Monday, February 28, 2005

Random Thoughts on Music, Beauty, and Creation

The best proof that there is a Creator and that there is purpose in this world, in my estimation, is the truth of beauty. I was pondering this as I sat down to play the piano a bit yesterday. There is no reason that I should appreciate the interplay of certain frequencies of vibrations passing through the air, and yet the catharsis and emotions I experience as I produce those various vibrations is certainly real and certainly appreciated. It is beautiful. And there is no reason for it -- and that makes it even better. It brings pleasure of a higher sort.

So I got to thinking. There is a lot of other music that can also bring pleasure which I would not necessary call 'beautiful' in the same way I would label, say, choral music beautiful. Much popular music can bring a pleasureable experience, but where is the difference between it and the transcendent nature of human voices joining together in harmony? There must be a difference -- the two listening experiences are hardly comparable.

The answer, I think, lies in the appeal of each, and in the nature of humankind as between God and beast. Humans aspire to the Good. In Christianity, we are made in God's image. But we are also fallen creatures of the earth, and have instincts and desires akin to the animals and less akin to our Creator. We are 'between,' just as this world is something between the absolute joy of the transcendent and the sheer evil of what in Christianity would be termed hell. This is not to say that our baser instincts and desires are necesarily bad -- many are just good in a lesser way than the highest goods, and best when indulged in moderation. For example, the survival instinct and survival itself is a good thing, but it is a lesser good than, say, liberty, and thus arises the situation where someone sacrifices his life to preserve liberty. Likewise, sex is good. But so is beauty. The former relates to survival and our animal nature (here I mean sex in its most basic form -- it obviously can become something much higher) and the latter is an 'unnecessary' attribute. Beauty in its purest form is the divine. Beauty in this world is found in the measure that something (music, a sunset, a beautiful person) reflects that divine, perfect beauty. The interplay between the base and the higher is complex, as we desire both.

Music, too, is beautiful and can be pleasureable in one of two ways -- in its appeal to our more base side (sex) and its appeal to that which mirrors the divine (beauty). I think it safe to say that a popular song, say one of the hiphop variety, with suggestive lyrics, very base-intensive thumping rhythm, and suggestive dancing appeals to the base. A Bach invention doesn't. A Beethoven Sonata certainly appeals to beauty and the divine, but also may evoke emotions relating to the more basic side as well. Most things worth appreciating have a mixture of both aspects.

So too do human relationships. We seek the beauty of the divine in the relationships we form. The highest type of relationship may be the intimate one between man and woman, and this too can come to reflect divine beauty. A bad relationship, following this logic, would be the relationship driven solely by the base and not by the desire to find the beauty of the transcendent.

All of this is also proof that there is something higher -- why else would we appreciate music at all? Why would we appreciate the beautiful artistic design of a sunset? Why would we ever believe that sex and relationships could become something more valuable than the act of procreation and physical pleasure? The fact that we can discern a difference between the beauty of the divine and the lesser goods of this earth points to the reality of the transcendent. And that is a comforting thought to me.

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