Think of how often we say something is beautiful—a painting, a home, a young person, especially a young woman. But what is beauty? How do we define it? Is it a vista of pink mountain laurel or a sunrise over a calm ocean? Is it red cheeks, softness, or tallness? And if we are visual artists, is it bright colors, a specific form, smoothness, roughness or texture? Or if we are musicians or dancers, perhaps it is sound and movement?
It is easy to understand why there are so many ideas of beauty—whether we are describing a person or a piece of artwork or the natural world.
Looking for Perfection
While I was hiking the Pink Beds Trail in the Pisgah Forest this past weekend, I noticed the numerous contrasts in nature. I photographed early flowers like trillium, mountain laurel, bluets, and one or two rhododendrons. But I was most drawn to the beauty of the dead trees either those left standing as food and habitat for birds and those already fallen lying in the bogs or creek.
Perhaps I was attracted by the rawness of the visual or even the shapes and dramatic look of the dark colors against the bright green and the pale sky. Whatever the reason, they touched something in me. I found these decaying trees beautiful in their less than perfect form.
In a recent “Brain Pickings” blog, Maria Popova wrote “there are so many kinds of beauty.” She was writing about love and living with purpose, specifically writing about Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator, which she called an empowering retelling of the Cinderella story—a story in which Solnit’s characters become their “truest” self—even the stepsisters.So, the limited view of beauty is certainly not the only myth expressed in this childhood story. There is also the limited view of love and what makes for a happy life.
But perhaps if we can look at beauty differently, then we can also realize that there is more than one way of living a beautiful life.