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Beauty,Spring 2005
Fifth Web Papers
On Serendip

A Day's Worth of Beauty


Amy Martin


Recently, I was privileged to have one of those rare experiences of an entirely beautiful day. Within the day, the fundamentals of beauty existed. They were all there - wonder, simplicity, complexity, pain, interconnectedness, self determination, the necessary contrast with that which is ugly, and the narrative. In a final reflection of the months spent pondering beauty, this one day serves as evidence of lessons learned. It is proof that there is beauty everywhere if only you seek it, and that within all forms of beauty these fundamentals exist.


"The moment of seeing a solution for the first time is the quintessential intellectual experience of wonder."- Philip Fisher


My feeling when I go to check my mail is always the same. I've resigned myself to the fact that most of the time my mailbox will only contain the shadow of the light from the mail room behind it, leaving me letterless and disappointed. On that day, the little white envelope with my name in bold across the front contained a letter that would support me during my summer internship. My immediate reaction was one of wonder. Since I had yet to hear about the grant I had applied for, I thought that I had simply been passed over and resigned myself to the course my summer would subsequently take. I had already been rejected from another grant that I had applied for and so naturally assumed that I was not going to get this grant. The beauty inherent in receiving the letter was that it was unexpected, delightful news.


This beautiful day did have only major events, it was also composed of the small gratifying moments that lead to a half smile, a pleasing passing thought. As with any day, on my beautiful day I had numerous, simple encounters that brought splashes of beauty into my day. Getting caught in the cherry blossom rain walking the path that leads towards Goodhart, having my favorite Oldie play at the exact time I walked into work, eating lunch with a five year old I love as joy defining each of this tiny moments was, everyday moments like those combine and create an arc of happiness, an appreciation of the bits of beauty out there. The sum of all those moments was something beautiful, the tide that pushes one along through life, birthing the optimist within and banishing bad moods, negativity, and stress. In a way all of these moments are mere happenstance, a product of the idea of wonder because we do not expect them, they come and go as they please. My beautiful day was so not only because it was full of simple small beauty, but because these beauties added up to something inherently more complex.


This idea of the simple as containing the most complex is essential to how we view beauty. To see beauty one must recognize this paradigm. My day was one of those "checking it off the list, errand running" days. By mere chance, I ended up running into my Spanish professor. In our simple conversation, I came to a complex beautiful revelation that I am sure will change the course of my life. He helped me make the decision to study abroad for a year rather than a semester. Although such a switch may seem incredibly simplistic and inconsequential to some, the decision represents the culmination of a period of difficult self growth, a choice and a chance that I have chosen for myself. In many ways, it is my first major decision as an adult. Without the simplistic mundane chance run-in with my professor, I would have never come to this complex realization that led to the exciting beauty of embarking on an entirely new adventure. The beauty is the simple and the complex, the smallness of deciding to spend the year away, and the complex personal significance such a choice has in shaping myself and my life.


"Beauty is built out of individual pleasure around an object or idea. It may be personal, but gains in strength when it is shared with others." - Ronald Hoffmann


My decision to leave Bryn Mawr, home, and my country was like skipping a stone on a pond. The repercussions and effects are felt by more than just the little stone jumping puddles. Sharing the news with my parents and my best friend only deepened my joy in the decision, their support and recognition of the beauty in such a decision caused me to be more confident in it. An essential question of the beauty debate remains that of the validity of beauty. If those whom you love and esteem do not share your view of what is beautiful, does it become inherently less beautiful to the original perception of beauty?


"Dissonant chords or even entire movements need to be understood in relation to the whole." Susan S. Levine


The pain and emotional agony I caused my boyfriend in revealing my decision did threaten to diminish its beauty. As he suffered and struggled with something that I found so exciting, so shimmering and beautiful in all its promise for myself, his pain at what I found beautiful was disarming. In a perverse way, his pain served as the ugly, that is always needed to highlight the beauty. I made the decision to go abroad to seize my opportunities and independence to prove to myself that if I leap the net will appear. In his pain, I saw a rejection of all those emotions that were this beautiful pearl of promise in front of me, and as he cried it only became brighter and brighter. Ultimately, everything one defines as beautiful is a judgment. Leaving for a year stands as a rejection of another path, as it symbolizes my own creation of independence, of myself it also implies that I have judged the alternatives to be unworthy, ugly. Perhaps, this rejection only amplifies the dichotomy we see between our own determinations of what is beautiful and what is ugly.


"Beauty is created out of the labor of human hands and minds."- Ronald Hoffmann


Despite the negative connotation of the "judgment", we can never see everything we experience as beautiful. Therefore in finding the beauty we must judge, despite the ethical, moral, and political implications that may arise from such judgment. So in my own arbitrary, self determined decision - the day was beautiful. Beautiful in my gratitude for all the good that the day revealed- the grant for the summer, the cherry blossoms, the chance encounters, the clinching decisions, the support of those who loved me, the contrast to the alternative, the budding of spring, the owning of myself and my life. Ultimately, this idealization and beautification of one day, the singling out is the narrative. I wanted the day to symbolize the pure ideal of beauty, to be beautiful like we find nature beautiful, merely for being itself. In the creation of a narrative, I have set it apart in an almost sacred notion of the beautiful, to separate it from the political and social implications of beauty that have plagued us, from the questions of justice and ethics and judgment- to be beautiful in the gratitude I have for it, its unexpectedness, the hint of G-dliness I see in all the seconds and scenarios aligning to create a moment in time that I can designate as beautiful. Alone any of the moments may have been inconsequential like the Oldie on the radio, or meaningful but not necessarily beautiful like the study abroad decision, yet in their sum, the weight of it all created the beauty.


After close analysis and deep study, what emerges from the beauty discourse is beauty's omnipresence. Beauty does not exist merely in that which pleases aesthetically, nor in the realization of an ideal, the equation of a problem, the adversity against the struggle, the love between a mother and a son, nor in the stories we create to fulfill the voids of meaning in our lives. Although the word itself may wear thin, the idea of beauty is essential to the human condition. We each have to find something beautiful to have the will to persevere. Despite beauty's presence in all realms of life, the concept of beauty would not exist were it not for the notion that we believe it to be rare. In fact, we depend on "the basic fact that beauty visits, never stays." It is within the balance between being so vigilantly aware of the beautiful that we destroy the wonder, and being overly coarse, turned off to the splendor of living, that we must - in order to thrive create our own worlds of beauty, etching out a space for the sublime in the muck of quotidian life.

Footnotes

Philip Fisher, Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998) 75.
Ronald Hoffmann, "Thoughts on Aesthetics and Visualization in Chemistry." Preface. Issue of Aesthetics and Visualization. Hyle, 1.
Susan S. Levine, Beauty Treatment : The Aesthetics of the Psychoanalytic Process The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 2003.
Hoffmann, 4.
Fisher, 34.


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