Monday, January 19, 2015

The Purpose of Beauty

When I started this blog I wrote that I want to use beauty for an elevated purpose – but what is this elevated purpose? I have given it some thought, and my conclusion, unoriginal as it may be, is that it brings spiritual joy to the human condition.

Being human, as we all know, is not for wimps. Quite often it hurts, or gets on your nerves, and by and large, I think one has to do whatever one can to sweeten the deal. Ultimately, our fate may not lie in our own hands, but whatever one can do to improve one’s lot I think one should.

Last fall, I was asked to design and decorate a party for a coworker who had a milestone event in her life. My budget was very limited, but I managed to put together something pretty and festive that celebrated the person that she is. And here’s the thing: she was truly moved by that extra dimension of beauty that went beyond the good food, the faces of beloved guests, and the heartfelt speeches of tribute.

Yes, those decorations added to her experience; they made her feel important. The message to the guests was also clear: she is somebody we care about – so much so, that we go out of our way to create beauty!

Another example: a few years ago, the daughter of a cousin got engaged. We happened to be visiting when it became official, and on the spur of the moment, I helped with putting together the party. I had none of my props available, but scoured their house for whatever could be used for a decorative purpose. When the mother of the bride entered the hall and saw the tables, she started crying. (No, all you comedians, not because it looked terrible!) The fact that beauty had been created in her daughter's honor, the fact that effort had been given to the decorative aspect - not only to the refreshments - filled her with deep emotion that still remains with her.

The time I set a sparkling Seder table for all of us in her home (this time I had bought and brought props!), was another such moment, which several years later, she still refers to with something resembling awe. 

And no - I am not blowing my own trumpet here - I am reflecting over how much beauty can mean for the human happiness. For myself, it is certainly crucial.

There is a Talmudic dictum to the effect that three things make a man happy: “a beautiful house; beautiful vessels (that is to say, furnishings and 'stuff' - in our days, maybe a car?); and a beautiful wife”. Not necessarily in that order! So yes, physical beauty affects our spirits for the better – who has not experienced the healing or uplifting, exhilarating or calming, effect of the view of sunsets, mountains, oceans, gardens, etc.? And there may be more than one reason a woman is happy when her beloved presents her with flowers; indeed, Dr. Andrew Weil, in his “Eight Weeks to Optimum Health”, writes about the health benefits of having fresh flowers in your home. Some reasons may be physiological, but some are purely aesthetical.

A symphony of colors and shapes in our bedroom - it seems artificial flowers can work too...

An important condition that I would impose on beauty if it is meant for a higher purpose, is that it should be moral. It should serve The One Who created incomparable beauty in the first place, rather than seeking to overturn, tarnish, or undermine His splendor.

When beauty is used as a means for serving a spiritual purpose (like at the Chanukah table above), it is elevated, and we all know that our Creator can inspire our own creativity. Additionally, of course, beauty shouldn't be all about the materialistic aspect, but rather about bringing that happiness to humans.

My faithful readers might now pause to ask themselves - or me: "Are Fairy Parties really a spiritual purpose?" - and I would have to answer "Not spiritual, no". However, if you were able to see the broad smiles on the delighted faces of the Fairies; if you could hear their exclamations of "oh, how I needed this, after the kind of week/month/year I have had!"; if you knew the joy and relief  that reverberate through the room as the Fairies are offered a respite from stress and hard work you would agree with me: this beauty has an elevated purpose!

Regards from Rosebud!