I consider the song “Farther Along” by Josh Garrels to be an exemplary piece of art. French philosopher Jacques Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism has helped me to more deeply appreciate “Farther Along” both as a production of art and as a truly beautiful piece of art.
Maritain writes that the artist impresses an idea upon a matter; that is, in making art, the artist gives a purpose to a matter (1). When creating “Farther Along,” Garrels, as a songwriter and singer, assembled according to an idea the musical instruments at his disposal, specific notes and melodies, the tone and range of his voice, and the words that he wanted to use in his lyrics. Into the particularities of matter such as instruments, notes, tone, range, and words, Garrels impressed his understanding of the Christian journey. “Farther Along” expresses the confusion, struggle, redemption, perseverance, hope, and longing that in some way resided in Garrels himself prior to the creation of the song. Maritain insists that art is inherently related to the artist (2).
Following Thomas Aquinas, Maritain names three characteristics of the beautiful: brightness and truth, integrity and being, and proportion and order (3). “Farther Along” carries all three.
Even prior to the beginning of Garrels’ singing, the beat and notes of “Farther Along” arrest me, resonate with my own reflection on life, and delight my ear. The song’s steady opening beat gives the allusion of footsteps. A person is journeying through life. The bold yet serene opening notes are reminiscent of a day dawning. The song illuminates a truth about life for me, confirming my intuition of the reality of the unseen and my call to trust and to give thanks for the gift of existence. “Farther Along” calls out to me to hope. It “shines out” to me and conveys truth.
The song also possesses integrity. In its duration of five minutes and four seconds, “Farther Along” artistically reveals the whole Christian journey. It is complete. The song possesses a wholeness, an integrity, and offers to me an experience of being itself.
In addition, “Farther Along” has proportion and order. The song opens and closes with the chorus. The chorus also plays at the center of the song, following the song’s climax of “forgiveness alright.” The chorus calls for patience in trying to understand the events of life and the ways of God. The repetition of the chorus as well as the joyful yet subdued tone of the song invite the listener into mystery and longing. The song invites the listener to hope for greater understanding when the Lord comes and to pine for such knowledge. Mystery and longing are intrinsic to the song’s proportion and order.
If you have not yet listened to Garrels’ song, I highly commend “Farther Along” to you as a masterfully produced work of art and a true object of beauty.
- Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism with Other Essays (Cluny Media), 10.
- Ibid., 12–13.
- Ibid., 25; Timothy P. O’Malley, PhD, January 25, 2021 lecture.