The Relationship of Beauty and Truth

“Beauty is the only stuff in which Truth can be clothed; and you may, if you will, call Imagination the tailor that cuts her garments to fit her, and Fancy his journeyman that puts the pieces of them together, or perhaps at most embroiders their button-holes. Obeying law, the maker works like his creator; not obeying law, he is such a fool as heaps a pile of stones and calls it a church.”

I keep returning to these words by George MacDonald and considering their various aspects. Certainly, beauty and truth share an intimate relationship. Can beauty exist without truth? Some things appear beautiful which contain no truth, so I conclude there can be a false sort of beauty, a pleasing vanity that engages the senses but ultimately falls flat and leaves the partaker devoid of pleasure, even duller of heart than before.

Can there be truth without beauty? I can’t imagine it. Even the most challenging truths of Scripture awaken the heart to awe. Beauty is that which inspires the senses, which uplifts the mind and spirit, which gives enduring joy to the beholder. Nothing devoid of truth could accomplish such a feat–only that which contains truth can make such claims.

So when we consider creativity and craftsmanship, whether of words or images or any other artistic endeavor, we shouldn’t attempt to separate one from the other, as if beauty and truth existed in separate spheres. Rather we must recognize that imagination and fancy, bounded by law and truth, create works of enduring beauty.

Image credit: maxnathans

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2 Responses to The Relationship of Beauty and Truth

  1. Patrick says:

    This subject seems very complex to me. The devil can present beautifully as an angel of light, and if temptations to sin were devoid of beauty they would not be so tempting. I agree these are false appearances. Hollow shams intended to lure and trap. But I disagree that all truth is beautiful.

    Truths regarding the present world can be quite hideous. Evil is real and there are those sorts of truths concealed beneath a glossy veneer, that would be so revolting if only they were seen truly. Truth regarding God and His Kingdom is beautiful beyond measure. Though the devil works to conceal the truths regarding evil, they are no less true, and by no means beautiful.

    What we can count on is that true beauty is always and only from God, but unless we see as God sees we will not likely recognize it, nor give praise were praise is due. We must train our eyes to see the true beauty and recognize the false.

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Patrick, you raise some valid points, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

      I agree it’s a complex subject, more than can be explored in a relatively short blog post (the format of which does result in oversimplification). Certainly some truth is appalling, even deeply grievous. The Holocaust might be a good example of something that truly happened, but seems horrific rather than lovely. If you only look at that, the truth might be considered hideous. But I’ve been challenged lately to look at even the most difficult and painful things from an eternal perspective…meaning no matter how hideous and terrible the truth of a situation might be, it isn’t the final word. And the final truth that will overlay every situation is beautiful, redemption standing out all the more lovely against the bleak backdrop of the reality of evil.

      Yet I understand what you’re getting at, and the reality that much of the truth we’re faced with in our fallen world is hideous.

      We must train our eyes to see the true beauty and recognize the false.

      Yes, well said!

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