8:55 AM | |
THE NATURE OF BEAUTY
As a precursor to answering this question, I want to lay out a few ideas about the nature of the beautiful, because beauty is the terrain of real artists, and one way to recognize them is if they dwell in this terrain….
Thomas Aquinas gave a definition of the beautiful that is still helpful and relevant seven centuries later. The beautiful, he said, is “wholeness, harmony, and radiance,” and these define the terrain of the artist.
Wholeness means nothing is missing. All parts are present, suggesting completeness. No one looks at the Pietà and says, “You know, Mary needs just a little more fringe around her veil. Oh well.” Or, people don’t listen to Mozart’s Ave Verum and say, “Needs another high G in there. Oh well.” There’s something about these works that suggest completeness. Wholeness also means there is nothing extra, nothing gratuitous that isn’t an essential part of the whole. Isn’t that one of the primary complaints about so many movies? “Gratuitous sex and violence.” That is, too often there is no context for these things in a project, so it feels to the audience like they were just slapped in there to try and distract from some flaw in the storytelling. A beautiful work has nothing gratuitous.
And what do we get from wholeness? We are all creatures who have been cut off from our source. There is always a partial emptiness, a longing that can only be filled by divine love. As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” We yearn to cleave to the One, and when we experience completeness, we have a sense of being at home and at rest. So the beautiful gives us a sense of peace….