Unconcluded thoughts on art and beauty

Confession: Sometimes when I am walking down the street or driving along the road, I turn my head and look right at a beautiful thing I didn’t know was there. It is almost like someone says to me, “Look here. I want you to see this,” though I have heard no voice. My head turns to it and there it is, and my eyes are full of it, and my heart.

I open to drink it in, the full moon just coming white and misty from behind the clouds, or hanging its enormous full-blazed-orange globe over the hills in the fall. Another time it is a stunning crimson tree against the sky, or an impossibly beautiful V of birds, here and gone, calling. Or the light coming down, or a city skyline above the trees, or a child’s face upturned. Or a Jacob’s ladder of crazy spiderweb, two parallel bars fifteen feet tall from branch to grass. I stop when I can, and I look and look until I am full, or until the moment is gone.

“Fallen” – an original

Moments are so short. Moments of beauty, here and gone in a breath. Sometimes I think all beauty hurts the heart a little because we feel its passing. That is not my own thought, but I do not remember where it comes from – that the fleetingness and the passing of beauty is part of its ache and its joy. Keats talks about that at least, and recommends a treatment for it.

So soon gone.

“Garden Candy at Rebecca’s” – an original

Perhaps that is where art becomes our friend and our snare, because it promises to hold the moment.

Perhaps it is a photograph of a child dancing, or water droplets caught in midair. Or a painting of the lovely face that has not yet aged and now for-never will on this canvas. Or a sculpture of the perfect pose. Or the music caught on a page and a soundtrack that anyone can play at any time, re-creatable and everlasting. Or maybe in literature, all the words lined up just so, breathtaking, creating capture and transcendency where time no longer matters because the joy is safe. Held there and crystalized in a moment.

“Lantern” hanging beside my living room – an original by JoElla Wadel. Loaned to me by my friend Richard Herr while he spends a few weeks at Bible school. He thought someone ought to be enjoying it while he is gone. The photo does not do its beauty justice.

But seeing art that way leaves me feeling claustrophobic, because who wants to freeze a charming thing? It strikes of Miss Havisham’s wedding feast gone stale and cobwebbed, or Midas touching his daughter. Now you are forever lovely, and forever entombed.

I do not want beauties to be enshrined that way, not in my work nor others’ – not in words nor songs nor photographs.

And also, in the capturing hides a snare to catch our hearts, hence the Old Testament prohibition on carven images lest they tempt the soul. Whether we are making or appreciating art, perhaps we feel more possession and less longing, less urgency to enjoy before it vanishes, less ache. Perhaps more satisfaction.

And yet perhaps not.

“Sourdough and Gouda” – an original

Perhaps the best art is the kind that captures the fleeting sense, the ephemeral gift, the transitory visit, the angel lingering to touch the earth but only for a moment. Perhaps art’s best task is in its opening the heart to hold a joy it knows it will lose, a way of seeing that pairs with the purpose of beauty itself, whether in a pretty face or in a sunset, in the dinner arranged on a plate or in the perfect paint job that will soon be scratched.

It makes me think of “Into the West,” and Annie Lennox’s beautiful voice singing of passing.

“Near and Far” – an original

Maybe it is our saving grace when the art captures but also does not capture, when the soul still turns unfilled from all its beauties unto the Good One, and cries a little against his chest.

He is the only forever-good, the only forever-beautiful, and all that we delight in pales against him yet also draws us near, and calls and calls and calls us in, and reveals glimpses of his radiance.

Almost like a voice saying, “Look here. I want you to see this.
Look quick
Look full
Look long
on Me and live.”

What do you think? Do you know what I am talking about?

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2 years ago

Yes! I totally know what you’re talking about, and you say it so beautifully! ❤️

2 years ago

Yes, I know this. I can’t fully explain, but some elements resonate with me in light of our recent loss of a first trimester baby. Of course it’s not art, but… yeah. I may have mentioned I couldn’t explain.

Still, thank you.

Shari Zook
2 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Opening the heart in risk, and treasuring forever what you cannot keep? Yes, I get that.

I’m so sorry.

2 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Yes. “Perhaps the best art is the kind that captures the fleeting sense, the ephemeral gift, the transitory visit, the angel lingering to touch the earth but only for a moment. Perhaps art’s best task is in its opening the heart to hold a joy it knows it will lose, a way of seeing that pairs with the purpose of beauty itself..” ????????????????

2 years ago

I think I would say “ I do not want ALL beauties to be enshrined that way…” Some moments are too precious to keep. And photos, anyway, are like seeing through a glass darkly….not like a perfect frozen beauty, but something to bring it to mind.
I like your thoughts.

2 years ago

Yes, oh yes. Each day of November, I try to capture a gratitude moment – maybe beauty out my window, or the soup for supper, or a sibling moment. It’s soul food, and yet. . . Your phrase “when the soul still turns unfilled” says it exactly. We are always reminded that we aren’t home yet.

2 years ago

Yes, I agree. A steady diet of striking beauty could easily become overwhelming..

This concept is not original with me but I often come back to it: in nature the brilliant colors are usually in small spaces or for only short periods of time: birds, butterflies, flowers, sunrises, and sunsets. I believe this is God telling us that we can appreciate beauty the best if it comes only a little bit at a time. The vast expanses in nature are generally colors that calm, sooth, and restore: greens, blues, and even browns. Bright colors are invigorating but can become overwhelming.

Thanks for verbalizing the ache of beauty. It should remind us that this world is only a dressing room for eternal bliss when we can absorb and exult in everlasting glorious beauty. –Linda Rose

Kendra Sensenig
2 years ago

I know what you’re talking about. It is Emily of New Moon’s Flash, and C.S. Lewis’ Joy or Sweet Desire. It comes to me sometimes, but it is never to be held or prolonged beyond its season – just a moment of consciousness- and never to be found for the seeking. I think that’s part of what makes it so achingly precious. Such a divine gift.
And now I’m crying, because it’s the sweetest, most ephemeral thing of which it seems not everyone understands.

Shari Zook
2 years ago

Fascinating. Brenna, you are right about G. M. Hopkins – thanks for sharing that. I disliked the second and liked the first. 🙂 🙂

It does seem to keep popping up.

Kendra – a hug.

2 years ago

I love the fact that someone values art/beauty so much that he doesnt want it to be unappreciated, even for a few weeks. And so he loaned it to an admiring audience, in his absence. Beautiful!

Shari Zook
2 years ago
Reply to  Beth

I know, right? Me too. It’s a nice thing about Richard.

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