I’ve told my students that art is essay in love – in the sense that we give part of ourselves for the gratuitous being of some other thing.
But here, in Marcus Aurelius Meditations, we might see art as an essay in love in another sense: art is an essay in love in that it helps us see nature more clearly, and in knowing something (particularly people), more truthfully, can help us respond more truthfully (and in this case of people, this means to respond in love).
To use Aurelius’ example, we ought to see in the elderly a comeliness, a maturity, perhaps a regal wisdom — but often, we don’t (especially in today’s culture. Many times, it takes something like the glow of Rembrandt’s Jeremiah (or even the harsh, stalwart traditionalism of Walt in Gran Torino, or (in the negative) the mad King Lear) to sensitize our faculties to the virtues of the elderly.
Or to use another of Aurelius’ examples, we ought to view youthful beauty chastely. But if we don’t value age in modern culture, we certainly don’t value chastity. But art can help us know understand how love and chastity are interdependent: a film like Once, for example, helps us to see our skewed own view of things, the view that tells us attraction and affection must always lead to the bedroom. The film portrays a more appropriate response to affection and attraction is not taking, but giving, is selfless grace — the kind that gives the other what is really needed — in the case of Once, the freedom to fix broken relationships, and or a piano for a pianist without one.
Art is truly beautiful insofar as it refocuses us on what is really right with the world; art is falsely beautiful insofar as it perverts our view of what is really right with the world.
So just as Beauty ultimately cannot be separated from the Good and the True, so too Art cannot ultimately be separated from Morality and Knowledge.