Learning Beauty from Creation

Christian artists can show us how.

William Martin Conway, tr. and ed., The Writings of Albrecht Dürer. This is a 1958 republication of an early-20th century edition of the collected writings of the great German artist. For an artist, especially a German artist of the early 16th century, Dürer wrote a surprising amount, not just about his travels and business dealings, but also about art. His com-ments on art and beauty are especially interesting to me. 

Dürer believed that true art was representational, and the closer to the true nature of things one could come in his art, the greater was his art. He was a careful observer of the creation because he believed that its many creatures embodied the beauty of God, and by reproducing them he could more accurately approximate true beauty: “Life in Nature showeth forth the truth of these things, wherefore regard it well, order thyself thereby and depart not from Nature in thy opinions, neither imagine of thyself to invent aught better, else shalt thou be led astray. Art standeth firmly fixed in Nature, and whoso can render her forth thence, he only possesseth her.” 

This was especially true of the human form: “the Creator fashioned men once for all as they must be, and I hold that the perfection of form and beauty is contained in the sum of all men.” Dürer could not define beauty, but he was quite sure that people knew it when they saw it: “What Beauty is I know not, though it dependeth upon many things. When we wish to bring it into our work we find it very hard. We must gather it together from far and wide, and especially in the case of the human figure – we must study all its limbs seen from before and behind.”

Dürer was a committed Christian and sought to honor God with all his work. He was an eager learner, for he believed, “The more we learn, the more closely do we resemble the likeness of God, Who knoweth all things.” He provides an excellent example for believers in every walk of life, to pay attention to the glory of God in their surroundings, and to learn the grace and beauty of God as much as we can.

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