One of my constant obsessions has been thinking about what makes something beautiful. People tell me my dog is beautiful. He’s just a puppy still, but he magnetizes other beings, all ages, sizes, species. He has a dignity in how he holds himself. That is, when he isn’t acting like a goofy nine-month old puppy. He has a basically lovely personality and that makes him beautiful. Or maybe it’s that he is well proportioned, has beautiful hair, sweet eyes, etc. I don’t really know, but it all adds up to a beautiful dog.
And then there is handsome. Maybe he is handsome. Handsome is not beautiful. It is more sturdy. A woman can be handsome but can a man be beautiful? Baryshnikov dancing is beautiful. Grace and strength.
I think my house is beautiful. But a few people, ones who prefer a more traditional style, find it odd. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. My mother always said “Beauty is as beauty does” but when I told her she was beautiful, she said I was only saying that because I wanted something from her. Not very beautiful.
I’ve had students from all over the world, from many different cultures. Most often, the artwork reflects their culture. African students, unaware of what they were doing, drawing figures that look like the sculptures I’ve seen; Native Americans painting in the traditional Native style, Middle Eastern students drawing with the measured visual depth of their culture. In each case, working unintentionally within their own cultural vision. I have a Western aesthetic, perceive as I have been trained from birth. Who is to say what is beautiful.
Pretty is not beautiful. Pretty is nice, good. I think beauty is beyond words, thoughts. Beauty. I used to want beauty to have some abstract, universal continuity, be appreciated by everyone, everywhere. A gold standard for beauty. Plato’s Absolute Beauty. Of course, that thought just leads to disappointment. Still I have yet to find someone who doesn’t admire a beautiful sunrise. Maybe a sunrise is less personal than appreciating a painting. So many people feel they have to know something to allow a painting to talk to them. A beautiful painting just is.