Christian Living / Vocation

Art: “The well making of what needs making.”

Peter Leithart wrote up a great challenge to the modern distinction between fine art and everything else at the First Things blog recently. Taking his cue from an Eric Gill lecture given in 1939, entitled “Sacred and Secular in Art and Industry,” Leithart pushes back against the cultural assumption that most of what we do for a living is mundane — unless of course you wear a beret and only shower occasionally. The truth of the matter is much more beautiful (and hygienic) than that. What you have been called to make, you’ve been called to make well — whether its musical scores or weekly accounting reports…

The key is to reinvest what we think of as “non-artistic” work with the values associated with art. That involves looking for creative ways to give laborers more responsibility for their products. It means finding fresh ways to enhance the creative potential of all labor, so that it becomes drudgery divine. It also means recognizing the artfulness, and the beauty, that is always already there in any field of human endeavor. There is music in a humming engine; there’s a choreography to a well-orchestrated factory floor; the janitor can take aesthetic satisfaction from the cleanliness and order he leaves behind; mothers in the home are sculpting children; there’s beauty in skillful manipulation of a backhoe.

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