Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.
G.K. Chesterton wrote that, and he was right. If we don’t have a standard by which we measure what we see and create, we have no right to call a masterfully executed painting ‘art’ and that overflowing trash can ‘not art’. If there is no limitation, you cannot call one thing beautiful and another ugly. You have no point of reference for discerning between the good and the evil. I read this article a while back, and it really stuck with me. The author, Zach Franzen (himself an illustrator), talks about many artists in our modern day– who set themselves up as the standard for beauty, and expect their audience to bow to their definition. Why is that garbage can, littering the sidewalk with noxious refuse, art? Because I said so. Because I decide my own limits, or lack thereof.
“No limits!” sounds like a battle cry of freedom– when really it is a declaration of slavery.
The truth is, we cannot escape having a standard by which we live. Everyone has a starting point from which they view the world. Everyone, whether they are conscious of the fact or not, are governed by principles that tell them what is beautiful and what is abhorrent. Liberty is possible. But it must take place within boundaries, or it becomes chaos. There is great freedom for personal expression, yes– but it must be done within limits. Liberty within law. They are not antithetical to each other. A man cannot pick up a pencil, write nonsense, hold it upside down, read it backwards and then insist that the gibberish he just spoke was deep and meaningful. Self expression is where the universe revolves around us (or so we think), and we define what is good and evil. We need to remember that we are sub-creators, not Creators. Only God has the authority to define these things. Am I saying that there is no room for your personal style? No, not at all. I believe that there is great room for personal culture– for creating beautiful things that reflect your personality. But the key word is ‘beauty’. What you create must meet up to the standards that God has set for art and music and aesthetics. In summary, we can know what is and isn’t beautiful, what is and isn’t good, not by looking to ourselves for definitions, but by acting within the boundaries of Him who defines all things. There is liberty within law.