Franciscan Professor Lectures on Real Beauty in Art

By Eleanor O’Hagan
Staff Writer

Michael Waldstein, a professor of theology, spoke to an audience at Franciscan University about the importance of authentic portrayals of beauty in art during a talk on January 30 at 6 p.m. in the Gentile Gallery.

The title of Waldstein’s lecture was “The Need for Sensible Images in Art.”

Waldstein began by claiming that beauty and art should have the ability to sensibly portray images which human persons can comprehend in a deep interior sense. This beauty should fulfill the human need for understanding.

Real beauty, Waldstein argued, is connected to German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s concept of ‘gestalt:’ a word for the kind of beauty which integrates and views the whole work—including the inner concept—rather than just its exterior parts.

“Expression of art [has] greater depth and inner mystery” Waldstein said, adding that beauty is something that should increase and ascend.

Waldstein pointed to real artworks, such as Matthias Grünewald’s “Resurrection” and “Isenheim Altarpiece” and Titian’s “Crucifixion” and “Assumption of the Virgin” as examples of this kind of beauty.

These paintings, Waldstein explained, express emotion and majesty through use of light, darkness and masterfully painted human faces, evoking a sense of wonder and even peace.

“Words cannot really do it justice,” Waldstein said of these paintings.

In opposition to true or sensible beauty, Waldstein referred to fake beauty, or ‘kitsch.’ Artworks possessing only fake beauty fall short of what beauty ought to evoke in human beings.

Waldstein displayed several examples of kitsch in artwork, including in mass-produced images or copies of artwork and paintings that have been edited to have muted colors.

Waldstein’s lecture was the first installation in an ongoing series of academic lectures and performing arts events at Franciscan University called the Art and Culture Series, occurring on Monday nights throughout the spring 2023 semester.