17 May

Learning to look and listen

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 05/17/14

Introducing students to art and music

A helpful primer on aesthetic meaning

There are many reasons why Christians should take an interest in art and music education. Among them is the fact that when Christian institutions demonstrate that they are serious about training the imagination, they testify to the fact that a Christian understanding of reality takes beauty as seriously as it does goodness and truth (even if many Christians fail to recognize this). Robert Houston Smith has noted that “Though immensely subtler, the human imagination is, in its own distinctive way, just as absolute as are universal moral laws or syllogisms. All are part and parcel of the same underlying reality that is itself inaccessible to the mind through any direct means.”

So it is always encouraging to see a new primer on art and music written with students in mind. Art and Music: A Student’s Guide (Crossway), by Paul Munson and Joshua Farris Drake, is part of a series of slim volumes called Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition. The series editor is David Dockery, former president of Union University and president-elect of Trinity International University in Illinois. Other volumes in the series include one on philosophy by David Naugle and one on literature by Louis Markos. Munson and Drake both teach at Grove City College, and they make it clear from the outset that neither indifference to beauty nor aesthetic relativism are compatible with a Christian understanding of God or Creation.

I was asked to write a blurb for this volume. In its unedited (and admitedly long-winded) form, it read as follows:

“Many in our society are afflicted with the assumption that all value judgments are simply expressions of personal preference. In our churches, this subjectivism is manifest in a chronic and often stubborn refusal to recognize hierarchies of value in forms of artistic expression. As a result, art and music are typically enjoyed mindlessly, which has the unfortunate result that the most mindless works get the most attention. Drake and Munson know better. They know that our minds and imaginations require training to work as they are intended to work. They know that failure to cultivate eyes to see and ears to hear prevents us from perceiving the glory of God’s Creation as ramified in great works of art and music. Their book offers courageous instruction for those open to attending to beauty.”

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