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The Sound of Beauty

"Beauty cannot exist in isolation...."

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I decided to have a movie night. While I physically prepared snacks, I mentally prepared my arguments as to why we should binge-watch all three John Wick movies. Before I had even returned with the popcorn, my lovely girlfriend, in her wisdom and prudence, had outmaneuvered me by queuing up the 1965 classic “The Sound of Music.” Before I could begin my compelling arguments on why we should watch John Wick shoot bad guys for six hours, we were already halfway through the nuns singing their woes about Maria. By then, it was too late; we were already engrossed in the film.

About halfway through, I realized that the part of my brain that is constantly analyzing stories was turned off. Not purposefully, I was just fully engrossed in the experience of the movie. There was no sense of detachment needed for character, plot, and theme analysis. My emotions rode the same waves as Maria, as she expressed her frustration with the Captain and her love for the children. I felt the same conversion to a deeper love that the Captain felt when he heard his children sing. Lastly, feelings of courage as the Von Trapps escape the Nazi regime. This is what a good, true, and beautiful piece of art does. We experience it as if we were a part of it, often bringing us to something greater than ourselves. More precisely, it brings us closer to God.

Great art is defined by the three transcendentals: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Often its primary focus is on Beauty, but it must be properly balanced with the Good and the True. The secular definition of Beauty says “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” If we follow this idea, then it couldn't be a transcendental. A transcendental transcends an individual. If either the Good or the True is up to a “beholder,” they fall apart. Both goodness and truthfulness would become relative.

So let's take a different approach to beauty. If truth and goodness are objective, then beauty has level of objectivity as well. There are pieces of art that are universally praised for their beauty, such as the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and the Mona Lisa. Similar to catching a moonbeam in your hand, it's difficult to point why these things are beautiful, but we know they are. The same way we know black holes exist because of the effects they have on the surroundings. We know beauty exists by the effect it has on people who experience it.

Word on Fire, run by Bishop Robert Barron, preaches that it's best to evangelize using beauty because it pierces the ego and reaches the human heart in ways that the Good and the True often don't. The scene from “The Sound of Music” when Captain Von Trapp is firing Maria for allowing the children to swim and play is a great example. It doesn't matter what true or good arguments she makes; the Captain's ego refuses to listen. It's only a moment later when he hears his children singing that the point is made. Once beauty pierces his heart, he can see the good and the true. Then beauty draws him in, inviting him to join in the singing. Beauty pierces our hearts and asks us to join and participate with it.

As creators, we all know that book, painting, or piece of music that made us say, “Yes, I want to be a part of that.” That epic story that inspired us to tell our own stories. Or even just sing along in the car to our favorite song. We've all experienced that moment. Beauty cannot exist in isolation. Without the presence of goodness and truth, it loses its meaning and depth. A perfect example of this is found in advertising. Advertisements are designed to appeal to us and entice us to participate in the products or services being offered. However, if the advertised product or service is immoral or false, the art becomes propaganda.

As Catholic creators, we are called to create beautiful works of art that reflect God's creation. By infusing our art with goodness and truth, we can participate in God's glory and share it with others. So let us go forth and create beautiful art that is inspired by God's goodness and truth, and that can lead us and others closer to Him.

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