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Beauty murdered in the cathedral


PETER Mullen wrote in TCW on April 18 of the Christian imperative to ‘love what is beautiful’. 

The same day also saw the end of Salisbury Cathedral’s Spirit & Endeavour Contemporary Art Exhibition, a year-long event to mark the 800th anniversary of the cathedral. According to its website, ‘twenty iconic and important pieces of contemporary art’ were displayed.

The exhibition featured a large, blue glass-fibre disc by Peter Newman named Skystation. Also displayed was Formation by Conrad Shawcross – a scaffolding of rusted metal. Perhaps most striking of all was Subodh Gupta’s When Soak Becomes Spill, a huge metallic bucket overflowing with saucepans.

While some may claim that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, I cannot help but feel that the Spirit & Endeavour exhibition showcased the ‘artistic decadence and sheer ugliness’ that Mullen rails against. 

Anyone who has visited Salisbury Cathedral will have been struck by the magnificence of the spire and the ornate Early English Gothic architecture. As with other great British cathedrals, visitors from around the globe are enchanted by the building and its surroundings. It is depicted in several of John Constable’s most notable works, including Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows  and Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds.

Christianity has inspired innumerable artists in their creations of indescribable beauty. Great paintings, music, architecture, sculptures and literature have all been produced in praise of God. Raphael’s Transfiguration, Allegri’s Miserere and Blake’s The Lamb are just a few examples of awesome works inspired by faith. 

These great works have the power to move us, as they appear to take us closer to the transcendent. However, I am unsure whether anyone felt spiritually renewed by the ostensibly random array of objects at Salisbury Cathedral.

As with much contemporary art, theexhibition came with a spiel explaining what the pieces represent, as if to try to validate the works on display. Yet true beauty does not move us through reason and persuasion; great artistic achievement requires no justification.

Why is the Anglican Church actively promoting the ‘crass indifference to beauty’ that Peter Mullen warns us of? If ugliness is the ‘image of God, defaced’, it certainly has no place at one of Britain’s most celebrated Christian landmarks.

It is perhaps unsurprising that as the Church is increasingly willing to bow to the tenets of diversity, inclusivity and equity, it is also willing to adopt a liberal and non-discerning approach towards art.

People are inherently attracted to great art and the beauty it portrays. Effective evangelism should surely promote beauty, and shun the sort of ugliness that has marred Salisbury Cathedral for the past twelve months. 

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Edward Dadd
Edward Dadd
Edward Dadd is an NHS support worker

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