Friday, April 20, 2007

When Beauty Hurts

As I write this, the sun has just touched the uppermost blossoms on the apple tree in my back yard. The sight is so beautiful that it demands I become lost in it.

Have you noticed there can be a certain emotional pain in seeing the most beautiful things? The most deeply beautiful things sometimes disconcert us. We might even turn away from them. We might even make an effort to dismiss them. For the deeply beautiful things of this world have the power to challenge us to move out beyond ourselves; to loose, if even for a moment, the concerns, the thoughts and feelings that give us such a sense of self, such a sense of who we are and why we are so important to ourselves.

Sometimes, we would prefer to look at something ugly than to look at something beautiful precisely because the ugly thing does not make us yearn to be free of ourself; precisely because it does not challenge us in quite the same way beauty can challenge us to loose ourselves in it.

That's a truth that seems lost on those overtly sentimental works of art designed to provoke in us warm and fuzzy feelings towards the merely cute or the merely pretty.

Yet, the deeply beautiful things of this world have the power -- if we let them -- of refreshing and renewing us in ways that sentimental prettiness cannot. The deeply beautiful things can offer us a perspective on our selves that is far more life affirming than the feelings one might have towards an all too cutely rendered painting of an English cottage at dusk.

That's why it is so important to let go of oneself at times: To allow ourselves to become lost, perhaps in the sight of something deeply beautiful. Letting go can, when one is lucky, be life affirming. But genuine letting go of ourselves is not ego affirming. And hence, it is something that we all too often are not prepared to do. Our egos, necessary as they are at times, can make us cowards even towards experiencing something as simple and life affirming as the beauty of an apple blossom against the dawning sky.

1 comment:

BrandonE said...

I've never consciously noticed the "pain" of beauty before, but recognize it as something I have experienced before once you point it out. I remember going to see a Matisse exhibit with my wife (the first real art exhibit either of us had been to) and being moved almost immediately to tears upon seeing the last piece in the exhibit. It was a late period stained glass that was stupefyingly beautiful.