Read and react to the article "Stealing Beauty" by Edward Veith, posted on March 20, 2004 in World Magazine.

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There is a lot of detail in Edward Veith's article "Stealing Beauty" but not very much complexity. The argument boils down to two simple premises. The first is that the arts, while influential, have lost their way, meaning that much contemporary work is valueless or pernicious. The second is that art can be redeemed by Christianity, which, unlike secular nihilism, provides "a basis for art, beauty, and aesthetics."

How you respond to the article will depend on what you think about these two ideas and possibly your religious belief. The latter, however, is not necessarily the case, since a nonbeliever might favor a Christian basis for art, while a Christian might say that his/her religious belief is not connected to his/her artistic judgments.

While it is possible to write an "appreciation" of piece of writing, in which you agree wholeheartedly with everything the writer says, your response will generally be more interesting if you take issue with at least some of his contentions, particularly when responding to an argumentative piece such as this. Fortunately, I think there is a lot to dispute here. First, is Veitch being fair in his representation of contemporary art? The Turner Prize, which he cites as a prime example, is controversial among contemporary artists, many of whom would not accept it as representative of their work and aspirations. The author is also rather given to sneering ad hominem asides, which reveal his prejudices. He says of Grayson Perry, for instance:

Mr. Perry is also a transvestite with a wife and daughter who exhibits his dresses.

This indicates disapproval of Perry's lifestyle rather than any relevant criticism of his work.

Even more serious, in my view, is Veitch's binary opposition of Christianity and nihilism. This is a logical fallacy sometimes known as black-and-white thinking. Even if you agree with Veitch that (a) something is wrong with contemporary art and (b) the thing that is wrong is an absence of values, it still does not follow that Christianity it the answer. Why couldn't Islam be the answer? Or Buddhism? Or Confucianism? All these provide values and are the basis of artistic traditions. Furthermore, why should the answer be a religion at all? Atheists are not necessarily or even usually nihilists. Even if they are, they might be nihilist in one area, while still affirming aesthetic values in art. This has, in fact, been the position of many great writers, such as Flaubert, Nerval, and Baudelaire. The wealth of detail and erudition in Veitch's piece is no substitute for logical rigor.

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