There’s been a lot of discussion here about what Beauty is, or where it might be found. Well, today we’ve got something different for you to consider. Jenna St. Hilaire puts it eloquently:
Beauty is difficult to define or categorize because it is greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps, then, it might make for interesting discussion if we come at it from the side of mystery, and attempt to describe what beauty is not.
Jenna follows up with her own description, that ‘beauty is not, in and of itself, wicked.’ If there is evil to be found in beauty, she says, it is separate from it; the form and the content are not synonymous.
Masha, as one might expect, approaches the same idea from a different angle:
Beauty is never evil, and never banal. But it can be small, and it can be simple. It can be grand and it can be dark and terrifying. It is often unsettling in some way, like the angels who greet us with “Fear not” – it overwhelms us.
So we have two ideas running concurrent: beauty is not evil, and beauty is not banal. To this I wish to add a third strand, and say:
Beauty is not. Nor is it bounded.
Empirically, there is nothing which can be recognised as beauty or the beautiful. We cannot say with scientific precision that this thing is certain and this other thing isn’t, any more than we can successfully, scientifically determine the precise nature that separates one work of art from another. Life is a pattern of sounds and lights and shadows, electrical currents and magnetic impulse, and there is nothing in any of that that is, de facto, beauty.
This is, of course, reductive. It is also somewhat of tautology. Of course we know that beauty exists. To a certain extent, we know objectively that it exists. My purpose, then, in putting forward this little absurdity is to stress the immateriality of beauty. To put it another way, if the world that we see and experience is what is, then beauty is not. If, however, beauty is real, then we are living to some extent in a world of unreality—a world in which beauty is not.
The tautology, then, is that beauty both is and is not. And that those statements are not contradictory.
The purpose of beauty, after all, is not to mollify us with the world we see. When we see beauty, we see what is not there. When we do not see beauty, we just as truly see what isn’t there. The challenge in both instances is to see what is. We call this, vaguely perhaps, imagination. And this power to imagine reality even when confronting the reality of the unreal is what, in its way, makes the world.