Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Importance of Beauty

The Dance of Beauty
In 1990, I accompanied a bunch of American teenagers to Moscow as part of an international SuperCamp. an organization that creates incredible accelerated learning experiences.  It turned out to be a water-shed experience for me.

I am basically a practical person so I was going because I wanted to know more about the remarkable learning processes SuperCamp uses and to give my then-14 year-old stepdaughter an experience that I thought would be helpful.  The USSR was just opening up and was in the midst of radical and disrupting changes.  Times were hard, stores were empty, literally empty ... shelves in grocery stores were completely barren ... and people would wait in line for hours for a loaf of bread.

Most families lived in tiny apartments in tall, gray, concrete buildings ... ugly buildings that were an invocation to the god of function with absolutely no ornamentation, grace or beauty.  Moscow was a city of contrasts, beautifully ornate historic buildings surrounded by rings of gray boxes.  It was like someone drew a circle around the past and said "communism starts here."

After spending several days working and living in those gray buildings, one morning I took a walk through a nearby birch forest and was stunned to tears by the beauty.  Suddenly, I understood the importance of beauty.  It isn't just a "nice to have;" it's a connection to something beyond ourselves, something we can't define or put into a neat little box.  

Years later, in a moment of insight, this thought came to me: Beauty is not a luxury, nor an art. It is the soul's breath of life.  Keats said "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -- that is all Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know."  and Dostoyevsky said “Beauty will save the world.”

Beauty is important.  We may not be able to prove it with a computer or calculator but we know it and need to honor that knowing.

Here are some other thoughts on beauty:
"Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors. But today we kneel only to truth, follow only beauty, and obey only love."                                                                   -- Kahlil Gibran"Children of Gods, Scions of Apes" 
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike."                                                              -- John Muir, The Yosemite
"Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror."                                                                     -- Khalil Gibran 
"My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through earth's loveliness."                                                                                                                             -- Michelangelo
"You agree--I'm sure you agree, that beauty is the only thing worth living for."    -- Agatha Christie 


  1. The quote from Pascal I featured today would also seem to fit with the other wonderful quotes here, including your own, "It is the soul's breath of life." Lovely!

  2. Maureen ... it was cool that we were on the same wave length today. j

  3. I remember that trip as a blur of Grey with streaks of violent colors like the red of the cathedral at St. Basils, and the gypsies at Arbat St. What a learning experience that was...what an amazing memory that is.