Category Archives: Social life

On Recognizing Beauty

Beauty might be ‘in the eye of the beholder’, but there just might be some universally accepted truths about things and human acts of beauty.

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Yet, what is beauty exactly? What makes something beautiful? Is beauty synonymous with pageantry or facial symmetry? Or does recognizing beauty transcend the visual and involve the full immersion of the senses? Is beauty involved in the imbibing of birdsong and its subtle shifts in volume, tone, and timbre? Is beauty present the moment we perceive the unfolding, animate brushing of light across a textured, color-laden landscape?–is not this animate property of place what inspired the ever-celebrated impressionist painters?

For me, beauty is something, anything that sustains or enhances human and our non-human brethren’s well-being and vitality. Beauty consists of agentic participation in Paul Shepard’s given world–the world that is, rather than the world as human construction.

For me, things and acts of beauty, though blessedly varied, share a few common properties:
they’re valued intrinsically. Not for their exchange value or their promise of enhanced appearances or social status, but for their own sake;
they are best experienced in direct, unmediated fashion; and
they’re perpetually gratifying, allowing for deeper, more nuanced savorings each time they’re experienced.

If we sense that these properties are true or as David Abram would assert, as making sense–as perceived by our animal senses–it must mean that face-to-face conversation is more beautiful than texting. And that gifting a meal to a suffering neighbor is more beautiful than donating money to Amnesty International. That harvesting crops from a community garden is more beautiful than selecting something from a supermarket shelf.

Recognizing beauty as intrinsically valuable, always gratifying, and best experienced directly, I can begin to know beauty when I see, smell, touch, taste, and hear it. I can then cherish those things I discern as beautiful and celebrate their existence. All of this would be for naught, however, if I didn’t get to share moments and acts of beauty with others.  Will you join me in sharing what you sense is beautiful?

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