The Art of Appreciation

It was part of the core curriculum, so I had to take the course, but not something to which I really looked forward. However, not half-way through the semester I found myself anticipating each Music Appreciation class in joyful expectation of learning something new and, as I then realized, truly beneficial. Point in fact, my professor was bequeathing cultural and artistic treasure to anyone willing to receive that boon… Not everyone was willing, though, and really succeeded in turning the blessing into little more than “pearls for swine.”

Learning about polyphony, Gregorian chants, instrumental experimentation during the Baroque period (and, by the way, “baroque” comes from the Italian word “barocco” which means bizarre), sonatas and so much more certainly did not make me an accomplished musician ~ and, in fact, a musician I am not ~ but it did stretch my mind and broaden my horizons intellectually and aesthetically, as well as spiritually. More broadly, the experience also served to teach me something about appreciation or, if you will, appreciating appreciation.

I am, perhaps, loathe to quote Voltaire, but he expressed my sentiments precisely when he said, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” Another slightly different version of the same statement is that “by appreciation, we make excellence in others our own property.” Too true; too true! And precisely why the art of appreciation is so fundamentally important and why, conversely, the absence of genuine, qualitative appreciation is so detrimental, both individually and corporately.

Of course, appreciation means “thankfulness” and “gratitude,” but the kind of appreciation with which we are here concerned means, “recognition of the worth, quality or importance of something,” perhaps most specifically in the “awareness or artistic values” with attendant “understanding and enjoyment.” Consequently, those who lack appreciation in this sense are often called “boors, louts, boobs, vulgarians,” and rightly so one should think. Creatures such as this are ill-mannered and insensitive, lacking a “discerning palate” in every sense of the term.

Now one might ask, “Who’s to say what constitutes beautiful art, majestic music, awe-inspiring scenery, well-written and inspiring literature” and so on and so forth? My reply to this would be to simply point out the fact that we cannot even really discuss the question, at least reasonably and with any hope of getting anywhere, completely apart from what I am calling the art of appreciation. In other words, how could we even hope to answer the question if there is simply no “recognition of worth and quality with understanding?” We cannot. Period.

More than this, however, apart from the cultivated art of appreciation we cannot really hope to apprehend the sacred beauty and value of the world around us, from the powerful celestial scenes painted across the canvas of night to the wondrous worlds we can see only with the aid of microscopes. We cannot discern the worth and importance of truly great men and women, as opposed to boobs and louts, and so can never make “what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” And this, tragically, is an impoverished life, to be sure!

For my part as a father, cultivating the art of appreciation in my children is fundamentally important. I want them to truly “see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep … the perfection of beauty and the wondrous works of God.” I want them to stand in awe of the genuinely divine creativity of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, of Tolstoy and Andrei Rublev, of Mozart and Beethoven … and I could go on and on: Sun Tzu and Confucius, Plato and Aristotle, the Great Wall and the Pyramids, Herodotus and Tacitus and the Mona Lisa.

I want my children to appreciate the fact that, while we may enjoy watching The Lord of the Rings movies, it is far better to read the triology; that while there is nothing inherently wrong with an artificial Christmas tree, there is nevertheless an uncaptured beauty you find only in the living creation of the evergreen; that even though some-such “happy thoughts of God” may serve quite well for a pick-me-up, it takes some spiritual depth to write something really worth taking to heart and remembering.

 “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be held in awe above all gods… who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.” And you can only apprehend those great and marvelous wonders in and throughout creation, including humanity, when you have learned the art of appreciation. Too, it is only when you have so cultivated the art of appreciation that you really live a life worth appreciating … in both senses of the word!