A rainbow. A painting. A gaze. Beauty takes many forms.
Beauty makes you pause. It makes you take in. It makes you notice.
All those are things that a lot of people don’t do nowadays. They don’t pause, they don’t take things in, they don’t notice. They rush, they skim, they overlook.
And frankly, many a day I become a part of this they. It’s so easy. So easy to spend a day in a habitual manner. To let it go by and see it only in a rearview mirror. So often, the day is filled with the mundanely ugly or mundanely unremarkable. That’s fine for a little bit. Every day doesn’t have to look like a Wes Anderson movie. But over time, the lack of beauty takes its toll.
Beauty makes us transcend. It takes us out of ourselves. Out of our respective internal reveries, ruts and realities of everyday’s errands. Beauty makes us stop in our tracks. I distinctly remember when I saw a double rainbow during the golden hour. I stood there, in awe. I remember watching the sun set over the ocean. I remember kneeling down to see how spiderwebs created a subtle reflective layer over the blades of grass that stretched across the whole meadow…
These are examples of natural beauty, but man-made beauty is also vital. I don’t know about you, but when I see someone else make something beautiful-a clay pot, a vivid painting, an elegant block of code-it inspires a profound yearning in my spirit. It makes me want to be better. It makes me want to learn, practice, and then also create beauty with my own hands.
Beauty is the antithesis to the dog-eat-dog world narrative. You see (or at least I do), much of the world obsesses over the transactional, the mundane, and the mediocre. It’s mostly done either to pay the bills (natural, bills = survival) or to be Successful â„¢. The issue with this sort of thinking is that it leads to the stripping of beauty from our lives and to a preponderance of mediocrity.
Creating beauty is not efficient, in any sense of the word. Yet, so many obsess about efficiency and productivity. I’m not against productivity in principle. Compared to easy distraction, it’s preferable. It means doing something, creating, producing. I’ll take that over TikTok scrolling any day of the week. But… productivity is still transactional, predictable, awe-uninspiring. Input, output. Clock in, clock out. That’s not how beauty is created. The creation of beauty is not done on an hourly rate.
In fact, the whole idea of producing things in a timely manner should be but a training ground for the creation of beauty. It is but a preparatory stage, when many see it as the main destination.
That’s not to say that I don’t get why many don’t aim for beauty and stick with productivity. Productivity is predictable, beauty is ever elusive. It’s hard to aim for, it’s fickle, and if I were into astrology, I might throw the influence of planets in that mix too. Beauty requires more of us than we might want to give, and it can be uneconomical.
There’s a merciless math to beauty. I don’t mean the golden ratio and such things. I mean the less beautiful and more brutally pragmatic math. Beauty often takes weeks, months, or years. Not hours. And while a deadline can help crystallize it, too many deadlines kill it.
As I say, I see why seeking beauty may not seem practical. And yet, I believe it’s still worth it. More than ever, perhaps. You see, beauty nurtures our soul. It reminds us that there’s more to reality than solving problems and plodding on. And that’s what makes it worth all the toil. I know I never regret making something beautiful or being part of a beautiful experience, regardless of how much time it might have taken to make the pieces fall into place just right.
And with all of the above in mind, I inevitably arrive at the practical, pragmatic part of this piece about beauty. How does one bring beauty back into a busy bustle of urban being?
I see two ways: craft and observation.
Let’s start with crafts and let’s start with a bit of contrast (and a play on words or symbols that doesn’t quite work when read out loud, so as a bit of a challenge try to just digest the symbols through your eyes, not mind-ears).
A large expanse of online culture is shaped by Influencers of one sort or another. I put the capital I there deliberately, because the I is what a lot of people care about. How do I grow my audience? How do I make more money online? How do I… I is their first Intent and I is the beginning of the end. The focus on the I is misguided. It’s a road to infinite vanity, enabled by social media. The online culture has a natural slant towards deIfication. Over time, it turns from I as in contextualized personal experIence, into the I as in authorIty, and then if uninhibited, the I of Indulgence. Internet indeed.
But why am I going on about this? To contrast it to the craft. People who make beautiful things usually don’t focus on themselves, but on the work, the idea, the craft. That’s something I’ve written about in the two pieces on excellence. If one focuses on crafting ideas carefully and caringly, then beauty is much more likely to emerge. Naturally, this means that the craftsman has to love the craft. Without that, there isn’t enough patience to go past the point of good enough, which usually means some form of mediocrity that is not yet beautiful, merely functional.
The first way to experience more beauty is to dive deep into a craft of choice. The second way is perhaps more easily trodden. Still, so many (including myself) often choose to take a different route because it’ll get us from A to B 5 minutes faster. It’s the way of observation.
There’s beauty present in our lives every single day, if we care to notice it, and if we don’t have a lot of preconceived notions about what beauty should be. As I said in the beginning, beauty is many form. It’s the beauty of the golden sunlight on ripe wheat fields swaying in gentle wind. But it’s also the beauty of a broken mirror that reflects the moon just right as you walk around the corner. The former is easier to classify as beauty. The latter, less so. It’s less obvious. It requires paying attention to one’s surroundings and not the ever-present, observation-destroying screen of the phone. Yet both of these moments can be seen as beautiful, as a contextually perfect alignment of factors that enriches our experience in a unique and fleeting manner.
We can also seek beauty in a more direct manner by experiencing art. True art facilitates transcendence. To give an example, I find that art exhibitions help me notice beauty. If I spend half an hour staring at paintings, I find myself in full on observation mode. I notice details. I pause. I spend enough time to actually see the painting as a whole, not just recognize the objects, people, and possible actions in a reductive manner. I also feel similarly after meditating for half an hour or longer. That acute level of observation lets the beauty stand out. Each stimulus is more deeply seen, heard, felt, and thus given a chance to imprint on my mind, instead of being simply filed away in the dusty corners of my mind or cataloged for practical purposes.
And now we come to the close. I wrote this for myself as much as for you, as a reminder to not get stuck in that A-to-B absent mode of being. I wrote this to not let the next beautiful moment pass me by, unnoticed. I wrote this to transcend the world of productivity, practicality, and predictability, if only for a moment.