This blog post was written by Lucy Rahner.
“The human soul needs actual beauty more than bread.” – D.H. Lawrence
Though I love serendipity, I’ve also always been a relatively practical person, set on having purpose and meaning behind my larger actions. I think this is a blessing for the most part, but there’s always been a danger of letting that preoccupation with meaning lead into an obsession with function, something only spurred on and inflated by a society that relies on and works in terms of measured results.As one might imagine, this tendency often conflicts with my non-career oriented interests in art and sociology, and it’s something I’ve especially struggled with here in the atmosphere of the research university.
It’s important to remember that old maxim, however: some of the most important things in life simply can’t be measured. It’s an idea we’re all familiar with, but to truly know know this truth in your core and absorb it into your reality is a different matter, and a process I’ve been going through during the past year or so.
Ironically, one of the greatest impetuses for my coming to truly value this mindset occurred last spring during an Alternative Spring Break trip where I experienced some of the greatest measurable material need I’ve ever encountered. Spending the week in D.C., our group first volunteered at a homeless shelter before taking part in the National Coalition for the Homeless’s homeless challenge, spending the second half of the week living and sleeping on the streets in order to grasp the everyday reality of the homeless people around us.
As one could imagine, the experience was beyond insightful and led to some surprising conclusions. Though food and shelter were undoubtedly in great need, I was surprised to find that the far greater need was to be recognized by society – to receive love, to interact with other people on an equal human-to-human basis, and be recognized as a dignified individual worthy of respect.
It was this discovery in part that led me to the realization I want to help people interiorly, which cannot really be measured. I guess, after all, the well being of a soul is not economically driven, and indeed it seems almost offensive to even suggest it.
Returning to school this fall meant readdressing the question of the relevance and purpose of art, but this time I was equipped with a little more wisdom courtesy of additional life experience. In addition to my ASB trip, I had also spent the summer working at Totus Tuus, a camp run by the Archdiocese of Nashville, where one of my responsibilities was to give a weekly talk on the relationship between truth and freedom. Since then, I’ve embarked on an exploration of the relationship between truth, beauty, and goodness and what the inherently linked natures of the three mean for art.
Here’s the bare-bones version of what I’m digesting at the moment. Humans all have a deep longing for truth (knowledge of reality), goodness (actions in harmony with something’s truest, perfected form) and beauty (not prettiness, but the integrity that could even be found in the worn hands of a farmer working to support his family – in a sense, the radiation of an object’s truth and goodness). In relation to the object they describe, the three are not related to its function at all but to its very existence.
Though we might be inclined to think this disregard for function does not truly capture the value of the object, on the contrary, the things we regard as true, good, and beautiful transcend measure and even the category of use – they are priceless and worth something in themselves. Art, a way in which we can use beauty to communicate goodness and truth, thus does not naturally fall into our idea of functional worth, but nevertheless plays a vital role in bringing us these more intangible human needs.
I’m really looking forward to exploring these ideas further in the year to come. Great thanks to Curb for equipping me with the tools to question, think wrong, and persevere.