“As the force of physical attraction, beauty drives fertility, inspiration, creation, and reproduction. Beauty ricochets through the body and mind … Beauty has been the root of deep division and politicization. But our attraction to beauty endures.” — Andrea Lipps and Ellen Lupton
This sums it all up for me.
I stole the quote from a great review by CNN of the “Beauty—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial” exhibition. The article describes how the exhibit’s artists, ranging from jewelry designers to ceramists to lighting designers, bring to life the many different definitions of beauty. I’ve summed up these diverse explanations of beauty as follows:
- Ever changing. Objects of beauty transform, e.g., we age or clay hardens. And of course, beauty ideals alter, e.g., overly tanned skin was out then in and now out of style.
- Expresses the passing of time. To quote the article directly: To honor his grandmother’s failing memory, Tuomas Markunpoika welded small rings of steel around a hulking wardrobe. He then burned away the wood, leaving behind a lacy shell of blackened metal.The piece became “a physical memory of the furniture—kind of a smoky, shady, semitransparent memory of it.”
- Ignites our senses. Beauty isn’t just visual but can stimulate our aural and olfactory senses as well. In one instance, visitors can experience the scent of New York Cit’s Central Park.
- Challenges our perceptions. From dresses made out of straws to images of decay, beauty pushes us to react, think, analyze and see the world anew.
This last description is, by far, my favorite. In fact I’ve been especially taken by beauty as represented by death and decay (see my post: Beauty in Decay, Dirt and Death). I know I may sound gruesome, but that’s not my point. Rather, I’m blown away by expressions of beauty that challenge our expectations.
And that is the real purpose all my posts. Originally, I chose to focus on beauty because I spent a number of years working with beauty brands, and it’s a topic that never goes out of style. But as I dug deeper into the topic, I realized how complex, fascinating and wondrous our relationship to beauty truly is. The topic of beauty can be a source of fun, angst or even ridicule. But downplaying our understanding and reaction to it isn’t the answer. Things of beauty may just strike us at first glance, but upon deeper reflection it becomes a window into our culture and ourselves. It can open our eyes to how we live, what we value, and how brilliant and creative we, human beings, truly are.
If you get a chance to visit the exhibition, let us know what you respond to.