How beauty comes together (Harmony part 2)
Insights from Saint Dionysius
“… Beauty is the Cause towards which all things move, since it is the longing for beauty which actually brings them into being”
“From beauty comes the existence of everything”
“For beauty is the cause of harmony, sympathy and of community”
Three quotes from Saint Dionysius the Areopagite (Taken from the Divine Names)
What makes beauty of transcendental value? How does it appear in our mind? Is beauty lifegiving?
Harmony is one of the necessary prerequisites for life to exist. If one of the elements of an existing system does not want to cooperate in it and rebels, it causes disharmony. The whole system will not cohere anymore in a good way. Take for example protesting in a city against too heavy taxes. If this rebellion is taken too far, the city will start to disintegrate. The same process occurs in beauty.
All aspects of life that do not tend towards God, which is the ultimate principle of harmony, will aim at something lower. This aiming at something lower will cause a disharmony. The example of the rebellion for taxes. The people do not strive towards a higher principle (the existence of the city), but instead point to themselves (they want to remove all taxes, and even take all money from the authorities).
The same occurs in modern art, where the artwork becomes a point of focus, instead of leading higher up. The goal as it is, stops at the artwork. An example of this, is where the artist wants to stand out. He wants to appear smart by critiquing common sense concepts. Or create something purposely out of order, to point at himself.
The ancient cathedrals were the unity of thousands of little aspects. The beauty of the architecture, the artworks inside, the exact composition. The amount of detail in the pinnacles of our society is astounding. It is this exactly that people crave. The transcendental feeling of being lifted up to higher truths, by contemplating the visual knowledge embedded in the exact and meticulously placed stone-, wood- and glasswork. Gestallt, or emergence are fancy terms used. The sum is different than its parts.
This point of disharmony is exactly where the world dies a little. It is not hard to imagine that ugliness and death are connected. Death is ugly.
Beauty in other arts
Beauty is not only found in paintings. One can also say it is found in beautiful sentences. This beauty cannot be found in the different characters, but is found in connection of them connecting to a higher principle. Normal sentences create some meaning, but beauty transcends even this. It lifts the sentence up to true art.
Beauty is irreducible. It is a process that comes more from top down (given by God), compared to reasoned to bottom up. That’s why for example beauty takes its inspiration from nature. It is hard to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, we can “invent” beauty by chance, only to find out later these elements were already present in the patterns of nature. It is very hard to reason to reinvent nature (we’ve tried many times). The truths in nature (given from above) are only to be harvested, which is a completely different process. It is certainly no coincidence how similar pine trees and the tops of gothic cathedrals look.
Beauty is oneness. The Christian God is One. If one of the parts of a system do not participate it creates ugliness.
See you next Sunday
read part 1: