Monday 18 July 2016

The Usefulness of Beauty

As the the experience of my contemplative workshop percolates through my veins, I’m focusing today on something that a workshop participant said casually, almost dismissively, when she looked at the image of a beautiful flower: “Oh, that’s just a tourist shot.” That line has stayed with me, mostly because it annoyed me. The idea that beauty can be discounted as something you merely glance at while passing through on your way to other things is worrisome.

And so today, I want to briefly explore the usefulness of beauty. And, yes, I know that our concepts of beauty are culturally determined and rely on individual life experiences. Yes, yes to that. But the issue here is the usefulness of beauty.

When thinking about beauty, I consulted the American poet Mary Oliver, something I’ve been doing more frequently of late. This quotation leapt out at me this morning:

“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

For me, those words embody the usefulness of beauty. When I see something beautiful, it sends a sweet ping of empathy through my heart and delights me. It needs no further utility. My perception of it is “built entirely out of attentiveness.” When we are attentive to beauty, we begin seeing it everywhere.

Photography – both my own and that of others – is expanding my experience of beauty. In some ways, it’s a matter of training the eyes to see that which they used to pass over. Being surprised by beauty in unexpected places is a joyous experience.

In the last few days, I’ve recorded about two hundred images. When I looked at them on my computer monitor last night, there was beauty at every turn.

The lily at the top of this posting is a favourite. Thank you to Dave and Donna of Frankford for letting me record the photo on Saturday at their Frankford home.

Similarly, these geese fill me with delight. I saw them in Prince Edward County yesterday on my way home from Picton. They were in a pond by the highway, all staring into the distance. Beauty, pure beauty:

This sculpture outside the Crystal Palace on the Prince Edward County Fair Grounds in Picton reaches upward beautifully:

The roof of the Old Boys’ Memorial Entrance to the Prince Edward County Fair Grounds in Picton has its own elegance and beauty:

This red pond lily in our backyard, lovingly cared for by Bill, shares its beauty only briefly before closing up again:

This skeletal tree in the middle of the Trent River north of Frankford has a wild, unpredictable beauty:

Finally, this rusted equipment north of Lock #6 on the Trent-Severn Waterway at Frankford is not everyone’s vision of beauty, but I love it:

Beautiful objects, beautiful images. For me, they all bring that “sweet, empathic ping” that Mary Oliver wrote about. Useful? Absolutely!

Thank you for reading my posting.

Until next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment