Beauty and the Soul

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Beauty. Aesthetics. Do people need beauty in their lives? What is it in us that makes us yearn for certain colors, textures, and visuals? Why do people care so much about how their homes look to others? Is it vanity? For many, yes, it is tied to pride and the appearance of success. But for all? I think not. I think women especially have an innate yearning for beautiful objects, pictures, and textiles. How important is it that people be given freedom to explore this desire? Should it be suppressed for imposed austerity, either by their partners, religious organizations or frugality? Is it holy or more spiritual to live an austere lifestyle?

About 15 years ago I read an article on extravagance by a Christian woman (sadly, the article disappeared about 8 years ago and I did not keep a hard copy of it). It was completely life changing for me. She explained about the innate beauty of the Creator, of His vast palette of colors when painting the landscape and its inhabitants. Was it really necessary that flora and fauna be showy and sometimes even gaudy-looking? Does the Earth really need hundreds of thousands of different species of flowers or butterflies? Of course, all of these questions are explained away by evolutionists as necessary for mating, reproduction, camouflage, and the very survival of the species. I, however, do believe in intelligent design, and that the designer is a Master Artist Extraordinaire.

Whether you believe it all happened accidentally or was designed by the hand of a Creator, I think we can all agree that nature is abundantly extravagant in its beauty.

In Susan Sontag on Beauty and Gender, Jeremy Mann refers to Susan Sontag’s article in Vogue ca. 1960’s on this very subject. He shares a passage from Sontag’s article that expresses concern about why women can be beautiful but men must be referred to as handsome. Why the gender differences when viewing and expressing beauty? Jeremy Mann then pauses a moment to express what became a realization of truth to me as well regarding beauty and Christianity:

Before acknowledging the insight of this passage, I pause to point out that esteem for beauty is deeply Christian, and that all the countries that Sontag considers became such notable cultivators and curators of beauty in large part because of their Christianity.

When we think of the Christian church many of us think of monks and nuns and their extremely austere lifestyle. We think of Puritans and Orthodox Jews, even the Amish where physical representations of nature are forbidden as idols of worship. Why would beauty or the appreciation of extravagant beauty be forbidden? Is appreciation and love of beauty synonymous with idolatry?

Does a lack of beauty in a home or work place create an atmosphere of greater productivity or effectiveness? Does a lack of beauty in a place of worship create a more holy setting for meeting with God and others? Does a lack of beauty in a home encourage thrift and practical living? Does a lack of beauty edify and inspire?

What if nature was all grey and brown? What if? What if all the trees, flowers, and animals were in the shapes of spheres, or squares, or rectangles with no variation? What if the sky was always grey? What if there were no blue, green, red, purple, pink, yellow, cyan, violet, fuchsia, teal, olive flowers or butterflies or birds? We all know that color is all about pigment and light. But why is white light made up of all of the colors of the rainbow? Why? Do we really need so many color variations?

As an experiment, compare the two photos. How do they make you feel? Are they equally beautiful? Do they feed your soul?

Colorful fall scene

Colorful fall scene

Fall scene in greyscale

Fall scene in greyscale

I truly believe human beings need beauty. While many try to dismiss this need (for whatever reason), I believe there is a deep desire, a need to feed the soul beauty. Yes, while I am mostly referring to visual beauty, there is also beauty of thought as represented in lovely poetry or prose, beauty in sharing and giving to others, beauty in spirit and character, especially the beauty of mercy and love. What would happen if extravagant art prints were hung on the walls of prisons? What if poetry was read each morning over the loud speakers? What would happen if every person in public housing planted flowers in front of their homes? No, I’m not suggesting an expensive government programs. But what if?

I believe the human soul requires beauty to flourish. People can survive without beauty but to thrive, flourish, and progress culturally, spiritually, and socially beauty is vital.

Chapman Falls, Devil's Hopyard State Park, East Haddam, Connecticut

Chapman Falls, Devil’s Hopyard State Park, East Haddam, Connecticut

Here are some interesting links on beauty and extravagance:

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2 responses »

  1. OH I could not agree more. The entire time I lived in NYC, our apartment never felt like me. It didn’t look like me. Marc had just renovated it when I met him — blue industrial carpet, white walls, white cafe curtains, no style at all. No color (except blue), no softness, no texture, no pleasure. I never felt like it was my home. Ever. And now my home reflects me, with textures and deep colors and plants and soft lamps and books. And I find it deeply beautiful.

    I think we have an innate need for beauty — created in us, I can go with that — and without it we wither. And without it, some of us do perish.
    xo

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    • I started writing about the need for beauty in women, but I decided that it was equally necessary for men and women. I think most men just don’t recognize it. They reap the benefits secondhand. Your experience of completely designing a living space just for you is such a gift. I may write more about this need for beauty and the effects of poverty and deprivation in the near future. No matter how poor I was I always grew flowers at the least. But some people cannot seem to find the strength to do even that when burdened with life.

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