Aidan Hart on Beauty, Matter and the Sacred

To prepare for my upcoming conversation on December 6, 2022, with iconographer Aidan Hart, I sat down to read his book of essays entitled “Beauty, Spirit, Matter” which he gave to me when I visited him at his studio in England in August 2022. Having read and taught more than 40 authors on beauty, I must say this book immediately rose to the top for its clarity in theology and philosophy as well as concrete examples to help artists, pastors, and anyone who cares about the culture of beauty.

Here are a few key ideas that I can’t wait to hear more about in our online conversation as well as his visit to Princeton for Scala’s April 21-22, 2023 conference.

Here are some key points I took away:

  • Images remind us that life with Christ is above all else a relationship between persons
  • Christians venerate, but do not worship, images; the honor passes to the person being represented
  • Christ’s divinity and humanity are represented symbolically in letters and in images
  • icons use some abstraction so as to indicate something is missing; this distinguishes icons from naturalistic, true-to-life art
  • we need aesthetic struggle to be purified and appreciate beauty
  • we are made for communion with others and offer spiritual gifts to others through material things
  • sight is something active, not passive
  • the meaning of art is to join us together fittingly (ars in Latin)

Perhaps the most powerful idea I encountered was from Chapter 6 on Beauty and the Gospel. Hart states that in the modern world, many people are so closed to God that we can’t communicate through words. But images can communicate. Evangelization has to start with the goodness of creation. He writes on p. 110:

“Virtue can be described as that which makes us beautiful again, repentance as removal of tarnish to reveal the beautiful image underneath, sin as distortion, saintliness as the return to fulness and creativity.” (p. 110)

Aidan Hart, Beauty, Spirit Matter

Below are some helpful resources I found–most of which are on his website but I picked my favorites!

Here’s an earlier version of an essay that became Chapter 6 in his book Beauty, Spirit Matter:

You can find a lot more articles on his website here:

And his articles for the Orthodox Arts blog:

Don’t miss his book Beauty, Spirit, Matter!

And this tour de force of the history of festal icons!

Here’s some praise for Aidan’s work in a book review and an interview by another artists who will also be at the 2023 conference in Princeton, Jonathan Pageau.

And an interview about his work on the St. John’s Bible: