“I’m soooo bored!” my ten-year-old son whispered to me, as he fanned himself impatiently with his piano music. Spending a beautiful fall afternoon listening to a piano teacher work with elementary level students probably wasn’t the most thrilling use of a young boy’s time. So why were we here? Why did I insist that my son sit and listen to other students, as well as work with the guest teacher himself? Why bother with the discipline and, yes, sometimes tedious work of learning how to play the piano?
As classically trained professional musicians, my husband and I have had ample opportunity to experience the fruits of our labors. The euphoria of performing a great orchestral work–of exposing all of your emotions; all of your blood, sweat, and tears; your past; your future; and everything that lives inside of you that can never be quite fully expressed this side of heaven–this expression, this vulnerable revelation is what helps us to be more fully human. As St. John Paul II says in his Letter to Artists, artistic creativity allows us to shape the “wondrous ‘material’ of [our] own humanity.” (LA 1)
True, not everyone is called to be a professional musician, painter, or playwright. But we are all called to seek and create beauty in our lives. We are all called to “mirror the image of God as Creator.” (LA 1) “All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” (LA 2)
Life is filled with drudgery at times. Whether it’s a musician slogging through scales and technical exercises in the practice room, someone in the work force completing dreaded paperwork, or a stay-at-home mom washing up another sink full of dishes, Polish poet Cyprian Norwid reminds us that “‘beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.’” (LA 3)
Raising an audience to their feet after a Mahler Symphony, finally seeing the completion of a magnificent work of architecture, or having a clean kitchen table for making playdough snowmen with a happy toddler–these are the moments of beauty in our life that we seek. These are the moments that remind us why work is good. These are the moments that remind us of the value of sacrifice and self-donation and bring meaning to the mystery behind the man hanging on the Cross.
“Every genuine art form…is a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.” (LA 6) and “Even when [artists] explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.” (LA 10)
The beauty of art can unite us like nothing else. It gives us a safe place to express our emotions, an arena for exploring what makes us who we are, and a medium for inspiring wonder at the world around us, rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation and the miraculous capabilities of God the Creator.
We are all artists with a “‘noble ministry’ [in which our] works reflect in some way the infinite beauty of God and raise people’s minds to him.” (LA 11) Whether that be through what we write, the music we perform, the photos we take, or our efforts to craft our family with love, we are all called to incorporate beauty–that which reflects the Truth for which we all yearn.
“This world…in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair.” (LA 11) Beauty gives us enthusiasm for life. “Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that ‘beauty will save the world.’” (LA 16)
So why did I bring my son to a piano masterclass on that gorgeous fall afternoon? Because when it was his turn to have a lesson with the guest teacher, every technique correction brought him closer to the beauty of the piece. And as he released the last chord perfectly, and its harmonies resonated off of the room’s stained glass windows, he smiled. He knew. Something inside of him was satisfied. And he was one step closer to saving the world.