Great philosophers and the Church have always taught that there are three objective elements of beauty, and that—therefore—beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Those three elements are:
- Wholeness – There’s nothing missing and nothing extra. It has just what it needs.
- Harmony – The relationship of the parts is one of complementarity.
- Radiance – The meaning of the work radiates with universal truth.
When it comes to wholeness, for example, something missing in a movie could be subplots, or antagonists, or conflict. In a work of art like music, paintings, or poems, there are parts. If the work is missing a part it is not beautiful.
An example of something that lacks harmony could be a choir with a great alto singer who drowns out the voices of the other singers.
When asked the meaning of one of her stories, Flannery O’Connor said if she could tell you in one sentence she wouldn’t have written the story. That inexplicable meaning of a work of art that transcends explanation is its radiance.
St. Thomas Aquinas called beauty one of the “transcendentals”—along with truth and goodness—which reflect the face of God himself. Therefore beauty is not subjective. It is objective. It’s either present in an object or not.
However, we may be obtuse to beauty or ignorant of it. Ignorance stands in the way of us perceiving beauty. Learning more about an artform can help us to understand its beauty and to receive God’s grace through it.
St. John Paul II said God’s continuing revelation comes to us through artists who are trying to communicate beauty through the world, so it behooves us to learn more about the beauty artists strive to communicate.
Meet Barbara Nicolosi
Barbara Nicolosi is the Founder and Chair Emeritus of Act One, Inc. – a nonprofit program to train and mentor Christians for careers as Hollywood writers and executives – as well as an Associate Professor at Azusa Pacific University and a member of the Writers Guild of America-West.
She has written screenplays for production companies in and beyond Hollywood and her most recent book, Notes to Screenwriters, was published in January 2015.