Monday, March 5, 2012

On the Creation of Beauty

A few years back I heard of a study done in South Africa, although the exact details are a bit vague and I’ve not been able to find any references to this on the net (well, not on the first page of Google’s search results ) the broad idea was this :  Three areas with similar demographics were chosen in order to study the possible roots of crime; let’s call them Area A, B and C.  For the duration of the study in area A free medical services were provided, in area B security measures were enhanced and the only thing done in area C was to clean up and beautify the area.  The researchers were very surprised to find that crime rates dropped significantly in area C.  If you have met Maslow you’ll notice that this topples his triangle.  It would seem that no matter where on Maslow’s triangle we are, we humans react positively to a beautiful environment.  (Aesthetically pleasing Maslow says, but I really don’t like that word, it feels cold and clinical whereas beauty is warm and soft.)

My own energy levels lower as my immediate environment deteriorates and I feel happier – more alive, as my immediate environment becomes more beautiful. I love beautiful things and beautiful people, and people who create beauty.  In my fourty five years living on this beautiful planet of ours, I have fallen in love more times than I can recall.  There were Vincent, Salvador and Richard (van Gogh, Dali and Lovelace) - they were, perhaps, a bit old for me.  David with his golden voice was a bit closer to my own age (Bowie) but he lived quite far from me.  Honestly, I doubt he knew I even existed.  Even sadder are the great loves of mine, whose names I never knew, their work strewn all over Europe in chapels and monasteries. 

Photo by Lawrence Boatwright
One of them I still recall quite vividly – well, not quite him (or her) – but his work.  It was a cold autumn day – crisp and smelling of hearth fires, as Europe tend to do in winter.  I walked into this chapel, looked to my left and literally stopped breathing.  A bowl of simple white flowers was framed in ornate gold, a single petal dropping, suspended eternally in a perfect moment where light floods the translucent curve showing the delicate pattern of lace-like veins – captured exquisitely by an unknown artist, left there for me – and thousands of others to see.
An artist friend of mine once told me that the moment she finished a painting, she’s lost all emotional connection to her work – the process of creation over, the moment of perfection achieved, savoured and then released - searching for the next great inspiration, before her brushes are even dry.  Perhaps this is why the unknown artist of the white flowers could just leave the canvas without a signature – once the last stroke caressed the canvas and gave the flower life, he was done, and moved on.

I am so blessed to be able to count among my friends a large number of bona fida artist; photographers, glass blowers, singers, actors, computer programmers, movie makers, beauticians, sculptors, writers, wood wizards and bakers of magic bread.  And these are just the ones who have their art as their trade – there are others who go to their offices or do the mom thing and then, once home, create gorgeous dishes from whatever can be found in the pantry, create quiet dream spaces in their gardens or in the wee hours of the night sew a few pieces of fabric together to fashion a creation to make her daughter feel like a princess or pour over shards of glass and turn it into panels of glorious coloured light.

In imitation of the Wood Wizard
We all have that inherit need to create programmed into our DNA.  We are after all – according to most religious myths – created in the images of our gods and in almost all our collective stories we meet our creator in the act of creating.   As I write these words my atheist-friends spring to mind – each and every one, whether they teach, or fly, or move millions for a living – are great artists themselves.  Funny how our little big world is made up of this spectacular collection of imperfect perfect specimens, each a unique work of art in themselves.  And how we create!

Have you looked outside your window recently?  Just look at everything we humans have made – not all of it beauty, but we created almost everything you see.  And we all love different things, beauty – as the old cliché goes, is in the eye of the beholder.  Look at everything, and everything you see, is beautiful - you just need to see it in the right light.  Now look at what you made, the space around you, the curtains you chose, the colour of the wall, how you placed your desk or chair to make the light look just right.  A small frame or a plant – placed with care, exactly there.  Why?  ‘Cos YOU are an artist my friend.

May you walk in beauty.