Art and Music
The study of music seeks to cultivate the same power of attention and understanding with the sense of hearing as observation does with the sense of sight. In this way, the qualities and habits needed to read beyond the surface level of a story, to notice mathematical patterns in nature, to distinguish one bird from another, to hear parts of a harmony in music, or to recognize how shadows are effected in a painting by lines, geometrical shapes, and gradations of color are not unlike the qualities needed to recognize the presence of God which, like light, always invisibly surrounds us. Approached in this way, the study of music and art is a kind of preparation for contemplative prayer or adoration, and these in turn, prepare the student to study the world and to live in it in a fully human way.
Art study in both senses should foster an appreciation of beauty, not merely as a subjective preference, as pretty or pleasant, but as an objective feature of reality that expresses the deep truth of what things are.
Students should understand this objective beauty as desirable for its own sake. They should be able to identify its features and think about its effect on the soul, for example, why it is desirable or how it can be profound. Students should be able to explain this with respect to certain works of art (e.g. by being able to say why Cezanne’s apples are important).
Art studied in both senses should therefore be understood not as amusement nor as individualistic creativity, but as aiming for a real, objective beauty. It is, though, appropriate to study how changed understandings of what art is (away from this notion) are reflected in works of art themselves and reveal differing cultural attitudes about the nature of the human person and the objectivity of truth, goodness, and beauty.
The study of art should therefore complement the study of history and be a part of it. It should consider how the art of a culture provides that culture’s answers to the deep human questions and how changes in art reflect changed understandings (e.g., by appreciating the differences between Byzantine iconography and the paintings of Giotto).
The study of art and the practice of rendering should be used to train children how to attend closely to detail, to study shape and proportion, in short, how to see both art itself and the objects depicted by it. The study of art is also training in the art of attention and adoration.
The study of music should be to the sense of hearing what the study of art is to the sense of sight. It should cultivate the power of that form of attention known as listening.
The study of music should complement the study of history, e.g., in the movement from Gregorian chant to polyphony. Children should learn the ‘aesthetics of number’ and learn to ‘hear number’ through learning harmony and measure. Students should learn and experience how music expresses the mystery of God, and the spirit of adoration should be cultivated through acquaintance with the tradition of sacred music, chants and hymnody. Students should be able to sing the Salve Regina, the Regina Caeli, and other prayers that are appropriate to different liturgical seasons. Students should learn the language of music, both in terms of musical notation and the ability of different instruments and notes to ‘tell stories’. If possible, students should participate in a schola cantorum and, if possible, learn to play an instrument in order to internalize music, appreciate its beauty, and foster creativity and discipline.