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My Experience of Beauty

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My Experience of Beauty

Megan Monahan

Ultimately, my notion of beauty all comes down to how certain things make me feel. It is simply a word that I assign to objects, sounds, and sensations that make me the most happy whether that pleasure be visual, aural, or utterly indescribable. For me most of these experiences are shaped by things that I associate with the people and events that have meant the most to be. Beauty is such a subjective concept that is different for every individual but for me everything I find beautiful has a reason behind it, even if I don't realize it on the surface. In this way even the most seemingly mundane things can be spectacularly moving if they possess an element of the familiar. Conversely, objects that many would take great pleasure in can be repulsive if they evoke a negative experience.

My favorite sculpture is the bust of Nefertiti and has been for as long as I could imagine so I was quite pleased to see it included in the beauty survey. I can trace my intense feelings about it back to when I was about four years old and my parent bought a book from the Berlin Museum after a visit to see the Egyptian exhibit. I had not accompanied them on the trip but I became fascinated by the pictures of the exhibit in the book and made my parents take it with us everywhere we went. Most kids form this kind of attachment to stuffed animals or blankets but I chose a museum book. I would make my parents create stories about the objects in the books and my favorites were always the ones they made up about Queen Nefertiti. She seemed like such a glamorous figure and my mother would tell the story with such imagination that my love of the sculpture only increased. Eventually, I grew out of this obsessive streak that can overcome children but I still have a special fondness for the piece because of my personal connection to it. Nefertiti continues to be one of the most beautiful works of art I have ever seen because her mystery continues to captivate me even after all these years.

It also seems that as a result of my grandmother's home's décor I have a special affinity for antiques and almost all things vintage or retro. Her home was always a sanctuary for me when I was growing up because my family was always moving from place to place. My father was in the army for the first twelve years of my life so before then I never lived anywhere for much more than a year. I often found myself uprooted and relocated without much notice but throughout this my grandmother's house in Connecticut was a constant. My mother, sister, and I spent every Christmas and summer there and it was always the same. I loved exploring the huge ancient colonial house she lived in so much and had such a connection to it that to this day anything that reminds be of it inspires an overwhelming sense of beauty in me.

I vividly remember the wallpaper in my bedroom there. It was a very dated pink floral pattern. The flowers were all varying shades of pink and white on a dark pink, almost salmon, background. Most everyone else I know finds theses kinds of patterns repulsively tacky and unappealing but I love anything that brings it to mind and I'm sure it has inspired many of my purchases of loud floral shirts, scarves, and purses.

I have heard somewhere (I think most recently in an Axe deodorant commercial) that smell is the most powerful sense linked to memory which might be why I have such intense feelings about the smells I find beautiful. My mother was always cooking and trying new recipes but I was usually extremely picky about what I would deign to consume. However, she had one particular recipe for blueberry muffins that was the most amazing thing I had ever had. I didn't so much like to eat the muffins but I preferred the raw batter that was used to make them and more than that I liked the blueberry muffin batter without any blueberries in it. The smell of this concoction is the most beautiful I could ever imagine not only because it tastes so good to me but because it was my special treat that was uniquely my own. No one else in my family finds it even remotely appealing but my mother still makes it for me anyway and it is never quite as good when I try and make it myself.

One of my most recent experiences with my associative response to beauty was just last s
semester when I was in Lunt basement and David Gray's song "This Year's Love" began playing and I was almost moved to tears by how beautiful I found it. My friend who I was with found my reaction quite strange and proceeded to ask me what was wrong. When I responded that I thought the song was beautiful she screwed up her face and looked at me like I was crazy. She was confused because that kind of music is about as far my musical taste as possible and she was right; I would never have picked that to listen to.

What moved me so suddenly about it was that it reminded me very strongly of a road trip I had taken during my sophomore year of high school with my two best friends at the time. We had driven up to Maine in April when it was still really cold and stayed at one of my friend's grandparent's summer house on a lake. It was a really special experience and an extremely fun time for all of us so it was very meaningful to me. Apparently that David Gray song must have been playing during some critical point in the trip because I didn't even realize I had that association between it and that trip until I found myself standing in the café with tears in my eyes over the memory and that made the song the most beautiful I had heard in a quite a long time.

Though I don't particularly care much for nature and my worst nightmare is being forced to go camping in the woods, the one natural phenomenon that I have an astounding appreciation for is the beach. I have spent significant time at the beaches of Rhode Island every summer of my life and can think of no more beautiful sensory experience than that of being on the beach despite its obvious clichéd characteristics. No matter how much it sounds like an unoriginal personal ad, I think there is nothing quite akin to walking along the beach. The feel of the sand squishing between my toes and the salty smell of the water combined with the sensation of the sun on my face and the sounds of the soothing waves mixed with the loud caw of the seagulls is nearly unbearable in its beauty to me and the euphoria that it induces. I doubt I would have this love of the ocean if I had never experienced it firsthand. Many people have told me that the mountains in the west are breathtakingly beautiful but I have no desire to see them. Perhaps this is because the pictures I have seen do not do the mountains the justice they deserve or perhaps it is because they have no personal significance to me yet. Maybe if I went someday and had an amazing experience there the mountains would take on the beauty that the beach now holds for me.

In my life I have also found that negative experiences can impact my notion of what I find beautiful and it can even alter it completely. My bed at home had this really beautiful patchwork velvet quilt on it that I had had for several years and my love of it had never wavered. It was soft and warm and I enjoyed all the different colors and textures as well as the way they all blended together to make the whole. However, this past summer I came down with mono and was sicker than I had ever been in my life. I had a miserable fever and my tonsils swelled up so big that my throat nearly closed up and rendered my unable to speak for about a month. The pain was unbearable and I didn't leave my bed for weeks during which time I was constantly staring at that patchwork quilt. For the duration of my illness I didn't think much of the quilt's effect on me but after I got better my mother had the quilt dry-cleaned and I was without it for about a week. Then after it came back and she put it back on my bed I found myself lying under it that night utterly repulsed by it. It had become the ugliest thing I had ever seen over that short week of being away form it simply because it brought back the memory of how horrible my illness had made me feel. The memories the quilt recalled were so strongly adverse that they demolished all beauty the quilt had once held for me.

My own responses to what I find beautiful are the result of conditioning and would likely be quite different if I had had alternate life experiences. For that reason I find beauty so fascinating. My favorite aspect of it is that it is ever evolving and reflects who I am as a person. Years from now I could be finding monumental amounts of beauty in something that is dull and ordinary to me right now because I do not yet know its effect on my life and its relationship to me personally.



Comments made prior to 2007
Twice in my life I have had what I can only describe as an experience of beauty. I now believe that true beauty is an emotion of great awe and wonderment and can only be felt, by-passing thought. When our eyes behold something, that for a fleeting moment, our minds perceive as touching on perefection, emotion rules. It begins with a shock in the heart and rapidly spreads through my whole being with a powerful sense of reverance ... Kester Strange, 18 December 2006