Absolute Beauty

 In Theory

 Have you ever been delighted at having your mind stretched quite unexpectedly?  I was having this experience as I sat and listened to my photography instructor over lunch.  I was tired of learning about photography in a secular environment, where pornography was “artistic nudes” and relativism was the worldview.  I needed more instruction but didn’t want to sacrifice my convictions at its expense.  So I joined a Christian photography school.  I thought it would simply be photography instruction without the trash.  It was more than that.  After our intense instruction and daily devotionals I was feeling like there was nothing more I could handle learning that week.  And then my instructor started talking to us about absolute beauty.  I was intrigued.  Christians can pursue art, and delve into a philosophical world unbelievers cannot fully go: 

 Light and shadow.  Black and White. Beauty and Ugliness.  Philosophy, Photography, Art, and…GOD.

 After I came home and began to discuss absolute beauty with others I got a wide range of reactions, from interest to complete rejection.  I realized I needed to clarify. What it is: just a theory – a philosophical concept that helps you in your pursuit of art as a Christian.  What it’s not: a standard or measure for outward physical appearances. 

 It’s so much more than that

 The best place to begin is with Him, who is absolute beauty,

 GOD. 

I know absolute beauty exists because HE is most beautiful.  He is the definition of beauty.

 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets.  From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”  Psalm 5:1-2

 God is the origin of beauty, is the Designer, and is the ultimate creative Artist.  His character is perfection and never changing.  He is Holy. 

 Flawless. Beautiful.

Everything around us is created by Him and for Him.  It is a reflection of who He is.

Creation sings of a Creator. 

 “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”  Romans 1:20

 

 (Copyright Kathleen Shook.)

We are created in His image.  Out of all creation we are the greatest reflection of Him. 

 “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Genesis 1: 27

 I don’t believe this verse is referring to a mere physical similarity.  No, it’s who we are, our inward man.  We were designed to love what He loves, and hate what He hates.  We were designed to worship Him.  We were created sinless and designed to be holy.  The fall produced inherited sinfulness but…

 Christ redeemed us when we still hated Him. We can now be holy through Him.

 What is beauty? Truth is beautiful.  Every Christian whose Christ-like character and holiness points us back to Him is beautiful, and that beauty radiates through their eyes and smile.

I know I can’t quantify absolute beauty, but I can clearly declare that God is perfect beauty and anything that reflects Him is beautiful.  Beyond that there is no clear cut line spelled out in Scripture.   But, there are examples within nature of organized beauty created by God that gives us models to follow.  (For a complex example of composition naturally found in creation look up fractals and be prepared to have your mind blown!)

 Another way we use creation’s example is to approach our art in an organized way.  When I teach photography I always teach about composition “rules.”  Composition rules are taught in every art school.  They are universally acknowledged to produce a more pleasing picture or piece of art.  It is understood that only those who really grasp the rules can properly break them. 

 

(Copyright Kathleen Shook) 

The first picture lacks two major compositional rules.  It falls flat and is uninteresting.  The second picture has depth and follows the “rule of thirds” and immediately we can see the difference in the two images.

 A flower is almost always described as gorgeous, while an “Orc” from the movie, “Lord of the Rings,” never gets that praise. The “Orc” (in its fictional story) is a human/elf hybrid who has been tortured and mutilated.  He is evil to the core; a distortion of what is good and natural. 

(Copyright Kathleen Shook) 

What do these examples tell us?  Beauty (and dare I say, art?) is not purely subjective, as others would like us to think.  There are objective realities to our art.   Since God is the ultimate Creator can we ever say His untarnished work is subjective and that some of it is good and other parts of it are not?  We do not have that authority!

 “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning…” Genesis 1:31

 

 In Application

 I began to realize that if I was created in His image and am now an heir with Christ then my art must reflect this.  My goals in photography began to take shape and I began to form my personal convictions. At what point does my photography cross a line and is no longer beautiful?   Beyond building my business and taking pictures for my clients that they can enjoy, I began to have personal goals and ambitions every time I picked up my camera.

 1)      Focus on Portraits.  People are beautiful, created in God’s image.  Because of this, my favorite subject is people.  I earnestly want to take pictures of more than the outward appearance and capture who they really are: what’s inside.   Portrait photography can get so external and so vain.  I don’t want that to be my focus, my focus is on the eyes, the window to the soul. 

 

(Copyright Kathleen Shook)

I traveled to Peru a few years ago and, even though the landscapes were breathtaking, it just wasn’t my niche.  I made it a personal challenge to take a portrait of a Peruvian every single day.  To show the world people who often get forgotten, like a street child or an old man sitting on a bench.  They are valuable in God’s sight and, therefore, in mine.

(Copyright Kathleen Shook).

2)      Because I view the body as beautiful and as God’s creation, I honor it and the privacy it deserves. The undressed body, while special, is valued most when kept within its beautiful role in marriage.  I will not include undressed or half dressed people in my photographs. 

3)      To capture real, raw moments and to tell a story.  I know my pictures won’t always be pretty  – but sometimes telling the truth is beautiful and that is what I respect about photojournalists who get in the middle of wars and tragic events.  They tell the truth.  I never want my photography to be so abstract that most people can’t interpret what I’m trying to say.  Abstract art that has no message is bordering on relativism and should be used with caution.  

4)      My photography shouldn’t always have a price.  Volunteering your services for a good cause is an exchange for something that is infinitely more beautiful and valuable than riches. 

5)      Taking portraits of those who are overlooked in our communities: the disabled and disfigured.  They defy the world’s terms of beauty but not mine, and not God’s.  Because I believe in absolute beauty I want His beauty to shine through me and in everything I do. 

(Copyright Kathleen Shook).

In your artwork are you focusing on the beautiful or ugly in this world? Does your artwork reflect that you are created in God’s image and that Christ has redeemed you?  Pursue excellence.  Pursue absolute beauty.  Pursue Him.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  1 Corinthians 10:31

 *** 

Kathleen Shook is a professional photographer in the North Texas area and is also a private piano teacher.  She has been married to her husband, Blake, since 2011.  She is also involved in her local church in young women’s ministry.  If anyone is interested in having a professional photographer take photos for their ministry free of charge, please contact Kathleen at Kathleen@kathleenthomasphotography.com   You can see some of her most recent photography work at her Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kathleen-Thomas-Photography/84009566569.

 ***

*****EDITORIAL NOTICE: The photographs included in this article (“Absolute Beauty”) are the property of Kathleen Shook. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kathleen Shook is strictly prohibited.  

Used by permission.*****

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments to “Absolute Beauty”

  1. Wonderful article, Kathleen! A perspective I had not thought of!
    So glad I have such a talented sister. 🙂

  2. Thanks for writing this Kathleen! I think it’s so important to be dwelling on God and His beauty when creating art, to apply His standards of beauty and not the warped standards of a fallen world. Keep up the good work!

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