Using the term “beautiful” to signify that which is artistically or aesthetically pleasing/skillful/Good robs the term of all meaning if we also simultaneously attempt to reject the absolutizing of Greek philosophical ideals or the trite prettiness of kitsch.
For some reason we conservative Christians insist on using a term which, if we are to avoid these ditches, must be qualified extensively with each use because we reject every common or historical use. Using “beauty” as a meta-term is fundamentally inaccurate and causes nothing but confusion and missapprehension at best.
At worst, we follow the term into the assumptions of one of the previous historical uses, (usually some Christian syncretist bastardization of the ancient Greek philosophy).
To put it another way: Using “beauty” as a standard for art creates a number of problems in praxis, usually stemming from one of the following forms of confusion:
– If we use “beauty” in an historically, lexically legitimate manner, we end up with a myopic and unsatisfying, if not downright dishonest, art; for ultimately we are (as often as not) calling evil good and good evil (Not all “good” things are “beautiful”, nor all “beautiful” things “good”).
– If we recognize these flaws in the traditional use of the term, yet insist on using the term anyway, we are forced to qualify the word to the point of uselessness. For instance, “beautiful” can not really include, as one of its aspects, “ugly”. However, a well-crafted allusive object can (and usually does) include both.
Ironically, the conservative insistence on the use of “Beauty” as a standard for artistic and aesthetic judgments perpetuates our inability to come up with any sort of useful response to the current “whatever is right in my own eyes” artistic climate. That’s because, in many ways, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. And that is only a problem if Beauty has become an idol.