Not only seeking the True, the Good, the Just, the Compassionate...
BUT seeking the Beauty,
Creating beautiful works of art is another vital way toward
Yes, we seekers know that wily Fox, who quaked before God
347 years ago,
declared in righteous wrath against all art:
"...pluck down your images; I say, pluck them out of your houses, walls,
and signs, or other places, that none of you be found imitators of his Creator,
whom you should serve and worship; and not observe the idle lazy mind,
that would go invent and make things like a Creator and Maker..."
How tragically wrong!
But keep in mind, George Fox, bless his flawed discernment, spoke so harshly
because he was appalled by how art all around him--both religious and nonreligious, sacred and profane--
art, dance, sculpture, and literature of his time and place had twisted and distorted and destroyed.
Artistic images seemed to be keeping people from seeking the Light, the Transcendent, the Divine.
Like so many great seekers, reformers, revivers, and prophets, Fox often shouted in hyperbole, seeking to wake the spiritually and ethically dead in Britain, the Caribbean, the American Colonies, etc.
The famous spiritual novelist Flannery O'Connor of our time wrote,
“The reader of today...His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and
his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience
which is used to seeing them as natural;
and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means
to get his vision across to this hostile audience."
"...then you have to make your vision apparent by shock--to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”
-Flannery O'Connor, Collected Works: Wise Blood
In other words, when humankind and society and culture are caught down in the sewer of wrong, proclaimers of the Good and the True sometimes need to shout.
Here's a bit of history both con and pro art from the early Friends:
William Penn:"How many plays did Jesus Christ and His Apostles recreate themselves at?"
"What poets, romances, comedies, and the like did the Apostles and Saints make,
or use to pass away their time withal? I know, they did redeem their time, to avoid...
vain jesting, profane babblings, and fabulous stories."
“...early Friends frequently condemned non-Friends’ “vain fashion,”
The arts had a very late start among the Friends, compared to many other religious groups and secular society.
This puritanical resistance in general was partially because the Society of Friends was birthed in the Puritan resistance of 17th century England. Even when George Fox and other early Quakers very strongly rejected horrific Puritan theology, they kept the Puritan opposition to the arts.
Quakers, like Puritans, thought that the Royalist/Anglican/Roman Catholic focus on beauty in art, sculpture, and dress led to “vanity” and “pride.”
Also, “The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 brought a repudiation of Puritan plainness and morality and a new concern with ornamental fashion, as court aristocrats wore elaborate wigs, perfumes, laces, silks and satins, high-heeled red shoes, enormous wigs, and elaborate, laced, long sleeved coats. And these were male fashions"
"Women added paint and patches and wore seductive gowns that Quakers thought were too revealing. It was an era of sex and debauchery, and King Charles’ escapades with women and the resultant illegitimate children set the tone.”
Restoration stage plays promoted the immoral.
Plus, sculpture and painting were often associated with Roman Catholicism, which was considered false and destructive, and very contrary to the Truth.
Friends were very concerned to reject evil--“the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.” So they began to emphasize a strict anti-aesthetic outlook.
However, soon their holy witness turned into stringent “legalism” even “prescribing the size of buttonholes” in clothes!
Everything from meeting house architecture to furniture to clothes had to be lacking in artistic notice. Plain, plain, plain.
Though Margaret Fox Fell complained against such excessive plainness, and called this move to “legalism...a “silly, poor gospel.”
...George Fox purchased good quality scarlet cloth for his wife, Margaret Fell Fox, to make into a cloak. Sarah Fell’s 1673 account book shows that the ladies of Swarthmoor Hall bought tartans, blue stockings, and red cloth.”
Quotes from Quaker Aesthetics by Emma Jones Lapsansky
So, even at the start, there were Quaker leaders who supported "Beauty," at least a little.
And much later, a minority of Quakers did paint, make colorful quilts, write poetry, and finally, even novels! But the arts had a very late start among the Friends, compared to many other religious groups and secular society.
But put yourself in the shoes of the early Quakers.
Reflect on how so much of modern art now is like the time period of the past, the Restoration which the early Friends stood up against, how our modern art--media, entertainment, movies, literature, painting, sculpture, clothing, and the Internet does focus, often extremely so, on glorifying
the grossly immoral,
even down-wrong evil!
SIDE NOTE example: Consider one famous modern novel. (I'll leave its title unnamed.) That particular book I was studying at university was gross--contrary to all that is good and true and pure. So when it came time to type my long essay criticizing the immoral novel, I majored in satire, typed the whole assignment up on a short roll of bathroom tissue paper:-)!
Our professor was impressed. He asked, "How did you manage to not tear the tissue?"
In all generations, humans can be diverted to the immoral, the unethical, and the unjust. Such was the case for early Quakers where the arts were used by religions to promote false beliefs, and used by secular society to glorify the immoral.
Quakers opted out, stood up against all of that.
Unfortunately in the process, a true love of beauty, and a philosophy of aesthetics was lost, only to be found much later.
To be continued--
In the Light,