Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thoughts on Beauty

From Barbara Nicolosi's talk at the Transforming Culture conference this spring, as recorded by Livingpsalm

The Polish philosopher, artist, poet and actor who had another name, Pope John Paul II, spoke about the call of some of us to pursue on behalf of the rest what he called new epiphanies of beauty. Epiphany means revelations of the beautiful. Aristotle’s definition of the elements of the beautiful are wholeness, harmony, and radiance.

Wholeness means nothing’s missing; that all of the parts are present and there is a sense of completeness. No one looks at The Pieta and says, Yeah, you know, she needs just a little more fringe around her veil. Oh, well. They don't listen to Mozart's Ave verum and say, Hmmmm, it needs another G. There's something about these works that suggest completeness. [This reflects the truth that] we are made for the One. We are made to cleave to the One. When we experience completeness we have the sense of being at home. The sense that we can rest.

Aristotle's second element of beauty is harmony. Harmony means that all of the parts relate to each other in complementary, not domination. So every part brings out the best of the other parts. They perfectly complement each other. Harmony brings us a sense of joy because we are called to be in community. We are made by a triune God who lives in community and we were called to community. This is our destiny to be in perfect community. We get a sense of joy when we are reminded that we can dwell together as one without being crushed.

So the beautiful makes you feel rest and it makes you feel joy.

And, finally, the third element of beauty is radiance. Radiance means that something profound and, often, beyond language is communicated. Think about a sunset. When you see a sunset you experience it calling to you personally. When you experience some pieces of artwork, it's like you're standing in front of it and suddenly it's personal -- like you, yourself, are being called personally. And you think about the artist and you want to meet the artist because he or she said something to you personally. Radiance says I know something and I’m sharing it with you. It fulfills in us the desire to learn. We are made to learn, and so radiance gives us a sense of fulfillment in our nature....

So, now, I've told you what the beautiful is -- wholeness, harmony and radiance. I want to state unequivocally what the beautiful is not -- just in case you're not clear.

It’s not cute.
It’s not easy.
It’s not banal.
It’s not silly.
It’s not facile.
It’s not sweet.
It’s not non-threatening. ...

The Church has gotten in trouble in the twentieth century by reaching to other ends for art than the simple goal of seeking new epiphanies of beauty...

One use we demand is political. We've made the purpose of art political. I don't mean left or right, I mean statement-making. The goal in the political is not to share radiance but to manipulate, to coerce, to propegandize and to change behavior.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


"There are two kinds of people in the world: people who are artists and people who are supposed to support them. So, figure out which you are and do it with vigor." -Barbara Nicolosi