong not in a way that aesthetics could demonstrate. In fact, it would be utterly futile to argue on the grounds of beauty when the issue is really about the good.

    So in light of this, I would wonder how one would or could go about defending orthoidos the way one could defend orthodoxy and orthopraxis: orthodoxy is defended by a tradition of expressed thought, determined by declarations etc.; orthopraxis is defended on a tradition of action, determined by the continuity of a living community.

    Unless, of course, your claim is a relative one: that there is a beauty that is unique to the Christian ethos as distinct from beauty elsewhere.

    But this is a strange claim in many ways since, as I noted above, the beautiful as such seems to abound with recalcitrance to such a notion of limitation.

    So these are the two points I would, at this early stage of the discussion, register for consideration.

    Of course, the issue may be less about 'beauty' and more about 'orthos'...

  • At 3/01/2009 1:28 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    Much of what you say here were within my mind in describing orthoidos, both in the footnote, and its use in the text itself. It is, as you can tell, just the beginning of an intuition I came to see as being necessary once I worked on the post. I wanted to make sure that this idea of orthoidos is not rigid (but, I would also point out, in concrete particulars, even orthopraxis isn't -- for example, orthopraxis would say it is appropriate to given food to someone who is starving and in need of it, but not to a glutton who has eaten more than their fill and wanting more -- the same act, giving of food, has a relative dimension to it).It is for this reason why I pointed out that at one time, a city would be in "right form" when it had city walls, but at another time, it is no longer "of right form." Pointing the relationship to form instead of mere image allows orthoidos to comprehend much, and allow for flexibility which I think is necessary. It also allows for the overflow of beauty as you bring up here. However, by pointing that orthopraxis requires an element of orthoidos, it will help make sure that the good one does is not just a mere good, without content, but a good which is attractive and will have (for lack of a better word) and erotic appeal to the witnesses of that good. So the point is not to have orthoidos by itself, following a rule by which we generalize what is or is not orthoidos, but to point out that, when doing some good (or contemplating some truth) if you can't find (at least for yourself) the beauty in what you come up with, then it suggests you have not really achieved your goal. That we have seen discussions of the unity of orthodoxy with orthopraxis (Liberation Theology when done well, for example) I think implies the same can be had between orthoidos and orthodoxy or orthopraxis (and indeed, I believe is done when a defense is made of holy images). Indeed, I think there is something lacking when one doesn't ask "how is the beautiful represented in this?" Moreover, since it is beautiful and ties with attraction (eros) it would be that which makes the truth or the good have the spiritual content that makes it a joy to follow.

    So I would say, just as the Holy Spirit (the person most represnetative of love, and therefore, of beauty) is difficult to represent and discuss, I will grant orthoidos is also difficult; but it is that sublime mystery which is needed to give life to orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

  • At 3/01/2009 5:49 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    I see what you mean, but let's pursue this a bit further.

    As you probably know, there was a distinction within the realm of the beautiful, made by the premoderns (and perhaps continued by certain moderns, but the general direction of modern aesthetics made it somewhat irrelevant), between utility and adornment.

    While adornment, which releases delight and pleasure, was never questioned on its aesthetic quality, utility was. There were some who argued that beauty must have both a use and provide pleasure, while others denied that utility had any place in aesthetics. This, of course, grew out of the distinction between the artes liberales and the artes serviles.

    Following Plato, a large majority of posterity denied that the servile arts were generative of or indicative of the beautiful, since they arise not out of man's free desire to create, but out of his need to protect himself and harmonize himself with his surroundings.

    Your example of the city wall, I think, is not the strongest that can be used for the very reason that the wall was, above all, a matter of utility rather than adornment. In fact, ironically the wall actually seems to refute your claim in part. Anyone who has been to, e.g., Mont St. Michele, where a wall still surrounds the city, knows how a wall can actually contribute to the beauty of a city. So in terms of aesthetic adornment, walls still hold purpose, though not so in terms of utility, and any declaration saying that walls are no longer "of right form" would be nothing more than an imposition of one's taste upon another. There is no necessary reason to promulgate such a declaration.

    But that's just a minor issue.

    More interesting to me is this question:

    What is the essential difference between beauty qua beauty and orthoidos?

    When I referred to the relativity of beauty, I did not mean that its actualization in particular concretions is relative to time and space (which is quite an obvious state of affairs, since things concrete and particular are what they are by virtue of time and space.)

    Rather, I was referring to the overall recalcitrance that beauty harbors to determinate criteria. So in the example you give, feeding a person, the relative aspects are reducible to the determined criteria. It is good to feed a starving person but not a glutton because of X (whatever the stated reason may be).

    In this case, though, the relative situation is discernible precisely because there is a universal foundation by which one may judge when a thing is good and when it is not.

    My point is that this is not so with regard to beauty. Beauty, it seems, does not lend itself to necessary reason the way that the good and the true do.

    Orthopraxis, then, although lending itself to the relative situation, is still guided by universal criteria which are determined by reason (hence the universal presence of morality, or ethics, in almost every thinker, but not aesthetics.)

    To pose the above question in another way, who would determine the limits of orthoidos? And, in a related way, how can those limits be determinately articulated?

    It seems that these questions cannot be answered without appealing to the normativity of necessary reason. Consequently, in orthoidos, beauty is subjugated to the a priori principles of necessary reason. But a beauty so subjugated is no longer beauty.

    I'll await your response.

  • At 3/01/2009 6:00 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Here's another difficulty:

    It seems that beauty is the one transcendental that allows the Christian to discover the good and the true elsewhere. Why? Because such a discovery would arise first through an intuition, or a spontaneous attraction.

    But if Christianity lays out a set of determinate criteria by which orthoidos is conceptualized, this ubiquitous allure of the beautiful is completely destroyed in being limited.

    One's spontaneous attraction to an idea that is not explicitly Christian would have to be checked as an attraction before opening to the good and the true. This also renders the good and the true redundant, since it seems that their role is to allow such a check. But it is on account of the plenitude of beauty's surplus that this check is capable of being done generously, with the intent of discovering similarities.

    Consequently, theology in the mode of transfiguration would be completely lost. With the good, the true and the beautiful authoritatively defined, all that remains to is either draw alterity within these defined limits, or eradicate it altogether.

    It seems that beauty is what enables us to spontaneously experience an attraction to that which is in excess of both doxy, and praxis. Limiting that in orthoidos would destroy it altogether.

  • At 3/01/2009 8:10 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    I'm writing this as quickly as I can, and I know I won't be able to respond to all your points, either directly or indirectly, though I am trying to grasp the whole of your comments and respond in that kind. So, here goes:

    I think, even as we find beauty beyond the domain of Christendom, we can find truth and goodness as well. The whole point of statements like "truth does not contradict truth" is, in part, a demonstration of this.Or the way the Church Fathers would find truths within pagan philosophy.

    Now, with orthoidos, I think one of the issues involved, at least with my use of the idea, is how we are to express beauty in concrete forms. You find the issue of utility to be secondary, and unrelated to beauty. While what you say is correct, in a way, it is also not correct within the context I believe orthoidos should be applied, which is the production of actual works of beauty. What is beauty, what is attraction, if you end up with an attraction that is empty and leads nowhere, such as we find happening in modern art, because of the notion that "art is for arts sake."

    Now we can point out that a work from a different time and place is beautiful without it being appropriate today. We can see the function and its meaning as applied to the understanding and symbolic presentations of the time, and we do not have to be limited to them, nor use them as rules to constrain ourselves today, the same way we do not use the rules of Old English to dialogue in the 21st century. This, I think, relates to the issue of rules, and the difficulty of limiting beauty to one kind of expression, one symbolic scheme of presentation. We can communicate in multiple languages, each with their beauty, and therefore, when we move beyond language, to the arts, to their production, this should be even more true. However, I would disagree with you with the notion that there should be no rules, for it would suggest formlessness to beauty which is, imo, contrary to what beauty is. And I think you realize this, because you point out there is something which is "ugly" but you do not delineate how that would be discovered. There, I think, is the issue, especially in relation to the concrete, practical application of what we are talking about. How is beauty often described by ancient philosophers? Proporition, harmony, et. al. This indicates some logos involved, though we need to ask ourselves, what this means, and I think the answer will always have to be the answer of St Paul: the spirit, not the letter of the law needs to be what motivates and moves us.

    Now, I will admit, an aspect of my thought here also reflects various notions I've developed studying writings on architecture, from Vitruvius to Ruskin and Morris, and these unstated premises need to be more firmly put out in the open. When I am free to take my intuitions on orthoidos further, I will do so, because I think it will help, not just my reader, but myself come to grips with what it is perceive. I'm not there yet.

    I think my presentation of the wall is sound within the concrete understanding I am trying to present; the issue is more that we need to engage orthoidos when we engage orthopraxis and orthodoxy, though of course, I would also say we need to address orthodoxy and orthopraxis when we engage orthoidos (art for arts sake is empty, art with meaning (truth) inspires us, not just intellectually, but morally, which suggests something of what I am trying to say). Now orthoidos points out there is a correct application of beauty (which looks to and points to the other transcendentals), but which also must be correct within the context at hand; the wall, as you said, is beautiful, even if it is no longer functional. But I would posit that the wall becomes empty of meaning, of content, and just a simulation of the ancient wall, when it is made without the meaning such walls were meant to have. If we can find a new meaning, then it can become proper to produce them again, which again points to the relative aspect that orthoidos (or any "right") will have.

  • At 3/02/2009 7:43 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    In that reply, I did forget to mention one other thing -- orthodois within the context of the Christian life. We are, I think, talking about many things at once; I know I am, and it makes the issue much more difficult to express in a simple presentation.

    Nonetheless, I do think there is an authentic Christian orthoidos, something which makes it unique, because it would produce forms in relation to the Christian faith, and that unity with the Christian faith would give these forms meaning. They are not just beautiful forms without content, without sou.

    For Christian orthodois, depending upon what it is that is being discussed, there certainly would be rules we could even come up with, such as in the creation of church buildings (architecture) or in the production of images (icons, statues, etc). We should not limit Christian orthoidos here, but I think we could find this as the entrance to the theme itself (as it is for me, when I reflected upon the meaning behind the triumph of orthodoxy being united to the restoration of holy icons). This means, for example, when talking about an icon, some presentations, even if beautiful, would not be right: Moses as a drag queen, Jesus as a grey alien, Mary as a hermaphrodite -- all of these would be inauthentic, no matter the technical beauty, and would therefore not be "orthos" even if they might, in a way, share in the beautiful and, like half-truths, contain elements which are praiseworthy because of the artist brilliance we see in them.

  • At 3/02/2009 10:27 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    I appreciate your response and share many of your ideas, but I think the one place where we don't concur regards the nature of beauty.

    I'll further my point by addressing some of your comments.

    What is beauty, what is attraction, if you end up with an attraction that is empty and leads nowhere, such as we find happening in modern art, because of the notion that "art is for arts sake."

    My first and most pressing issue is precisely the line of thought that is being advanced here in your comment. The nature of attraction is perhaps one of the most personal aspects of a human being's existence, even if it has communal foundations. Are there rules about to whom I can be attracted romantically? Not even homosexuality fits this. The Church itself admits as much: even though the behavior of same sex relations does fall into the category of morality, the attraction itself is not "wrong". It is rather how that attraction is acted out; a disordered acting involves sexually expressing it. But a strong attraction to a person of the same sex is not, and cannot be, wrong. Only in a society that cannot separate attraction and sexual expression does this arise as a problem.

    Now, theoretically it is possible to claim as you do that there can be empty attractions that "lead nowhere" but there is no way for you to dictate this to a person who is experiencing that attraction. For, siding with Plato, all desire is for a good of some sort. Again, at the level of morality, when one's attraction would become an object of reflection in the context of the good and the true, it could be discerned as either healthy, unhealthy, to be pursued or not.

    But at the level of attraction qua attraction, there is simply no sense in dictating rules for someone's spontaneous draw to an 'other'. This kind of thinking leads to nothing but cultural - or worse, personal - triumphalism. So, while you yourself may not find beauty, inspiration or attraction in modern art (which is a rather broad sweep) I in fact do. Now, are you going to tell my that my discovery of beauty in modern art is "in error"? This would be absurd, wouldn't it?
    We'll return to this topic again below. Let's call this Theme 1: Beauty and attraction.

    Now we can point out that a work from a different time and place is beautiful without it being appropriate today.

    In all honesty, I don't understand the necessary relation between beauty and appropriateness. This sounds like more cultural triumphalism. There was a time when Rock'n'Roll was considered "inappropriate" by the self-proclaimed "cultural authorities," but it was nothing more than puritanical power mongering. And I would submit that it is made possible when grounded on the idea that beauty and appropriateness are somehow related. But beauty exceeds any criteria of appropriateness precisely because the former is divine while the latter is a cultural construct pure and simple.
    Let's call this theme 2: Beauty and appropriateness.

    However, I would disagree with you with the notion that there should be no rules, for it would suggest formlessness to beauty which is, imo, contrary to what beauty is.

    Of course, the key here is the word "rules". I don't believe I ever espoused the idea that beauty doesn't have rules, if by rules one means the naturally given capacity that beauty has to give itself over to form. But this is not what the word "rules" intends. Rules are, de facto, humanly formulated constraints upon a thing, dictated to the thing to facilitate conformity to human determination.

    I do not deny that beauty gives itself over to being recognized by means of patterns (proportion, harmony etc.) and principles. These are not rules, because they are not extrinsically imposed by human cognition. But the espousal for an orthoidos seems to want to do just that: take the intrinsic properties of beauty and run them through the factory of necessary reason. In effect, what this actually advocates is the takeover of beauty by human (and thus weak) knowledge. I would resist this and instead continue to advocate a submission of human knowing to the principles of beauty which are ever expanding and never confined. Nor are these intrinsic properties of beauty intended as constraints, but rather to free the intellect into the excess which it longs for. Let us call this Theme 3: Beauty and "rules".

    I would also say we need to address orthodoxy and orthopraxis when we engage orthoidos (art for arts sake is empty, art with meaning (truth) inspires us, not just intellectually, but morally, which suggests something of what I am trying to say). Now orthoidos points out there is a correct application of beauty (which looks to and points to the other transcendentals), but which also must be correct within the context at hand; the wall, as you said, is beautiful, even if it is no longer functional. But I would posit that the wall becomes empty of meaning, of content, and just a simulation of the ancient wall, when it is made without the meaning such walls were meant to have. If we can find a new meaning, then it can become proper to produce them again, which again points to the relative aspect that orthoidos (or any "right") will have.

    Ok, so here we come to somewhat of a culmination of your ideas. Now when you write: art for arts sake is empty, art with meaning (truth) inspires us, not just intellectually, but morally, which suggests something of what I am trying to say you speak of inspiration as if there were some universal standard. But, again, how can you say to someone who is inspired by what may be 'art for art's sake' that his inspiration is in error? For example, I personally find Marcel DuChampe's work inspirational for many reasons. Is this wrong of me? This is the dilemma you put yourself in by making the claims you make. Let's call this Theme 4: Beauty and inspiration of Marcel DuChampe.

    To further explore this, consider what you wrote above:

    "But I would posit that the wall becomes empty of meaning, of content, and just a simulation of the ancient wall, when it is made without the meaning such walls were meant to have."

    Now you are perfectly free to advance this interpretation. A wall may be empty of meaning as you conceive it, but your reasoning is a tautology: the wall is empty of meaning "when it is made without meaning." But meaning is not limited to the object, nor to the intention of the artist. Rather, meaning is a metaxological reality grounded in the community of artist's intention, object, and audience, as well as the cultural context in which that meaning is conveyed. In seeking to establish rules for beauty, though, you almost necessarily reduce meaning to the objective sphere. Let's call this theme 5: Beauty and meaning.

    Now, related to these above themes, let's consider your observation here:

    This means, for example, when talking about an icon, some presentations, even if beautiful, would not be right: Moses as a drag queen, Jesus as a grey alien, Mary as a hermaphrodite -- all of these would be inauthentic, no matter the technical beauty, and would therefore not be "orthos" even if they might, in a way, share in the beautiful and, like half-truths, contain elements which are praiseworthy because of the artist brilliance we see in them.

    Let me play devil's advocate here. The examples you give, while somewhat excessively objectionable, are not beyond refutation. Consider this: Moses as a drag queen. Now, if an artist's intention is simply to insult, then of course the question shifts to the realm of morality. But it is conceivable that the experience of "being a drag queen," which, although the term you use is derogatory, involves very deep issues of human identity.

    Would it be "wrong" for someone who is suffering from such an identity issue to portray Moses in a similar way, if the intention is to inspire those suffering such identity crises to take heart that God will lead them to the promised land? Why is it an aesthetic error to portray any Biblical icon as a figure that reflects a person's own identity or concerns? Is it wrong to portray Christ as an African? If so, then surely it is wrong to portray him as a European - but this has been done since the dawn of the Church. So I think that, while your examples may be somewhat justifiable on moral grounds, on the assumption that the artist intends to provoke or shock, it is simply not tenable on aesthetic grounds. Let's call this theme 6: Beauty and identity.

    Let me recap the themes, so as to perhaps allow you to address them over time as it is available to you:

    Theme 1: beauty and attraction
    Theme 2: beauty and appropriateness
    Theme 3: beauty and rules
    Theme 4: beauty and the inspiration of Marcel DuChampe
    Theme 5: beauty and meaning
    Theme 6: beauty and identity

    Take your time in responding, and feel free to respond to themes at differing times.

  • At 3/02/2009 12:12 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    I will reply to your comments slowly, one at a time (maybe one a day, because there is much to respond to).

    I think we both know we are not in complete disagreement, nor in complete agreement; we share a general sentiment, but we do look at it, and apply it differently. To some, it would appear my position and understanding is creates more impositions and rules, is more authoritarian and "triumphalistic." There is probably some truth to it; but on the other hand, I would say some of what I am trying to understand are those rules and positions which create the frame from which beauty can be discovered; when there are no limits, there is no meaning (I am thinking along the lines of the paradoxical idea that if there were no God, nothing would be permited, because there would be no restrictions).

    Theme 1: Obviously I would agree beauty is a good, and, I would follow Plato (and Augustine) that what attracts our will must be a good. However, I still find that the problem with modern art is that it tends to try to make that the sole point, without any other content. So, yes, you are lifted up and inspired -- but inspired to do what? That continues to be one of my issues.

    We both agree that the three transcendentals are united, and yet must be differentiated. The problem is that I find the theory behind modern art does more than differentiate, but works or attempts to divide and cut the transcendentals from each other. Is it entirely successful? Obviously not! And so I would say that excess of the good and truth and even that which is beautiful in what is produced can be as you say, truly something which inspires. When I am talking, I continue to talk within relation to the great chain of being, and that if a subject is less than its implied being, that loss must not be used to reject or ignore that which it is, which remains, which is itself a good.

    Moreover, I keep suggesting one aspect of the production of beauty is context; this I think continues to be important, because it is this which provides an explanation for why this is not triumphalism.

  • At 3/02/2009 2:42 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Henry -

    My apologies if you thought I was accusing you of triumphalism on account of the way I may have expressed some thoughts.

    Knowing you, I know that this is not your position. I am merely trying to point to some of the directions that orthoidos may lead. I hope to be thinking this issue through with you, rather than against you (even though my concerns may not be in perfect agreement).

    I appreciate your response to the first theme, as well as your reluctance toward modern art. There are aspects of modern art qua art that I, like you, am reluctant to endorse.

    But precisely here is where my point about beauty comes to light. For while art brings beauty into concretion, beauty is always in excess of art. Beauty can never be exhausted by one form, or one general epoch of formulation (a sentiment that I know you would also hold).

    And it is beauty that inspires through the art in its metaxological communication, not the art in its objectivity alone.

    So when you ask me toward what does Modern art inspire me, I would say

    1) of course, it depends on the artist and the piece, but here are some examples:

    Marcel DuChampe in his ready-made work inspires me to rethink the whole context of the "art museum." Is beautiful art confined only to that which a society has declared worthy of being in a museum? Does a urinal possess a beauty beyond its utility? Moreover, I am lifted to contemplate dimensions of the human spirit that I otherwise may have missed simply because DuChamp(e?) made a urinal an object of potential contemplation. (I could go on here: it inspires me to reflect upon that aspect of our being, created by God, by which we excrete what we have taken in. This may sound rather scatological, but God created it, and what God creates is never unworthy of contemplation...etc.)

    Joseph Kosouth and his photocells makes me contemplate the nature of language in its various manifest forms, and it brings me back to the medieval mantra that a word is an image of a thought, and a thought is an image of a thing.

    I could go on. But the point is this: when considering the theme of inspiration, one is seeking less the content of the artistic object and more the world of the subject who views it. Inspiration is not merely an extrinsic force put into someone, it is, like grace, also and perhaps more so, an intrinsic momentum shaped by the whole Welltanshuang of that person, all made possible by beauty. So to limit this through a system of rules and regulations is to destroy the power of beauty.

    2) In general, modern art inspires me to consider the historical evolution of the human spirit, and how it understands itself. This kind of inspiration is more drawn out by the bad art than the good art. So even art that may be intended to shock and disturb bears the potential to inspire in ways unbeknownst to its creator.

    3) Modern art, of the abstract sort, inspires me to consider its various components in abstraction: color, for example, qua color; shape qua shape; space and limit - these are examples of how abstract art, following the Kantian impulse, sought to reflect artistically upon the conditions in which art must manifest itself.

    Anyway, these are a few ways to approach the issue. But the primary idea here is that inspiration is largely subjective. Where one finds inspiration depends on where one desires to find it.

    But this kind of subjectivity is fundamentally given by Christ who, in entering into the created order, transfigures everything, granting to his followers the capacity to "see" that transfiguration should they want to.

    You and I have spoken about the duty of theology in today's day and age to be an artistic effort of transfiguration, rather than the old, stale apologetics it used to claim for itself (and folks like Zippy continue to promote). I believe that this starts with beauty, and is made practical especially in the realm of art.

  • At 3/02/2009 5:04 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    Obviously your last comments are in full accord of what I am proposiing here; the question of course is how we relate to it, and how we describe it. While there are going to be imperfections in my presentation (especially because I have yet to draw out all the possibilities and difficulties of my suggestion), nonetheless, I think all that you ask and point out do, in part, point to the need for orthodois within the Christian faith, more exploration of aesthetics, more understanding of the subjective, and with it, the ability to find relative beauty even as we find relative good in evil. This is not to say relative beauty necessarily is going to be ugly, but even in the ugly it should be there. And while your discussion is not on the ugly, I think what you say can also be used to help vindicate and transfigure even the ugly, to help it attain to the beauty which it should but has not done.

    Now, to theme 2 (I hope I will get to part 3 tomorrow or the next day; it will depend upon how much I get done with my other work, and how I feel afterwards). One caveat, I will be treating this rather loosely, because, to fully answer, I feel I would need to return to text I've read awhile back, point to relevant portions of them, and explain their significance to our discussion. That will have to wait until another time, perhaps at a time when I can do a more comprehensive post on the term we are discussing.

    One of the ways I would deal with utility in form is to see it as the way we describe a position to be "fitting" when describing truth. I would say being "fitting" brings in an aesthetical dimension to discussions of truth, because one can't talk about truth without aesthetics, so I would say bringing in utility brings in a moral dimension to beauty, because beauty should not be disassociated from the good.

    Now, let's take your example of Rock and Roll. It's beauty is in part perceptive by its proper use, with the proper audience. If you have a subject which cannot appreciate such music, playing it will make what could be beautiful for one, ugly for another. Is it both beautiful and ugly? I would say no; its beauty is to be found when used in the right context; indeed, it's beauty requires a subjective dimension; and talking about utlity is bringing a subjective dimension into consideration for all forms. Think, for example, how Florensky understood the icon and its proper placement - how do you appreciate the icon without the context in which it was developed? The beauty is lessened by removing it from its context - its use is inherent to its form, the same way our body, with its beauty, inherently presents something of the person. Indeed, if we take skin from one person, and graft it to another, its function will change, and it can even -- change is beauty, becoming more or less, depending upon how it is used in the next context. That itself shows how utlity affects beauty.

  • At 3/03/2009 4:22 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    Theme 3: Rules

    I would say I have no problem with human-made rules, not because they exhaust the possibilities, but they do bring out meaning to the beauty itself. Even a subjective determination would provide to a piece of beauty its own rule; the difficulty, in my mind, is how rigid those rules should be. And I would say we both agree -- that, in different contexts, the rules are different. But behind every humanly created work, the human imposes rules upon the construction -- it is in part, providing an essence to the co-created form, and the gift that humanity gives to that form itself, allowing it to find itself and be true to itself (I think we need to see it as analogous to what the moral law should be; the spirit, not the letter, but nonetheless, describeable by rules, and those descriptions have a positive effect upon our very being).

    In other words, I will agree that there is far more to beauty than the kind co-created by humanity. But the discussion here is of our own work with beauty and creation of beauty. It is there we find the "rules" as important.

  • At 3/03/2009 8:30 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    For Theme 4, I would say, many of the times people who present a piece of art are doing so for more than the sake of the art, but for some meaning behind the art itself. Your presentation here indicates that -- therefore, there is not an entire disassociation with the other transcendentals, though I would say, the more we find that disassociation, the more we see something which isn't really art, but something which imitates an aspect of art for some other end (such as consumerism). What happens is that I think there is some equivocation going on as to what is and is not art, though of course you would then say, who is to define it, and that again, goes back to the issue of rules.

    I think my presentation here would also present some of my thoughts on this subject matter as well:


  • At 3/03/2009 1:06 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Woe....slow down there flash Gordon.

    Let me respond to the points in turn, that way the discussion will be more expressive of the order so crucial to beauty.....

  • At 3/04/2009 4:06 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    I'm just trying to respond to your points, hoping to get through them before you make new ones as well ;)

    Nonetheless, for Theme 5, here are some of my thoughts (not as systematic or as well put as I would like):

    While I agree that a subject can infuse a new meaning to an object, so that the meaning the artist intended with an object does not have to be the meaning a new spectator gets out of it, I would say there has to be a spectrum, and it is not a free-for-all, either; can I necessarily put words to what that spectrum is? No, but I would think, even with beauty, there is the possibility of "eisigesis." For example, imagine a card game from the 1990s, where there is a card called "Backlash" and has on it, a picture of a black guy at a podium, and people are throwing things at him. Now, would it be right to interpret it as a prophecy about Obama? That certainly is a meaning one could put to it (and in reality, this has happened, there is such a card, people have used to interpret in this way); but the question is, with that meaning, is it valid? Even if you would come back and say it is here, I would hope you would agree... just as we don't want to be univocal, we also don't want to end up a total free for all in interpretation, either.

    Now back to the wall. I would say that we could find a new meaning for it. When we do, that would produce new walls. But notice, we have not.

  • At 3/04/2009 1:37 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    No problem. I guess I'll take the same approach. Since we've delineated these themes, we have the freedom to jump around.

    Now, your latest installment is particularly constructive.

    To be sure, I agree that the extremes - strict, humanly determined rules, on the one hand, or a "free for all" (as you call it) on the other - are both poor guides into the realm of beauty.

    But there is a principal more primordial than these with respect to the human encounter with beauty. This principle concerns how the mind relates to beauty as a surplus of given, gifted, being.

    My suggestion is that we must discover and acquiesce to the flow of beauty's intrinsic properties rather than seeking to establish set rules.

    In large part, I take my cue from the wisdom of Keirkegaard's teleological suspension. To wit: the particularities of any and every concrete moment can never be conformed to any set of universal guidelines. While Kierk may have applied this to the realm of the good, I believe it is also applicable to the realm of beauty. This is why I resist the notion of orthoidos as a dead-end.

    Consider how your approach appears to falter for failing to heed Keirk's insights.

    In order to support your position, you give an example of a concrete occurrence: a card from a game interpreted as a prophecy of Obama. The problem is, you don't go far enough precisely because you can't. The example opens to far more particularities than you could imagine or determine.

    Let me explain.

    In regard to the card example, your question:

    Now, would it be right to interpret it as a prophecy about Obama?

    itself opens to a variety of interpretations. The problem is that you incorporate right/wrong into artistic interpretation. After all, I could very easily continue with this example and justify it as an interpretation of a prophecy about Obama. It is not a question of right/wrong, but of truth (which is 'being' insofar as it is thought, act as thought).

    Suppose that a young African American sees the card and does exactly as you say: he interprets it as a prophecy of Obama. The problem is, in his concrete context, the meaning of this interpretation is teeming with smaller meanings. Would it not be a 'true' interpretation if this young man saw in the card the virtue of strength, and that this "vision" inspired the young man to stand firm against opposition?

    Now the point is this: any contrast view you would put forth would require that you pursue this same line of examination only in another direction. Perhaps you would say that what if the young man saw it as inspiration to assault Obama, or something of this sort. But already, we are beyond any rule, which as such must be universal, and are considering greater and greater particularities.

    Moreover, much of your example hinges on the way that prophecy is understood. As I know you know, prophecy is not about right/wrong, but about seeing what could be and using that to inspire change. Prophecy is inherently artistic, not mathematical.

    My fear is that orthoidos opens beauty toward the mathematical.

  • At 3/05/2009 3:36 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    Right, we can go back and forth in this conversation. Of course, it's to help explore the idea. One of the things I still think is the idea is good, even if it is at its initial stages and needs development. Obviously, I think its place is justified; and obviously we both agree that the production of beauty is a good. The question seems to be on the orthos. What relation is there between orthodox and normal production of beauty outside of orthoidos. One of the things I've thought is that it has to be similar to orthodoxy itself; orthoidos clearly relates to a Christian response to the Christian message, just as orthodoxy does; but just as orthodoxy doesn't limit thinking beyond the dogmatics, so orthoidos shouldn't limit production beyond the normative, communal content (a content which needs to be flexibile for development as well). And just as orthodoxy doesn't preclude one from studying the world and learning about it, so orthoidos shouldn't preclude one from artistic expression in the world itself, both of which might, at times, be a challenge to orthodoxy/orthoidos respectively.

    Now with Theme 6:

    First, I think your point is true, and I tried to address it via these words, "even if they might, in a way, share in the beautiful and, like half-truths, contain elements which are praiseworthy because of the artist brilliance we see in them." It's not just the aspect of sharing in the beautiful, but the expression of trying to share in a truth, however, I would still say, interestingly enough, here you bring the intention of the artist into the equation. Which of course, is something I find significant and important (it goes with my argument about the all); but I do think there has to be room for understanding how the normal person would interpret the work, and the kind of scandal it would create, the misinterpretation which would come out of it would make it not "orthoidos." The spirit of the canons on icons I agree with, even if I think the icons themselves can develop as meanings and ways we interpret meanings as a society change.

  • At 3/07/2009 10:59 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    Just a quick response to your last post; I am waiting to hear more in relation to the overall conversation to say more than this. But first, I thought I would provide this video, about the card game in which people are saying a card is a prophecy of Obama:


    I would also like to ask, do you deny a role of mathematics within the context of beauty? I would respond to your presentation in reverse; I fear you might lose that aspect of beauty, which is within the context of harmony. I would also say that works of art are symbols, just like words; they have meaning the same way words do. Certainly one can get more meaning than the original intent behind a text, but one must also give the author of words (or symbols) primary authority over their own presentation (which, I know, is one of the things some post-moderns say which I disagree with; I'm more with Zizek here).

    Overall, I think we agree more than we disagree; just the words differ.

  • At 3/10/2009 11:01 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    I'm still in this conversation, and finding it very fruitful. I'll respond when I get a free moment.

  • At 3/10/2009 4:59 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    That is fine -- I know how real world work is, and this should always be secondary at best. Nonetheless the conversation is, as you know, useful for me, since I do think there is value to my idea, whatever disagreement we might have on what it is.


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