Faculty View | Investing in Beauty
In the summer of 2016, my wife and I purchased a recently renovated home in Chattanooga. The surrounding yard was suffering from years of neglect. We took up the challenge of revitalizing the outside of our home, but as my wife, Lauren, visited the nursery each week, I became increasingly anxious about the time, energy, and resources we were dedicating to this project. In that moment, I needed to remember that beauty requires investment.
That reminder came in late May of 2017, when Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, shocked the art world with his purchase of a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat for $110.5 million—the largest sum ever paid for a piece by an American artist. While there are many possible reasons that might have motivated him to pursue the painting, Mr. Maezawa’s own remarks suggest something fundamental: “When I saw this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art.” He clearly is enthralled by the aesthetic experience and understands that beauty requires investment.
Called to Create
Our God loves beautiful things, which is evidenced by the unequaled glory of His creation around us. Since God made us in His image, we too are endowed with the abilities to create and appreciate beauty. Like all of His gifts, God expects us to use them. The Old Testament records detailed plans for the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem. One cannot read them without being struck by their tremendous opulence. God required the Israelites to provide the finest materials—gold, silver, bronze, acacia wood, fine twined linens of scarlet and purple—and these were given to the most skilled workers for fashioning the structures and various items used for worship. Even while sojourning in the wilderness and establishing the nation in a new country, God’s people richly invested what they did have in beautiful things for His glory.
Beauty in the Church
Historically, the church has faithfully responded to this call. The realm of music has particularly benefited from this response, as congregations have employed organists, orchestras, and choruses to provide music for worship. Many of the great works of sacred musical art were composed by musicians who were either church employees or recipients of generous church commissions. One might also point to the glorious Old World cathedrals as clear examples of the church’s investment in beauty, with their ornate architecture, painted domes, elaborate stained glass windows, and intricately detailed sculptures. Although the Reformers were somewhat suspicious of the artistic extravagance of Rome for fear of being tempted toward idolatry, they certainly celebrated the beauty found both in the natural world and in the magnificent works of artists and musicians such as Rembrandt and J.S. Bach.
Beauty at Covenant College
As a teacher and composer at Covenant College, I am blessed to be part of an institution that acknowledges the call to invest in beauty. I am reminded of this acknowledgement upon arriving on campus each morning. While walking to my office, I have the daily privilege of admiring the careful stewardship of our campus grounds and marveling at the glorious stained glass windows in the chapel auditorium. The College sees great value in supporting our pursuits to create and display beauty. I am encouraged by the thought that, due partly to their experience at Covenant, our graduates go into the world with an appreciation for beauty, a desire to see it created, and an understanding of the call to support efforts to cultivate it. I pray that, as a result of their influence, the church will be animated in its commitment to glorify God through endeavors that create and invest in beauty.
Originally published in View magazine, Spring 2018