Tuesday, August 07, 2007


A friend posed the question - what I get from interpreting beauty creatively? That’s a question I ask myself often. Beauty is one of those things that seems to cause all sorts of issues. It has been assaulted and declared dead over and over again by the art world (oh, mavens of the value of beauty). What is it in the first place? It seems to be a shifting and changing concept that relies on context for most people’s experiences. The notion of what is beautiful appears to be limited and arbitrary all too often. Cultures dictate what is supposed to be beautiful – young thin women get a yes while old wrinkled women get a no. A flying hawk – yes. A hawk squashed on the road – no. But these cultural dictates also shift and change from culture to culture and through time.

Beauty gives pleasure. It satisfies and pleases the mind. Satisfaction, pleasure, peace of mind: Isn’t that what everyone wants? If there is such a limited notion of what constitutes beauty then the mind is very limited in what will satisfy it. Most of one’s time is then caught up in not being satisfied. Therefore most of the time beauty is being sought out - this is not a beautiful thing or a beautiful experience so I’ve got to go find something else that is – something else that will satisfy me. Time and effort are spent trying to preserve and hold on to that beauty when it’s found. But the beautiful woman always grows old. A car hits the soaring hawk. That beautiful thing or experience will always change. Nothing stays the same. So the search continues.

But if the concept of beauty expands, then the searching can slow down and even stop. The mind can be satisfied with what it has, the eyes with what it sees. Why should there be such a separation of beauty with the changing of states? Why can’t the old woman be just as beautiful as the young girl? Really not much has changed: the old woman is the young girl. The same applies with the thing that has died.

While I was in New Zealand a friend took me with him to work. He was monitoring the penguin burrows. He would pull out baby penguins to show them to me. They were very cute yet I never photographed them. Instead, I was captivated by the cow. It had plummeted off the cliff above some time before my arrival. Its body began to assume the contours of the rocks on which it died. The brown and white markings of its fur seemed to echo its new rock contours. It lay there with its head facing the ocean with a certain serenity. I found it quite beautiful. My friend was irritated with me. He showed me what was supposed to be beautiful. And it was. To him that was what was worthy of attention. But the cow had a beauty just the same. There is a peace and satisfaction in not being repelled by what is not supposed to be beautiful, to see the beauty in what is not supposed to be beautiful.

Beauty can be found in anything by anyone. To see it one just has to do away with dichotomies and preconceived notions of what is supposed to be beautiful and what is not. This is one of the things that scouring the riverbanks with a camera has shown me. It was a strange and liberating day when I discovered that trash can be stunningly beautiful.