Isn’t it funny how the things that are the most valuable to us can sometimes be the hardest to define. I am passionate about beauty: creating beautiful things, spaces and texts, opening my senses to experiencing beauty and calling it forth in people. However, the more I stir this passion the more acutely aware I become of the mystery that it presents. Ovid described beauty as a fragile gift and the first time I read this I was sure he was referring to beauty in the classic superficial sense, as something that fades all too quickly. However, the more I think about it the more I start to see other possibilities that may lie behind this simple statement.
Beauty is often associated with power, grace and privilege – as a quality that sets people or things apart. We find ourselves strapped into an auto piloted pendulum swing between “skin-deep” beauty and inner (think real) beauty with little space for considering broader definitions of this fundamental human quality. Dante Alighieri said that beauty awakens the soul to act, and with this formulation I find myself set on an altogether new course in terms of how I make sense of beauty and what it means to individuals and society at large.
Beauty lies in individuals discovering the qualities and purposes within them, that awaken their souls to act, to live, to be who only they can be. When I think of beauty in these terms and turn back to what Ovid had to say it seems sadly prophetic of a society in which little value is attached to the fragile, yet potentially powerful, gifts we all carry in us.
People may consider the pursuit of this kind of beauty crazy, because as George William Russell put it, “our hearts were drunk with a beauty our eyes could never see,” and thus the soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). But in the words of Victor Hugo, to love beauty is to see light and, what’s more, learning to see the beauty in ourselves and others is bound to multiply our joy: