Thursday, October 08, 2009

A passion for beauty

Kalachakra sand mandala

Just recently I began reading the daybook Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. In today's reading she writes about having a passion for beauty, for desiring beautiful things: artwork, music, poetry, rich fabric, glassware, color, flowers, jewelry--anything that enriches and enhances our lives with joy.

Lately I have come to the conclusion that whatever art or beauty I participate in, I want it to be practical. I don't want to produce a painting or sculpture or piece of handmade jewelry or even a book that needs to be preserved. I would rather it have some practical use, like cooking a delicious meal or planting a garden or singing my own interpretation of a song for an audience or writing a sermon or poem to be spoken aloud. This world already has too many things, too much waste. I don't want to add to it.

Now that may sound harsh to some, that art cannot continue to be frivolous or art for its own sake. But I think this points to our fear, our desire to hold onto beauty because one day it will fade or change. Witness the enormous digital camera enterprise, yet our reluctance to print these pictures. We want to preserve the moment, to not let it go, yet we do not take the time to make something permanent of that moment. Or we are obsessed with doing so, as seen in the scrapbooking movement. I also think this may be the source of our materialism and our infatuation with novelty, to be able to possess the beautiful thing, whatever it is, that we may hold a piece of beauty and temporarily satisfy our passion for it.

For me, the purpose of creativity is not to produce a 'thing' to be preserved but to live a life that is a work of art, a thing of beauty in and of itself. I want to enjoy beauty but to then let it go. I think of Buddhist monks who, in the attitude of prayer, painstakingly create a beautiful mandala out of colored sand but then sweep it away in the same attitude.

We are only passing through. The key is to appreciate beauty whenever we witness it and to give thanks to the mystery that brought it into being.

"Nothing gold can stay." --Robert Frost


Andy said...

I appreciate your sentiment and I know that you will bring beauty into the world wherever you are.
I do have a question, though...
Where would we be as a species if we did not have the timeless, works of Michaelangelo, Mozart or Shakespeare? Don't we need to preserve art (some art, anyway) to inspire and elevate ourselves beyond our day-to-day lives?

Cynthia said...

I knew you were going to ask this.

Yes, indeed, art of that kind needs to be preserved for its beauty. I need to see beauty like that on a regular basis by going to a museum or listening to a recording or seeing a performance.

But for me who is not a master like those you list but still wishes to contribute, I wonder about what I need to master and it certainly isn't writing a play or painting or composing. I once saw a piece of performance art that said in neon-lighted script: "A true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths." That's what I'd like to reach toward, something beyond beauty.

Andy said...

I knew that you'd know that I was going to ask this.

I should have been more clear and stated that there is certainly room for all kinds of art in the world. That being said, I am impressed to no end that you want to reveal mystic truths to the world. If anyone can do it, I think that you can.