The Way of BeautyWhat is beauty?

Beauty pleases, delights and gives deep satisfaction, but, however integral to daily life, beauty remains largely misunderstood.  Does beauty lie ‘in the eye of the beholder?’  Many people hold that criteria for judging beauty depends primarily, if not entirely, on subjective judgment.  Or, is beauty objective?  Doesn’t a thing have to have beauty within it before the eye sees it? Aren’t sound, color, and taste objective?  Isn’t color actual when it is seen, sound, when it is heard, flavor, when it is tasted? An understanding of beauty stands or falls on the interlocking question: whether beauty is subjective or objective. 

Strictly speaking . . .
 
Beauty pleases the mind through delighting the senses. Who has not been overcome by the dazzling Audrey Hepburn in the role of Eliza Doolittle, the former drab cockney flower girl, transformed by Professor Henry Higgins?  She has been transfigured not only physically but also by an inner light, radiant from within.  As she descends the staircase to dazzle her beholders below, they contemplate the mysterious ‘Hungarian’ princess. She has undergone a change in form and appearance, exalting and glorifying.

Beauty, science, and nature 
 
The assertion that all things are beautiful in themselves rings true because a reasonable faith tells us that whatever is and exists originates from absolute Beauty. Nature reflects the creativity of a Designer whose inventiveness bursts forth in diverse wonder.  A single gaze at the night-sky and the sight of a single Japanese elm tree has the power to un-selve us.  Even atheists acknowledge the beauty of creation without referring to an Intelligence behind the cosmic design.  Here three points may be made.  First, in the Book of Genesis, God creates the cosmos out of nothing, ex nihilo. Second, whatever exists is stamped with the image of God’s perfections, of unity, beauty, truth, and goodness in itself. Third, because all created things bear an absolute similarity to God, they participate in the perfections of God according to their unique nature.  Science bows to the elegant simplicity of cosmic beauty; scientists have verified the size and distance of the galaxies, but calculating their beauty remains impossible. The laws of nature, formulae like the Pythagorean theory and Einstein’s theory of relativity, are true because they are beautiful.  They are beautiful because they are true. 
 
A rose, has the power to convince the beholder of its integrity and truth, its proportion and harmony, and its light, clarity, splendor, brilliance–all attributes of being itself. Unless a rose is wilting, it has beauty regardless of one’s subjective view.  Where does the beauty of a rose come from?  It emerges from its interior. Its beauty emerges from the tightly-closed green fuse that slowly opens according to a form, but its inner splendor and external expression appear as one, the form. If a person dismantles a rose, petal by petal, what's lost is its integrity expressed in its symmetry, proportion, and harmonious relationship of parts.

What happens when a person contemplates a rose? First, a rose reveals itself to the visual, olfactory, and even tactile senses. It attracts by its color, fragrance, texture and conspicuous design.  It reveals something beyond and more profound than a form which delights us because there is an organic rhythm to the form of a rose from seed to full growth, from bud to fruit.  Second, drawn to its beauty, one beholds, enjoys and loves it. Even the blind derive pleasure from the rose’s beauty. 

Broadly speaking . . .

The beautiful delights, and it causes some other emotion in the beholder’s mind. Who has not been intrigued by the dramatic tension between Lieut. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson) in “A Few Good Men.”  As the young Harvard-educated son of a famous lawyer, Kaffee intuits that the Colonel has ordered a Code Red for a low-level Marine, now dead from the command.  “I want the truth,” Kaffee demands.  “You want the truth?  You can’t handle the Truth,” Jessep shouts back. This scene has the power to convince the beholder of its integrity, harmony, and brilliance–all attributes of being and beauty.   

Beauty and the media

Common sense tells us that beauty is not synonymous with a pretty face or a finely-tuned body.  Popular culture pressures us to equate human beauty with physical appeal. The social media exercise enormous power in defining beauty and dictate their own standards for judging it. They spend billions of dollars selling cosmetics, high fashion, and weight-reducers that claim to beautify what is skin deep while theater and film equate love with sex and romance. Beauty resides below the surface of things and cannot be applied externally like a new suit of clothes, a new hairdo, new paint on a wall, or icing on a cake.  To be complete, external beauty needs her two sisters, truth and goodness.  Otherwise, external beauty is a fraud. To see beauty in all things requires a way of seeing that goes beyond human vision.

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