Our September Artist of the Month is the beautiful, articulate, brilliant Heather Knudtsen! (And not to brag or anything, but she’s one of my best friends and most kindred of spirits! So… yeah.) Heather and I used to stay up way too late in college talking about this very dear subject of beauty, of Jesus, of the inextricable link between the two, and how we carry his beauty into the world. (And sometimes dressing up like pirates because it’s cool to do that.) It is a great treat and a high honor that you get a peek inside her beautiful heart today. Enjoy!
The Case for Beauty
When I was little, I used to hate when my Dad listened to the news. It seemed to me to open a portal into our little living room to let in all the misery the world had dreamed up that day. I’ve always struggled to keep my perspective hopeful when my focus is drawn to the evil, the ugly, or even just the empty that shares this world with the good, the beautiful, and the meaningful. How is it that I can trust or believe in the beautiful and the good when there is such cruelty and despair?
For whatever reason, evil seems to cancel out good more quickly than the reverse. I wonder if this is not the reason that for much of the past hundred years our artists seem to be more and more disenchanted with the pursuit of beauty in creating their art. After two world wars and countless other horrors, who can believe the lies beauty has been telling us all these years? That there is good, there is healing, and that we are part of a story bigger than ourselves?
I think artists are somewhat more sensitive to despairing at the evil in the world. We are always stretching the hands of our souls out, feeling through the dark for little pieces of infinity. We have an intuitive sense that constantly reminds us of the way the world should be: filled with purposeful identity, excellent craft, and moments of beauty.
This is perhaps why “artists” as a group are often less concerned with the get-a-job-and-a-house-with-a-picket-fence standards of the society around us. We seek after a standard on a different dimension. But this means that when we realize that the purposeful identity and moments of beauty we seek are even harder to come by than a job-and-a-house-with-a-picket-fence, we feel cheated. Our souls stretch out their hands and so often find filth instead of beauty and apathy instead of purpose.
The question is, what do we do next? Do we give up on art? Do we pretend we never found the evil and create instead a false world of meaningless beauty? Or the opposite—do we use art only to express our sense of despair?
I think these have been reactions that myriads of artists have chosen. But I believe there is another perspective to be had. One that says it is evil that is intruding on a world that was meant to be good and beautiful, rather than the beautiful fighting a dying fight in a small corner of an evil world. Those of us who believe the words of Christ and his followers know the world to have begun with “it was good”, and eagerly await the day when good is restored. In our perspective, the evil and the ugly are a passing fancy; foreigners to our land who will not succeed in their attempts to conquer it. They do not belong, and deep down we know it, and their departure is the very cry of our hearts.
So take heart, my fellow artists! You are not over-idealistic misfits soon to be dashed on the harsh, stony shore of the world, but instead, the keepers of beauty and meaning in a time when the souls of the world are hungry for the hope you hold, as they wait wearily for evil to thrash its last thrash. You have a job to do, and it is bigger than the insecurities you have about your artistic ability and even transcends the work you do in your specific artistic medium.
Bring some beauty back to the world.
It might not be popular, it might be accused of taking no account of the grittier truths of life (but it is because of these truths that you should do it). Be willing to go after this subjective and ethereal thing that is as likely to make a fool of you as it is to decide to show its face. Because when we decide to attempt the creation of beauty, we open ourselves up to the possibility of failure. We reach for a standard we do not intrinsically have the full power to achieve. The attempt cannot even be begun without vulnerably opening ourselves up to be sensitive to the whispers of beauty and the story we need to tell. We must be willing to dream bigger dreams than we assuredly know we can accomplish.
And as far as how to recognize when you’ve created something beautiful, I think you’ll know. If you shut off the voices of comparison and just do the work, something right will happen inside you when you do it. And you must try, because a world without beauty is a world without grace, humanity, and hope.
Beauty refutes both the meaninglessness of the daily and the despair of destruction. It does not negate it, but it meets it on the battlefield and says “this is our land, not yours”. As artists, we must bridge the gap between the world that we delight in and the world that we have. We must live in the tension of the world we hope for and the world that is.
Heather Knudtsen directs theatre and is a freelance graphic designer & social media marketer by day. Recent theatrical productions have included The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow, A Christmas Story adapted by Phillip Grecian, and Trifles by Susan Glaspell. Her favorite arts are music, literature…ok all of them. Her favorite college roommate was Haylie Allcott. Find out more about Heather at heatherknudtsen.com/directing.