My Experience of Beauty

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

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My Experience of Beauty

Rebecca Donatelli

When considering what is truly beautiful in this world there is no shortage of possibilities. In order to begin this discussion on what I think is beautiful it is important to explain how I distinguish what is truly beautiful from other things that I might find attractive or pleasing. I look at things and I can see that they are attractive or pleasing but when something is beautiful I don't see it. I feel it. Beauty elicits in me a physical response which can be anything from smiling to having my heart race. It often overwhelms me and yes I have found some things so beautiful that I have been moved to tears. Things that are attractive or pleasing can make me smile. However, things that are beautiful compel me to smile.

What I have always found odd or even upsetting is my lack of interest in fine art. I can't remember a time when I have stood in front of a painting, sculpture, or even a building that has overwhelmed me with beauty. I can appreciate why they are considered to be fine art but I would not say that I consider them beautiful. This is because they are lacking a personal experience or familiarity behind them. In making my room both at home and at school beautiful, photographs were the most important element. My photographs are beautiful because they remind me of the beautiful things in my life and of beautiful experiences I have had.

What are the beautiful things my pictures remind me of? I am a very family oriented person and a homebody so for the most part they remind me of the people dearest to me and my home in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. This picture of my parents is from last Christmas Eve and it is very beautiful. When I look at it I can't help but smiling. Granted it is a silly picture and many people might smile looking at it but it is safe to say that the vast majority of people wouldn't call it beautiful and might even call it stupid. However, this picture conveys to me so much of my parent's personality. I can almost hear them laughing and making their dorky comments wearing their silly Christmas hats while everyone is preparing Christmas Eve dinner.

I have lived in Point Pleasant for about twenty years now and when people have unkind things to say about New Jersey I am the first person to jump to its defense. Point Pleasant is a small beach town and I think it is one of the most beautiful places. The beauty of the ocean needs no defense. I always find it amazing how the ocean is so powerful and can be at times treacherous yet I have spent hours swimming in it and sitting on the beach looking at it with admiration. No matter how many times I see the ocean I still find it beautiful and cannot even imagine how it must feel to experience the beauty of the ocean in person for the first time.

In addition to the beauty of the ocean I have had many beautiful times at the beach. Picture III is of my sister and I at the beach. There was no one to take the picture of us so I just reached my arm out as far as I could and the picture came out absolutely beautiful. My family has worked and played at the beach for years so I have many good memories there. While the beach is certainly beautiful during the day it is the most beautiful at night. During the summer my friends and I go to the beach every night. The air is usually cool but the water is warm and we wade, and play Frisbee and just enjoy having the beach to ourselves. At night you can see the way the moon affects the water and it is gorgeous. The beach is beautiful to me because it is my home and I have had so many wonderful experiences there.

At times being away from my home in Point Pleasant is difficult. However, for the past year and a half Bryn Mawr more specifically Radnor has become my second home. Picture four is a picture that one of my roommate's parents took last year on our first day at Bryn Mawr. I had three roommates who I became very close with and we truly did make the quad our home. Looking back the quad was beautiful. As you looked around our room you could see the coming together of all of our personalities. Meghan had posters of Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy and Liz had her posters of snowboarders and the Simpson's. I added postcards that people had sent me to the walls and had some plants on my desk. However, my roommate Caitlyn probably did the most decorating out of all of us. She had tapestries and pillows everywhere and in her corner of the room you couldn't see any white space on the walls (picture five is her corner). Because of our location in Radnor we had our own little hallway that we spilled out into. We had a daybed, a chair and a coat rack in the hallway. At any given time there would be a pile of shoes in the hallway and all of this really gave it a homey feeling which I find beautiful. For hell week trials our crime was that we had over decorated our room and our punishment was to decorate the campus center which we did.

Aside from the physical beauty of the room, the quad was beautiful in the way that it brought people together. It was the central place of gathering for my closest friends at Bryn Mawr. Our door was always open and the room rarely had less than two or three people in it. I would go home sometimes and none of my roommates would be there but two or three people that didn't even live in our room would be there and that was beautiful. For about a month the quad actually became the quint as one of our friends was waiting for a room change. Picture six shows the quint having a slumber party in one of the bedrooms of the quad. This picture is beautiful because it shows how we all came together in the quad.

Up to this point the things I have discussed are beautiful because they are reminders of experiences I have had. However, I do find things beautiful that I have not directly experienced. For example one of my favorite paintings is Jack Vettriano's "The Singing Butler" (picture seven). It was mentioned before that I have never really been able to connect with fine art; however, I do find this painting to be very beautiful. I find the colors very attractive and the whole concept of the picture is very romantic. I love the idea of a beautifully dressed man and woman dancing outside in the rain while their servants chase them around with umbrellas. However, the thing that takes this picture from visually and mentally pleasing to beautiful is the fact that this is my mother's favorite painting. I cannot look or think about this picture without thinking about her. Unlike the other pictures discussed I have not directly experienced what is being shown. However, I still feel it is beautiful because of a mental connection that does not come directly from the picture.
In a similar way I find the pictures that my ex-roommate Caitlyn takes to be very beautiful and I do consider them to be art. Pictures 8 and 9 are two of my favorites because they convey her personality so well. I wasn't there when she took them and I don't know why she took them but I look at them and I can see her personality in them. The fact that she has managed to capture that in two pictures of her feet is beautiful.

Up until this point I have focused on primarily on things that are visually beautiful and the beautiful experiences or people behind them. However, beauty does not necessarily have to be seen but rather beauty can be heard and perhaps felt, tasted, and smelled. For example I find many different kinds of music beautiful especially music from musicals. I have seen many productions on Broadway and I have bought many of their soundtracks. I find these especially beautiful because they are telling stories and I can feel the emotion of the cast through the songs. The best example I can think of would be the song Into the Fire from my favorite musical The Scarlet Pimpernel. The song is sung by a group of English gentlemen who are going into France to save people from the guillotine during the French Revolution. When I listen to the song my heart starts to race.

I have been raised a Catholic and I have not been practicing lately for numerous reasons. However, I find religious music to be the most beautiful. The only times I have ever been moved to tears by music have been in my church on a few different occasions. I find the music at Christmas Eve mass to be very beautiful especially Ave Maria and What Child is this? These songs always bring back a great deal of memories for me. However, the most beautiful song I have heard is Be Not Afraid. The message of the song is that you can go through all of these horrible situations but have faith that God is with you. At this point of my life when I am questioning my faith this is a very powerful and beautiful message.

In conclusion my experience of beauty is one in which memories and experiences set apart what is beautiful from that which is pleasing to the eye or the ear for that matter. My home, family, and friends are beautiful and I try to surround myself with pictures and things that emulate their beauty.

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