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Art is a Jealous God: The Imperative of Beauty for Human Happiness

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

12:00 pm - 1:30 pm


man hands on back looking on painting mounted at wall


Margarita Mooney Clayton, Ph.D.

Chairperson of the Board of Trustees and Executive Director

Scala Foundation

James Matthew Wilson, Ph.D.

Professor of Humanities and Founding Director of the Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing

University of Saint Thomas, Houston

Event Overview

The popular saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” indicates a commonly-held assumption that all art is merely subjective. In this webinar with the Catholic poet and philosopher James Matthew Wilson, we will consider an alternative tradition of thought: art makes a claim on how we should live. To be happy requires experiencing beauty that reveals the splendor of the truth. Far from seeing beauty as something that is mere pleasing to our senses, only through a contemplative envisioning of truth through beauty can we really experience deep personal fulfillment and truly further justice, equality and freedom. Restoring a relationship between philosophy—thinking about why things exist and what the nature of those things is—and the practice of making art, poetry and literature is imperative for a culture where happiness, truth, beauty and the good have all become nothing but subjective matters of taste. Our dialogue will engage with philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and Jacques Maritain and writers like Dante and Umberto Eco, all of whom provide guides for how our experiences of beauty can lead to carefully considered and rational judgments which result in personal and communal flourishing. In education, communities of faith, and science, recovering the tradition of beauty as a path to truth and goodness is imperative to resist a purely utilitarian view of human life that radically narrows our deep inner core that longs for experiences where our hearts and our actions radiate the splendor of truth.

Co-sponsored by the Institute of Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

We are also grateful to these additional organizations for their co-sponsorship of this event: Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul; The Portsmouth Institute; and the Providence College Humanities Forum.