Do you ever wonder why humans need beauty?
“The acute experience of great beauty readily evokes a nameless yearning for something more than earth can offer. Elegant splendor reawakens our spirit’s aching need for the infinite, a hunger for more than matter can provide.” – Thomas Dubay
We’ve been in self-quarantine / lockdown for over a month. Each day I’m asking myself questions about what I’m learning. I’m looking for lessons, both big and small. Some days, I come up short and can’t seem to find the lesson.
This morning I was reflecting on some interesting aspects of my life. There are themes that seem to rise to the surface now and then. One of those themes is beauty.
The further down the path of life I wander, the more important beauty and wonder become. The more of the hurt and pain I see and experience in the world, the more I find myself searching for that which is beautiful. Beauty is a salve for the human soul.
When I was younger, I was an artist of sorts. From an early age, I had a keen interest in music and visual art. I started drawing and painting at a very young age, I got my first drum set at 3 or 4 years old and my first tape recorder when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. I would listen to the radio and record my favorite songs. It wouldn’t be long (7th grade) before I would get my first turntables and mixer. My first DJ gig was at the end of 7th grade – a birthday party for a classmate. I have tinkered with various instruments my entire life. As an introvert and only child, I would sit in my room for hours drawing and building things both real and imagined.
I was a poor student in school, but I always excelled in art and writing. In fact, I was nearly headed to art school for college. I had my eyes set on Parson’s School of Design or Rhode Island School of Design. I had a great art instructor at my boarding school in Connecticut. Over 4 years, she showed me different ways to see the world. However, the rigid demands of creating a portfolio in Advanced Placement art class to submit to colleges proved to be too rigid. Add on top of that a growing interest in social activities and sports – and I walked away from ‘art school’ but not art or beauty.
Some of my fondest memories; are of exploring the woods around Avon Old Farms School (CT), wandering down to Bondi Beach (outside Sydney) to watch the surf, sitting on the top of a truck staring at the expanse of sky with friends at midnight in the middle of the Australian outback, relaxing on a balcony in Costa Rica with my wife watching birds circling in flight over the ocean and beholding a Texas sunset in the country with my family. These are just a few memories off the top of my mind. I have hundreds more.
Some of my best friends are extraordinary artists. To be able to see and hear the beautiful artifacts that emerge from them is a privilege and joy of the highest order.
A shift occurred
When I reflect back to why I loved beauty and art when I was younger vs. today, I learn that a major shift has taken place. When I was younger, I loved beauty and art mainly because it was an escape from reality. I wanted and needed to find a way out of the chaos and brokenness of my life. Beauty and art brought a kind of order and control. As I’ve gotten older and matured, I have learned that beauty is rooted in ultimate reality and an artist’s personality is the prism through which we see that reality. It is colored and shaped by the artist’s perceptions and expression outward.
So, why do we need beauty?
I have concluded that beauty points to an ultimate reality that remains thinly veiled in this life. From a Christian understanding, we live in a broken world that is slavishly chained to time. Everything, and I mean everything we see, hear and create will eventually decay or be destroyed. On the surface, this is kind of sad. But, if we consider ‘why’ beauty exists in the first place and ‘why’ we humans seem to need beauty – we begin to understand that the beauty we enjoy points to something else.
Beauty points to an ultimate reality and truth rooted in God’s character and expressed through his created order. Before the ‘fall’ of man into brokenness, God called His creation ‘good’. Since the fall, man has attempted to get back to that original state of goodness. Because we are all created in the image of God (Imago DeÍ), humans, like prisms reflect, refract and shape expressions of our creator’s beauty and goodness.
When we experience or express something beautiful, we’re getting a glimpse of an ultimate reality that is purely beautiful. We are seeing but shadows of that original ‘goodness’ cast onto the paths of this short life. When you see or hear something astoundingly beautiful, know that the reason why you love it and want it to last forever is because, beauty, goodness and truth are eternal. In this life, we merely perceive and enjoy dim glimpses of what was originally intended and what ultimately will come.
And so, if the world is slavish, harsh and cold, beauty is the warm inviting fire emanating a kindly light. We need beauty because, whether you believe it or not, beauty is a way that a good God reminds us that he love’s us.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart …” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
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