Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Of Beauty

Pussy Willows
"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing".
- John Keats

But is it really? After all, beauty is about as fleeting as could be. If the world's virtues could be categorized based on their evaporation rate - beauty would rank high up there with the top notes. The most beautiful things are momentary, not eternal: a perfect snowflake on a child's palm rapidly melting away only to become a shapeless wetness. Vibrant colours fading in the light; flowers wilting and losing their seductive appearance and alluring scent. And no matter how hard the beauty industry will try to sell you creams, potions and plastic surgeries - youth does not last forever, which is precisely why it holds so much more esteem than it deserves.

But what is beauty? And why is it so important to us? I won't attempt to do better what generations of philosophers, artists and aesthetics thinkers have been dedicating their life for. Beauty has been better defined, described and looked at from every possible direction before I even came to be. The desire for proximity to beautiful object, people or animals, as well as mating with them could be a survival mechanism, or a strange human desire for the average. Beauty could also be a mathematical principle by which the universe is built and artists and architects try to mimic.

Beauty could be any number of things, but what's important to me personally is how beauty affects me, and if there is any significance to it beyond the superficial pleasure it brings to those in proximity to it (it's interesting to note that beautiful people, while perhaps getting more attention and opportunities in life, are not directly enjoying their own "beauty" per se - unless they are obsessive mirror-gazers).

"If you have never seen beauty in a moment of suffering, you have never seen beauty at all. If you have never seen joy in a beautiful face, you have never seen joy at all".
- Friedrich Schiller

While I'm not so certain that happiness is better reflected in a beautiful face (how superficial of Schiller!) - I do strongly feel that beauty has the power to soothe the soul, and heal the body from ailments. Music therapy or art therapy are not just made-up by academics, but have been used for eons by shamans, artists and tortured-souls alike (sometimes these three being one and the same). Music resonates with the soul's vibrations and helps to shake off disharmonious and imbalanced relationships, and replace them with harmony and well-being. In that regard, even if a thing of beauty passes us by - it's effects go beyond it's own life, or as Keats put it: "A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing"

But we must differentiate between pleasure and beauty. For pleasure is greedy and short-lived; while true beauty surpasses it's own life and exists beyond its sensory experience.
"The roses of pleasure seldom last long enough to adorn the brow of him who plucks them; for they are the only roses which do not retain their sweetness after they have lost their beauty." (Hannah More, Essays on Various Subjects, On Dissipation). 

Interestingly, the origin of word for beauty in Koine Greek is the word which means "hour": ὡραῖος, hōraios - is ὥρα, hōra. In other words: a thing of beauty is "of it's time". It does not pretend to be older or younger - but is in the moment. Which brings me to another thought: the true virtue of beauty lays not in youth; but in the whole cycle of life. And once you see the snowflake and the cold wetness as two sides of the same coin - you realize that beauty is life, and death, and it is everywhere. 

As an artist that creates in the fleeting realm of scent*, I ask myself if what I do accounts for anything, or does it really have any impact of importance on making the world (even slightly) better? The older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more I realize that things are best viewed simply for what they are. The answers lay right in front of us, and inside our subjective yet very truthful experience. All we need is to be mindful and take notice. Or as Confucius says: "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it".

* An art form that is somewhat endangered by various factors which I prefer to not think about too much ever so often - IFRA regulations, the diminishing supplies of natural raw materials, and the growing number of scent-free workplaces.

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