I’d like to share a passage from the Republic with you. We read it today in Ancient Philosophy, and I enjoyed the passion with which my professor commented on it. For instance, my notes read, “For Plato, there is a connection to moral and aesthetic judgment. Being able to distinguish between the beautiful and the ugly is akin to the ability to distinguish between good and evil.”
From a Christian perspective, I would affirm this with gusto. I took an aesthetics class last spring, and discovered myself to be primarily an aestheticist. In vernacular, this means that the primary value I assign to art is beautiful. We discussed the shortcomings of this view in class, and there certainly are many, the primary problem being the definition of the word beautiful. To keep things simple, I’ll describe beauty as an appeal to the eternal. Something that reflects a transcendent form of beauty, God.
Now, the passage I’m building up to is about education. How does this relate to beauty? Because Plato understands the power of the arts to shape a character. He understands that beauty is more than the feminine, more than art museums, more than pleasurable sights, and more than sentiment. Of course, the Republic has some notorious comments on censorship along with the stuff I prefer, about beauty’s value. You’ll have to humor that and disregard the censorship aspect (at least for the time being), but for now, let’s sit back and enjoy what Plato has to offer in way of an argument for raising children among the beautiful.
Is it, then, only poets we have to supervise, compelling them to make an image of a good character in their poems or else not to compose them among us? Or are we also to give orders to other craftsmen, forbidding them to represent – whether in pictures, buildings, or any other works – a character that is vicious, unrestrained, slavish, and graceless? Are we to allow someone who cannot follow instructions to work among us, so that our guardians will be brought up on images of evil, as if in a meadow of bad grass, where they crop and graze in many different places every day until, little by little, they unwittingly accumulate a large evil in their souls? Or must we rather seek out craftsman who are by nature able to pursue what is fine and graceful in their work, so that our young people will live in a healthy place and be benefited on all sides, and so that something of these fine works will strike their eyes and ears like a breeze that brings health from a good place, leading them unwittingly, from childhood on, to resemblance, friendship, and harmony with the beauty of reason? (401b-d)
Beauty has been present in my childhood. In many ways, this passage reveals to me a key aspect of my own development, namely, the presence and recognition of physical beauty around me, and its transformation into the abstract realm as I grew. In fact, a key part of my life right now is the pursuit of beauty in the form of truth.
Back to my childhood, and beauty. The presence of beauty was manifested to me in many ways, but at the moment I’d like to focus on its physical manifestations in the home and lifestyle I grew up in. Those of you who know me will laugh at this point, but one of the things I find most beautiful is the kitchen. In particular, I love the beauty of servanthood, and the preparation of food for others. I love the beauty of fellowship based from the kitchen, working together or sharing in the fruits of labors. I love the unification that occurs in the kitchen, and how it pervades the life of a family. I love the bounty of the earth, and the satisfaction, nourishment, and pleasure that comes from proper stewardship.
Perhaps surprisingly, my recollections of meeting beauty as a child center around this overlooked place.
For the remainder of this post I’d like to share with you some images of beauty in the kitchen. May they speak of beauty to you – of your childhood, present, and nurture of children to come.
(* please note: none of these images are mine. All link back to the source, so please, click, and enjoy the talented photographers who took them.)