There is so much given to us that goes unnoticed. I think the eye of the beholder is distracted because we are used to everything being presented to us as blatantly obvious. We spend 2 seconds looking at a photo of the Grand Canyon or the Tetons, and then we move right along.
But hidden between the twigs and brambles and vines of our lives lies the wonder and beauty of the natural world all around us, just waiting to be noticed and wondered at.
Something that art has taught me, whether I'm drawing a bird or a plant, is that little details that are so miniscule create a beloved preciousness that you can't gloss over if you are paying close attention. Birds' feathers just poking out from beneath their wings are so downy soft and thin and light and almost unnoticeable that you can't help but just imagine how they are little sparkles of precious gems that you discovered before anyone else in the world. Every flower of a honeysuckle is an angel blowing several trumpets at a time, with a melody so sweet that it creates a sugary smell to everyone who is near. And their songs overflow with grateful generosity so divine that it creates a sweet syrup in the flowers that the pollinators cannot resist, and yet we so often do.
We tend to judge beauty by what blatantly stands out to us and to everyone around us. This is not wrong, but it is only seeing things as a partial view, like looking through a keyhole into another large room. We have to practice the art of opening both eyes, opening the door, and walking in.
Scripture references time and time again the idea of eyes and ears being opened. It can be meant in the literal sense, but I believe that God loves us so much that He wants us to live fully present to the beauty He has planted and birthed all around us; because beauty draws us to Him. "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34:8).
Why It Is a Balm
God created beauty in the garden of Eden because everything was as it should be. Beauty harkens back to when things were true and right and unperverted. Since we are compromised, beauty often pays the consequences of our sin, so to see beauty that is untainted reminds us what is true and pure and right and good. It reminds us of what we lost, but offers itself to us to enjoy in spite of that loss. It reminds us of what should be, and what will be. Beauty heals because it is the presence of compassion as compared to justice or judgment. It is a harkening of the past and a promise for the future rolled into one.
God created work for mankind before sin ever entered the picture because He knew that the essence of work is beautiful. To work as one who is a part of creating more beauty is a balm because it invites the worker to celebrate God's work and to be like Him in the essence of Who God is: creator of what is right and good. And knowing the amount of work that goes into creating beauty makes those who partake of it a part of it as well, whether or not they worked for it. Good work is a grace that keeps giving beyond the immediate rewards and recipients themselves. Think of those who plant trees. Think of walking into a cathedral that was built in the 12th century. The workers who began it and built its foundations never lived to see it finished, and they knew they wouldn't, but they knew that their work of creativity and beauty would be an invitation of wonder and worship to those hundreds of generations who would walk in those doors in the hundreds of years ahead.
The Lie of Perverted Beauty
The moment of original sin is multi-faceted as well, because it was a perversion of all that is beautiful. The cause of original sin truly boils down to two things: ingratitude, and the perversion of the desire to be like God-- not as one who works alongside Him, but as one who takes control independently without Him. Sin is essentially disinviting God into that moment of your life. His presence is still there, however unwelcome, despite our creating perversion instead of beauty in those moments.
We've made a mess of things. And it is reflected in what we revere. Art is a good example. Now, I believe there are exceptions to the case I'm going to make, but hear me out. Beauty is creating order out of chaos, essentially. That doesn't mean it has to be absolutely perfect and without character or sterile. It can even be ugly in a sense. But there is a lot of art out there that creates chaos, and that is not meant to edify or teach or feed the viewer.
Some art is difficult to look at and gives us sad or negative emotions, but that does not make it chaotic. It is often communicating something important. It's being honest about life. Music can do this as well. For example, Beethoven's Grosse Fugue for string quartet is not a beautiful piece of music as we like to think of beauty in a musical sense. It is actually quite "ugly" in the way that it is harsh, uninviting, jarring, and tangled. It can even feel chaotic to listen to if you're new to it. But it's not chaotic in the artistic sense because it is being honest about something important. It is communicating to us something about the inner struggle of man: the dirt, the strife, the anger, the fear, the injustice, and the questions. Those things do feel chaotic, especially in a musical sense. But that piece of music transcends what the listener may think of as ugliness into something beautiful: honesty.
What makes art beautiful versus chaotic is not so much how it makes us feel, but its being a perversion of what is true or not. Pornography may be considered an art form by some people, but it's a lie. It is dishonest. There are pieces of art meant to simply be shocking to the viewer, and nothing more. There are some songs or pieces of music that objectify people and encourage violence and hatred. These are chaotic works that are not telling the truth, and yet many sink millions of dollars into them.
What is Beauty?
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8-9).
Beauty is whatever is true and honoring to God, yourself, the people, and things all around you. It is the telling of what is essential and profound, whether simple or complex. Beauty isn't necessarily a happy ending or an aesthetically pleasing arrangement, but something that tells the truth: whether that be struggle, gratitude, delight, hardship, love, forgiveness, relief, death, or rebirth.
That is why beauty is essential to our lives: it affirms, heals, discomforts us to change, and lifts our eyes heavenward.