If i were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art and the thing most to be longed for, I should answer, A Beautiful House; and the thing to be longed for, I should answer, A beautiful Book. To enjoy good houses and good books in self respect and decent comfort, seems to me to be the pleasurable end towards which all societies of human beings ought now to struggle. – William Morris*
Let’s break this down.
- Most important production of Art and the Thing most to be longed for (descriptive): A Beautiful House.
- Thing to be longed for (normative): A beautiful Book.
Thinking of those things we hold most dear or use or live in most often to be the objects of beauty still blows most of our minds. It seems that the dual qualities of utility and aesthetic beauty still escape most of our homes, the objects within, and indeed the books that fill their shelves. But are Christians supposed to care about material things? Or how beautiful they are?
Very briefly: I think beauty in creation and in the creations we make with our hands (and feet) reflects that we were created in God’s image.
I’m still not sure what I think about Morris’ statement about how much we long for and how beautiful homes truly are. It may be that what I struggle with is that beauty in this day and age seems to be dictated by a set of gatekeepers that guard consumerism and set prices to match. I do know that as I write this I am sitting in the lounge-room of my cottage-by-the sea surrounded by a palette that suits my aesthetics while looking out over the north sea. I know that I value the found objects and carefully chosen things that I have around me. But i hold them loosely (they are not more important than any of the relationships in my life, for example).
I know that my home environment affects my ability to concentrate, contemplate, and create. But what this means for how I balance the amount of energies and resources I put into beautification of this space, or indeed in the books that I own, I’m not entirely sure. I feel that it would be easy to justify making my home into an object of near-worship rather than a space to create, contemplate, concentrate, rest and to show hospitality to others. But is Morris right in thinking a Beautiful House to be a production of Art? It’s certainly made me take a step back and think about how I think about my home as being an outworking of my own creativity.
Talking about beautiful books, which is where Morris ends up, is one of my favourite topics – and surprisingly isn’t where this post ended up. Next time, I will explore how we (and I) conceive of beautiful books in the 21st century.
* Quote is from “Some thoughts on the Ornamental Manuscripts of the Middle Ages,” from an essay unpublished during Morris’ lifetime.