In Plato’s The Symposium, the great philosopher says that when beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, you can “bring forth and nourish true virtue to become a friend of God.” When we heard these words in Sir Roger Scruton’s documentary Why Beauty Matters, we felt inspired to deepen our understanding of beauty and our ability to conjure beauty in our minds.
Scruton, a beloved British scholar of aesthetics, sadly passed away last year, but we remain grateful to him for his contributions to the world’s understanding of how important beauty truly is. In his honour, we themed this issue Why Beauty Matters.
To begin cultivating our appreciation of beauty, we have to start with the question, “What is beauty?” It seems simple, but the more we delve into it, the more elusive the answer becomes. Is beauty a mathematical formula, something related to the golden ratio, perhaps? Does it exist only in the eye of the beholder? Does it arise from free expression, or from disciplined practice? The answers seem full of contradictions, yet something unites everything we call beautiful. Confucius says beauty and goodness are one and that they are indispensable. Plato and other philosophers similarly link these ideals. It seems clear that beauty is something we strive for and move towards through righteousness.
From the beginning of both Eastern and Western civilizations, poets and philosophers have seen the experience of beauty as calling us to the divine. It’s as if our souls have memories of heaven’s beauty, and our beautiful experiences connect us to our own divine nature.
Whether it’s the portrayal of God’s creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the symphonies of Bach praising God, the ancient Buddha statues in China’s Dunhuang Grottoes, the ink paintings of the Song Dynasty, or the inspiring places of worship in every culture of the world, these brilliant and everlasting works of art all have a divine connection. They contain the beliefs and spiritual perceptions of their creators, and they’re infused with gratitude for our universal Creator.
In this issue, we interviewed principal dancer Michelle Lian of Shen Yun, a classical Chinese dance company whose name translates as divine beings dancing. According to Michelle, the beauty of her performances is a reflection of her yun, a dancer’s inner bearing and expression. Yun is the subtlest charm of classical Chinese dance. It requires dancers to not only practice hard on their techniques, but also to cultivate their inner character and spirit.
To understand why beauty matters, we have to journey through history, and what better way than to literally walk in the footsteps of our ancestors? For thousands of years, Europeans have made pilgrimages to sacred places. Nowadays, a new age of travellers is reviving these ancient routes. Let the beautiful scenery and rich history of these walks wash away your worries, connect you with our shared heritage, and put a cheerful bounce in your step.
In order to see what’s possible if we dedicate ourselves to creating beauty and preserving heritage, we visit the Italian village of Solomeo, home to Brunello Cucinelli. We walk through the rustling vineyards on the outskirts of town, climb up the mottled stone steps, and reach the medieval castle that this fashion icon turned into his headquarters. When the gates of the castle open, we discover teams of workers weaving, sewing, and designing beautiful clothes with a calmness and satisfaction for life that’s hard to find anywhere else today.
Naturally, at the end of this issue, you may still struggle to define beauty because, as Socrates said, “What’s beautiful is difficult.” Since the industrial revolution of the 18th century and the introduction of Marxism, much of our world has been consumed by materialistic desires, and the pursuit of beauty has become the pursuit of indulgence. Shallow creations will struggle to survive through the ages, while true beauty stands the test of time.
As Sir Scruton said, “To reach the source of beauty, we must overcome lust…Beauty can be an ordinary everyday kind of thing. It lies all around us. We need only the eyes to see it and hearts to feel…Through the pursuit of beauty, we shape the world as a home, and in doing so, we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows.”