In our culture, we are facing many problems that revolve around a major crisis, which has widely gone unnoticed, the explosion of beauty. We are seeking and sometimes fighting for many important things today, in order to better our lives. Yet, are we going about this search correctly? We seek freedom, but do we take the time to live in it? We want joy but do we go where it is found? I find myself searching for answers to these questions. Yet, I search in vain because I go where the answers are not found.
Sometimes, we do not know we are in need of something until we have experienced that very thing. For instance, someone who only eats junk food is unaware of their need and the great benefits of eating well. Not only weight but mood and energy are greatly affected by what is consumed. When finally being introduced to healthy food, this person realizes what was missing in their lives. This is where we are with beauty today. We need beauty, yet, we do not fully realize it. We do not prioritize it. Worse, we even go as far as to remove it from our communities. Although I am an artist who looks at beauty often, I too didn’t realize how ‘starved’ I was of authentic beauty until I came to Europe. Twisting and winding on my bike through the tiny Italian streets, I often come to a stop at the towering façade of the Cathedral of Santa Maria el Fiore. It never fails at taking my breath away. Everything about it captivates my wandering heart. It’s colors of white, pink, and marbled green harmonizing with the intricate details of sculpted saints and ornaments, leave me in awe. Its’ gigantic doors seem to say: “All are welcome to enter and behold the divine”. If I truly pause within my spirit, I find a sense of peace to behold this glorious structure. My soul is being fed, deeper then I realized it could be or even needed to be.
How are we not aware of such a great need? Our culture offers solutions to overcome struggles that seem helpful but are not the solution. That which is beautiful is easier to come by in Italy, but Italy has also been affected by this crisis. Often, today our world seeks to forget and numb the problems verses striving to be truly liberated from or transformed through them. Yet, a consistent encounter with authentic beauty has the power of freeing us from all that weighs us down. Dietrich Von Hildebrand explains it best in his book titled Aesthetics. He says: “ People have grown accustomed to the elimination of poetry of the world, to the mechanization of life, to the expulsion of beauty; [...] but this does not mean that our nerves escape unscathed from all this cacophony. It is easy to see the greater decrease in human happiness today, and the great increase in the number of psychopaths, suicides, crimes, disorders, revolutions, protests, etc. Are these not unambiguous symptoms of unhappiness, of an unfulfilled hunger for happiness? ” He goes on to say that “Beauty is not only a central source of joy it also possesses a great significance for the development of personality, especially in a moral sense. Genuine beauty liberates us in many ways from the force of gravity, drawing us out of the dull captivity of daily life...There are people who flee from the boredom and dullness of the prosaic into the sensational. Sports games, films, and night outings are all means of escape to the everyday humdrum of life. But are they able to pull us out of where we are? They give us a sensational high and help us forget for just a little while, yet they don’t give us wings like beauty can.” (220-221) When I first read this quote by Dietrich Von Hildebrand, I was taken aback. So many times I do ‘busy’ things to distract myself from the angst inside but it is so true that they have yet to offer freedom. With rich resources here in Florence, I challenge myself to soak up authentic beauty but still struggle with the dint of life and the common push to numb issues verses being truly renewed.
“[Beauty is an] intermediary realm between eternity and earthly life.” Hildebrand describes sharing why Beauty is so powerful. It is because it gives us a taste of the heavenly! Hiking on the edge of the sea from village to village in Cinque Terre, I was brought into this transcendental reality. The sky lay gently across the teal sea. The cliffs cut securely into the depths of the water as colorful flowers delicately adorned their sides. The towns, which were skillfully built within the mountains, framed this intermediate realm between heaven and earth. Harmony, harmony, harmony, seemed to be what creation was singing. The journey wasn’t effortless as the climb was steep, yet, each turn and twist brought a further uncovering of the enchanted and somewhat magical beauty that lay within the simple and the natural. Joy rose and joy sung out, emerging within me as a newfound strength to face that which lay ahead. The poetic and the beautiful shine the majesty and the mystery of God and gives us strength. Furthermore, even more so, the encounter with metaphysical rather than mere physical beauty offers us an unending joy. For instance, When we adore Christ in adoration, we are in the presence of true beauty Himself and are being offered the most real response to our desire for joy.
I challenge you to choose beauty first when we find ourselves in a spiral of sadness or troubles. let us turn to this divine gift. Let us find ways to sit in contemplation of the wonder before us. You need not venture to Europe to find this escape. Beauty is in every crevice of the world, if only we take the time to see it and be still in front of it. Furthermore, let us strive to cultivate a life of beauty in our homes and communities. Invest in real art, our walls are not simply spaces to fill but when adorned with love can feed the souls of all who are surrounded by them. The music we listen to shouldn’t be just sounds to erase the silence, may they be truly enriching. Instead of hours on Netflix, choose to go to an opera, a ballet, watch the sunset, or gaze at the stars. Let us no longer starve ourselves from these small tastes of heaven that have the ability to give us wings and remind us that this life is taking us to our Home with God where joy and freedom abounds.
Reference: Aesthetics by Dietrich Von Hildebrand