Saturday, March 2, 2019

So, I'm Like...

Something I enjoy is taking a day trip – a ride in a car with a good conversationalist. I have several conversationalist friends. Three such friends spring immediately to mind: Kevin, Greg, and Jim. A drive through the countryside with one of them is one of life’s great pleasures for me.

Kevin and I share a theological background and can talk almost endlessly about the intersection of theology, science, faith, and knowing.

Greg is interested in history in a way I enjoy discussing it – to imagine this Hoosier countryside and what it must have been like in the distant past. He’s knowledgeable about the people and events that made Indiana look the way it does today.

Jim taught archeology for 40 years and has an academic’s perspective on so many subjects I find interesting. And one such drive-through-the-countryside conversation with Jim sprang to mind today.

I just spent an hour listening to artists talk about their “aesthetic”.

Jim once told me about a book he found interesting in his last years of teaching. I don’t remember the title of the book, but I do remember a concept Jim shared from his reading of it. It seems the author hypothesized that art actually pre-dates language in the human experience. Certainly art predates written language. And maybe it does predate formal language.

But the interesting conclusion the author drew was that as language developed it began to eclipse art as a means to communicate. Language became better and more accurate than art at communicating so much of what we needed to communicate in our human experience.

But there remained important things that language never did sufficiently convey. There are still things art conveys better -- more accurately. Those things remain the exclusive purview of art. We express with art what we cannot express with language.

That may be why many of us bristle at the disconnect between art criticism and the works themselves.

And it may be why today as I was listening to artists struggle to talk about their “aesthetic” I mused that it might be because they’re attempting what is impossible in the first place. Their attempts were as useless as describing a taste to one who has never tasted it, or a color to a blind person, or a song to the deaf. 

If there were words, we wouldn’t have reached for the method of first resort – art.


  1. John, it was so nice to meet you yesterday in our town of Marion. I purchased the "leaf and bare stone" pitcher. I just called it that, without knowing what your name for it is. This particular post caught my wife's eye, and as I read it to my daughter, she said "that's right down your alley." Conversations about theology, science, aesthetics, music, and philosopy. I've been a student of theology for the latter half of my life, since age 30. And with it, I learned philosophy and aesthetics. And came to appreciate history. I could go on, but I'm glad you appreciate those things so much.

    1. Hi Jerome,

      I'm glad I caught this -- the email alert I receive from my blog is spotty at best and I just happened to be checking my comments section today and found this.

      Thanks so much for responding and I hope if I see you again at Marion next year you'll mention this and jog my memory.

  2. My previous reply says that I am "Unknown". My name is Jerome Deister. Just FYI.