What is Beauty?

A couple days ago I caught the tail end of a Ted Talk NPR program discussing Beauty. What beauty is, if it can be quantified, and if it fulfills a fundamental role in our life or if its simply a surface “perk” of being alive. I had to laugh at a few parts of it. Some of the questions surrounding the topic felt so very much like the “what is IS” sort of questioning. Take the seemingly simple question “What is Beauty?” We are all familiar with the adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I think that applies to this question. Beauty is individually perceived and because of that is remains a deeply personal sense. To me the blue of my post-it notes is pretty & attractive, that’s why I bought them. I think the sun reflecting off my purple glass tea mug is beautiful. I think Bryce Canyon is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been able to visit. I know of a couple scenic spots along the Oregon Coastline that are so beautiful they take my breath away EVERY TIME I visit. And in a more personal vein, are the people who I know and love and are Beautiful to me. So can Beauty be quantified? defined? measured? compared?

It seems to be a part of human nature to try to define and measure things. We have so many options available to us anymore that occasionally we become choosy about Beauty. For example, you can go to a jewelery shop and see HUNDREDS of gems. There’s a scale for gemstones, cut, clarity, etc… But does the comparison shopping take away the individual beauty of each gemstone? I may see a perfect diamond which may meet all the standards of a perfect gemstone… but I may still find a piece of sapphire more beautiful.  I am reacting to it individually despite the fact that, from an analytical standpoint, it is a lower quality stone. And although I may desire the sapphire more so than the diamond, it does not diminish the beauty of the diamond.   Side note, this example me in the jewelery store has much more money than the actual me… who does not generally go gem shopping as a hobby.

Weirdly enough there is something similar for human faces and form. A face that displays certain qualities, angles, and symmetry is commercially considered to be more beautiful than another. And yet despite the fact that your Mother/Sister/Grandmother/Wife/Girlfriend will probably never end up on the cover of People magazine as the year’s Queen of Beauty isn’t hers the face the you would prefer to look at? Another participant in the show ended the radio segment with the questions: is Beauty trying to tell us something? Is it fulfilling a fundamental part of human nature?  I say yes, it absolutely tells us something fundamental about our existence.

We have the ability to see, appreciate, and create beauty all around us.  That is a precious gift we need to be thankful of every day.




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