Beauty and God in art: How He touches us through a Venice Island mural

“Healing in the Enchanted Garden”, painted by Joseph Barron. Venice Island, Florida. W. Venice Avenue.

The deer looks at me from within the painting. I, absorbed by the mural, look her squarely in the eyes. The trees are not still. They rustle in the breeze as I descend onto the winding dirt path and pass them. The flowers are vibrant in color, but I can sense how delicate to the touch they are nonetheless. The birds resting in the fountain and the water around them are not still; the water trickles down as I actively view the mural. As I begin to understand only a miniscule portion of the mural.

Twenty minutes from home, there’s a wonderful area called Venice Island. As an architecture student interested in traditional, pedestrian-friendly urban design, I love the historic streets, rich in Venetian architectural character and a small-town atmosphere. On Venice Avenue, small businesses are interrupted by passageways running to the adjacent streets. A frequent visitor, I came across this breathtaking mural in an open-aired corridor. In light of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Josef Pieper’s writings, I better understand this work’s transcendent impact on me.


Before exploring how the mural “Healing in the Enchanted Garden”¹ serves as play, symbol, and festival, I must speak of beauty. Gadamer cites the ancient Greeks, notably Plato. They looked to the cosmos as a source of great beauty, its heavenly order surpassed by nothing. The beautiful “shines forth most clearly and draws us to itself, as the very visibility of the ideal”.² The beautiful often approximates the ideal, as the mural does of nature, created by God for all to enjoy and contemplate. The talented brushstrokes of the work also show the ideal, through the talented hand of a man with a God-given talent. The scene’s serenity, the rich detail, the color variety — these characteristics comprise beauty’s holistic nature that drew me in.³

This mural’s beauty is apparent through play, symbol, and festival. Gadamer’s argument of art as play is grounded in hermeneutic identity and the “science of interpretation”.⁴ By identifying and passing judgment on the mural, I contributed to its unity.⁵ This mural is play because it forces me to engage closely with it. It has intention and requires an active observer. I trace out the trees, the deer, the dirt path, the individual leaves, and I construct the scene.⁶ The mural invites me to interact with it. I find myself hoping to embark on the dirt path shown, to wander amongst the trees and flowers. My participation and effort to decipher the piece makes it playful.

The mural is a symbol as it exists solely for itself, with no hidden message. There is no painting that could replace it. The meaning of “symbol” stems from a Greek tradition — two pieces being broken apart and coming together later in an act of recognition.⁷ I recognize the beautiful mural, not because I’ve seen it before, but because I feel connected to the “whole and the holy order of things”.⁸ The mural is to be appreciated and interpreted individually. It is a symbol because I feel I have met another fragment of my whole self.⁹ This mural is also veiled. It contradicts, through its mere existence, “any idealism claiming a total recovery of meaning” because this mural with all of its complexity proves I cannot make sense of everything about this mural, or about life.¹⁰ It cannot be understood through scientific reason. Art carries its own truth separate from that of science or history: “The ‘truth’ that [art] possesses for us does not consist in some universal regularity that merely presents itself through the work”.¹¹ I think that there’s a beauty to this realization that I cannot determine the meaning of everything I come across, including this mural. I liken it to the experience of looking at a breathtaking expanse of sky or water and thinking to myself, “How could this be created?”. I can only remain in awe, strongly impacted by God’s power, and this feeling carries through my every experience of art.

This painted landscape is also a festival. There’s the normal passage of time and organization of our daily life. And then there’s festival time. It’s abstract and autonomous.¹² This applies to the mural too, because it “[resembles] a living organism with its internally structured unity […] it too displays autonomous temporality”.¹³ I view the winding path and the luscious trees and become one with the mural, not operating under time constraints. There is no start or end to my observation — “I’ll stand in front of this mural for 20 minutes and check this task off my list.” NO. I must dwell on the painting. The experience of art is timeless.¹⁴ If I were standing in a museum gallery, I would not try to “see” as many pieces as possible. My eyes, my brain, my body — all of me needs to experience this mural to the fullest. There’s a transcendent quality to this festive experience that cannot be limited.

Even Pieper’s “festivity” was brought to light in my experience. The festival is possible “when man affirms the goodness of his existence by offering the response of joy”.¹⁵ No matter the state of the world, everything is good because God is good. A festival day is only a snippet of the everlasting festival celebrating Creation.¹⁶ Art is very much a physical manifestation of the festival and a visible affirmation that all is good.¹⁷ The mural exists to acknowledge “perpetual festivity and celebration of Jesus coming into the flesh”.¹⁸ The mural is not capturing a finite moment in history. It mirrors the ongoing beauty of our lives. Furthermore, as the mural is so well rendered, I find it mesmerizing. It impacts me greatly — this artist, the human who painted this onto the wall with his own hands, has been touched by God. This mural emphasizes God’s love and touch for every viewer that comes upon it.


[1] Created by artist Joseph Barron.

[2] Hans-Georg Gadamer, The Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays (Cambridge University Press), 15.

[3] Tim O’Malley, PhD, January 4, 2021 lecture: “Beauty as Play”.

[4] Tim O’Malley, PhD, January 4, 2021 lecture: “Beauty as Play”.

[5] Gadamer, 25.

[6] Gadamer, 27.

[7] Gadamer, 31.

[8] Gadamer, 32.

[9] Tim O’Malley, PhD, January 4, 2021 lecture: “Beauty as Symbol”.

[10] Gadamer, 34.

[11] Gadamer, 16.

[12] Gadamer, 41–42.

[13] Gadamer, 43.

[14] Tim O’Malley, PhD, January 4, 2021 lecture: “Beauty as Festival”.

[15] Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World (St. Augustine’s Press, 1999), 29.

[16] Pieper, 50.

[17] Pieper, 53.

[18] Tim O’Malley, PhD, January 5, 2021 lecture: “Beauty and Festivity”.



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