Artist and Aesthete

At long last, someone has put time management instruction in terms I can bear contemplating: the secret is to become a Jedi and rescue a princess.

Secondly, if you're at all into gardening, I recommend reading my friend Jana's post "The Secret Garden," wherein she describes this season (in western Washington, at least) briefly and beautifully. And, by referencing Mary Lennox, also in familiar and beloved terms.

Deposition of Christ, Fra Angelico
Thirdly, today is the memorial of Blessed Fra Angelico, patron of artists. And on that note, Masha recently put up a discussion post on the artist's relationship to physical beauty. I spent some time this morning trying to create a full-length essay in response, but I have a couple of princesses to rescue, and anyway it turns out I wasn't saying much. Simple must the answer be, then. From Masha:
Artists tend to obsess over physical beauty. They live in one extreme or the other, setting up physical perfection as a tiny god or rejecting it utterly and filling their lives with ‘meaningful ugliness’ - pushing out the beauty in search of relevance. I lean toward the former.... I do have to work hard to avoid making physical beauty an idol - reminding myself that so many of the Saints were not beautiful people in the physical sense, and some were unpleasant people to be around as well.
The saints seem to preach moderation in all enjoyments—which means that when it comes to beauty, I feel like a decadent, if (hopefully) an innocent one. I don't often hesitate to linger five minutes longer than I should at the piano, feeling my way through a Chopin prelude—or to stand in a parking lot with cold groceries in a warm car, just watching the sunset—or to re-read the splendid last page of a good book again and again and again. I'd stare at people in public without hesitation, making a memory of her eyes or his smile or her juxtaposition of scarlet lipstick and black scarf or his curly-topped toddler features, if it wasn't rude. Despite my chronic scrupulosity, the aesthetic pleasures are one arena in which I have utter, blissful, Edenic freedom.

It is true that under certain circumstances I have to guard against the capital sins, of which vanity at my own fair image in the mirror on a good hair day is far from being the least of the temptations, height and flat chest and dysfunctional sense of style notwithstanding. But overall, it seems to me that moderating my admiration for the beauty of the earth would not mean changing how much of it I took in, but the way I look at it—and not for the better.

Because there's beauty everywhere. I told myself I would learn to love the rain, and in stating so, found the work half done. There's beauty in the soft gray of clouds and the ambiance of wet twilight, in green sprouts pushing up through mud in the garden and in wet hair sticking to flushed faces. There's beauty everywhere in people, too. As Masha says, it's not only in the "young and whole" but "in weathered skin, gnarled hands, and the nobility that well-worn age brings to the body. There is beauty in Rubenesque women and in the darkness long sorrow leaves on the face." I have been thinking so much of this lately, feeling as if I see beauty in every face that I open my eyes long enough to notice.

Lent, in its fasting and prayer and sacrificial giving, is a living recollection of Christ's forty days in the desert—but I've always found beauty in the desert, too. Phoenix and Albuquerque are breathtaking places, all reds and browns and oranges and blues, all particularly striking to a waterlogged Pacific Northwester who drowns every day in grays and greens.

Masha is unlikely to disagree with this, unless she's read something I haven't—but I've yet to read saint or Scripture writer who suggested to me that I ought to take less delight in the arrangements of bare branches around the altar, the dark Phrygian melody of the Pange Lingua, or the picturesque simplicity of broth and bread. As for Easter lilies and Easter tables and full choir with organ and brass quartet on the grand Alleluias, they can wait. Their bright and magnificent loveliness will be all the more striking for the time of being content with humbler beauties.


  1. You're right..I really can't disagree. I love the beauty of Lent. And this was such a beautiful post. I feel like we can have a completely immoderate love of beautiful things because, even though it is a lesser form of Beauty, physical beauty is still Beauty and so still an aspect of God..and who can moderate delight in God?!

  2. I third this sentiment!

    When God rested he took pleasure in his creation; how can we feel wrong in doing the same?


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