Graced Imagination: Recovering True Creativity in the Age of Authenticity

May 28, 2024 by

By Margarita Mooney Clayton, Public Discourse.

Many young people today feel pushed to authentically express themselves while simultaneously being pulled into groupthink and thoughtless imitation. Our culture promises fulfillment to those who “find themselves” through a creative passion, asserting their uniqueness and giving voice to their inner selves. Yet young people also yearn for acceptance and belonging within their peer groups, a dynamic that can breed conformity and imitation without a deeper purpose.

What does this cultural moment have to do with competing philosophies about art? Why does art (real, beautiful art, not just self-expression) matter to the renewal of our culture? Why do most people who visit Princeton University’s campus think that the Gothic chapel is objectively more beautiful than the new art museum, which reminds some viewers of a portable air conditioner hanging out of a window? How does a view of art as self-expression give way to being transgressive in art—creating ugly things and holding them up as worthy of collective admiration?

In this essay, I argue that there has been a shift from traditional conceptions of beauty, which saw art as participating in and revealing divine order, to more modern, romantic views of beauty that reject tradition and celebrate self-expression. Modern art and architecture reject traditional harmony and form, intentionally breaking with the past. This revolution in art is a sign of a more profound revolution in the understanding of the human person and the desire to change civilization as we know it radically. Recovering art as a participation in God’s governance, and as co-creating with God, is crucial to the healthy formation of young people, our places of worship, and our everyday lives.

The Romantic View of Art Rejects Metaphysics 

A romantic conception of creativity has taken root in modern Western culture—one that sees creativity as a pure form of self-expression, unfettered by universal principles, rules, or traditions. For the Romantics, each work is self-contained—it contains its rules and animating principles. This ethos of art as self-expression makes the viewer of art also look to find his (or her) self, not to truths beyond oneself.

Read here.

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