The world-renowned New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, published a piece on Friday that initially depressed me. In his Op-Ed, “When Beauty Strikes,” Brooks laments our lack of deep appreciation for the spiritual gifts of beauty — an appreciation that dwindled after the end of the era of Humanism. Brooks writes:
“These days we all like beautiful things. Everybody approves of art. But the culture does not attach as much emotional, intellectual or spiritual weight to beauty.” He concludes with: “The shift to post-humanism has left the world beauty-poor and meaning-deprived.”
Of course I see his point. There is no doubt that in our current times of hyper-rationalism, we don’t have the same relationship to beauty as we once had. We see it as something that defines things, like a nice object or people, versus something that stirs our souls. It is often something we critique.
So is that it? Should we just cry in our soup? Can we change this?
I refuse to be deterred by Brooks article. Not only do I believe we want to have a deeper connection to beauty, I think we are driving towards it more and more every day.
Why do I feel this so strongly? Thanks to increasing globalization, we are being exposed to world views that challenge the assumptions that come with Western culture. In Hinduism, for example, beauty is one of the “triad of ideals.” “Appreciating beauty fully and in the right manner is to experience Brahmananda—the joy of being one with the universal one.” (Source: What When How)
Also, in this digital age, our relationship to beauty and creativity has changed dramatically. The internet has helped us create, capture and communicate in a much more visual, aural and creative manner than mere words ever can. We now observe the world differently thanks to our smart phones. Open up a Facebook page, there’s no question visual communication is far more disruptive and engaging. And our access to beauty is so much greater! Look at the picture I used for this post. This was among thousands that I was able to get my hands on in a matter of seconds.
And with the advent of digital, came the ability to put our creativity to amazing use. Sure, sometimes we just want to upload something silly. But the act of developing pictures, creating and editing videos and music, even mashing up others’ clips is not just fun. It is exciting, mentally engaging and, yes, even spiritual sometimes. What better way to appreciate beauty than when we are creators of it! No doubt this creative process taps a powerful, spiritual side of us.
Do I agree that our culture often has an unfortunate relationship with beauty? Hell yes! But do I think we should be resolved to live with it? No way. And the good news is that there are ways to tap the more spiritual side of beauty. We can seek out the interpretations offered by other cultures, and we can continue to push our own creativity. We are seeing changes in Western culture thanks to digital, and especially social media, and how these have affected the ways we interact and see our world. Let’s harness these changes to help us reconnect with beauty in deeper, more powerful and more fulfilling ways.