As long as there are humans, there will be art – and nothing will ever stop us from trying to make our lives more beautiful. Beauty and artistic innovation may not be rights, like water or food or clean air or free will, but they are impulses, and our desire for them is an important part of what makes us human.
There is something about exercising one’s creative powers that feels enlightening, inspiring, fulfilling, etc. There is an excitement that surrounds creating a unique entity and putting it out there in the world for people to see, therefore sharing a part of us and knowing that others will it. I don’t know if every single person has a creative drive, and certainly some have a much stronger creative drive than others, but I’m sure it can be argued that anything someone does has some kind of power behind it; if not fueled by creativity then certainly fueled by a desire to achieve an ambition, act on an impulse, or create something.
Striving for beauty takes the desire to create something to another level because it’s not enough to simply create, but to create something beautiful becomes a task that taunts us and frustrates us. Despite this obstacle that we have to overcome, or perhaps because of it, we can’t help but feel propelled to continue striving for beauty. Beauty not only makes us happy in the present moment, but it is what pushes us forward and compels us to connect with others and the world around us.
As an art lover, the question of what beauty is often crosses my mind in the context of admiring art. I took a philosophy of art class in college, which allowed me to explore this question further. The primal question of whether or not beauty can even be defined in is perplexing enough, let alone attempting to assess the level or quality of beauty. I found this Editor’s Letter by Hanya Yanagihara, the Editor-in-Chief for the The New York Times Style Magazine, very insightful. I thought her whole letter was thought-provoking, but especially the bit below.
But of all the ways in which art and design test our understanding of the world, one of the most important is how they make us question what exactly beauty is. Great art and design remind us of two things: first, that what is beautiful is not necessarily what is pleasant or pretty; and second, that the search for beauty, in all its forms, is elemental to the human condition. Every person in every culture, no matter how impoverished or restrictive, tries to ornament her life. This desire — to stimulate the senses, to remind ourselves of the wildness of the imagination — is not an indulgence or a luxury, but an instinct, one that defines us as human. What, after all, is the entire arc of history but a compendium of things — the pottery, cloaks, jewelry, houses, furniture, vessels and tapestries that humankind has always made (and will always make) to assert its presence in the world?
…to find and reveal and present beauty in all its forms, even if sometimes those forms don’t resemble what we understand as beauty at all. Beauty might be something ephemeral, made more potent for the brevity of its life…
I think Yanagihara perfectly captures that beauty is not simply an aesthetic characteristic we assign to things, but that it’s actually present in virtually all that the human race brings forth in the world. We have this drive to create something for ourselves or for others in an effort to exercise our creativity and imagination not only for a useful purpose, but also to simply satisfy our instinct to surround ourselves with what feels good.
“I looked around at the stately villa, the murmuring fountains and, yes, even at the overgrown grass. Rome had its issues. The degradation was real. But the thing about a great beauty is that no matter its age or condition, it could still turn and give you that look and send the heart aflutter.”
I have to remind myself to admire the beauty in my surroundings, even if it’s not always initially apparent to me. I also have to be reminded to allow myself to be pleasantly surprised by the beauty that I might encounter unexpectedly. This New York Times article about Rome by Jason Horowitz resonates with me since I was born in Rome and lived there for the first eight years of my life. But I have to say, in disagreement with the author, I always found it beautiful and never wanted to leave. Rome was the best playground a child could ask for. But I will say, now that I live in Chicago, IL, I resonate with the author’s notion that we must seek to see the beauty even in the chaos or dilapidation that’s around us. I love Chicago as a city for all that it has to offer, but at the same time, the city just gets me down on a daily basis. Relying on public transportation for your commute isn’t easy, especially in the dead of winter. The hustle bustle lifestyle with everyone scurrying around in a hurry and forgetting to be nice to one another just isn’t for me. I find myself craving a much more laid-back kind of life. The architecture downtown juxtaposed next to Lake Michigan is beautiful, but other parts of the city that tourists don’t see where the average Chicagoean actually lives can be dirty and graffiti-stricken. So, faced with all this unpleasantness of city life, I often struggle to find the beauty that I once so admired about Chicago.
Horowitz’s evaluation of various neighborhoods in Rome as he searched for an apartment all over the city reminded me to try to appreciate the little intricacies and charms that each neighborhood of Chicago holds, especially since I don’t get to see them everyday. I like how different each neighborhood is and how diverse the city is. So maybe what I need to do, taking a lesson from Horowitz, is take the time to visit different neighborhoods, as he explored Rome, and experience each one for the unique things it has to offer. And maybe I just need to take a harder look at the small things in my everyday encounters with the city to remind myself what makes Chicago the beloved city that it is by so many.
Upon seeing my first preview for Blue is the Warmest Color I didn’t really know what to think about it except that I loved the music selection by Beach House. By the second or third time I saw a preview for it, my interest was hooked. The night I went to see the film was memorable and I distinctly remember that it was raining and there weren’t many people in the theater. I got popcorn, as I usually do, but it didn’t seem to last me very long because the movie was lengthy, rounding out at 3 hours. By the time the movie was over and I left the theater it was 11 o’clock, later than I usually leave a movie theater and it was raining again. I was excited to see the film, but I had not idea what kind of treat I was in for; it’s the kind of movie that you remember the whole experience of going to see it, and not just the movie itself, which are always fond memories for me.
I can honestly say that Blue is the Warmest Color is one the most beautiful, genuine movies I have ever seen, which I was not at all expecting going into it. Its NC-17 rating is definitely justified, as there is a fair amount of sexual content in it, which I can imagine turns off certain audiences that would otherwise really like the film. However, for me, this is not what I remember about the film. What I remember is the incredible sincerity of emotions expressed mostly by Adele, the main character, but also by her lover Emma, and the authentic love story that it is. Their relationship exemplifies an exploration that most of us have probably thought about, but not necessarily carried out. I for one know that I have questioned my sexuality, but have never had a sexual experience with a woman and don’t plan to. It is, however, something I have thought about and I am not ashamed or embarrassed about it.
The French language is beautiful and it particularly stood out to me during the literature classes that Adele attends. The ideas expressed in the classes made me envious and wish I was there. The plot flows so well and it does feel like a long movie, as it is, but it certainly keep you intrigued the whole time. The soundtrack is appropriately placed alongside each scene to evoke certain moods, which, for me, was particularly strong during Adele’s birthday party, as the video above demonstrates. Then there’s the party in celebration of Emma’s artwork and the conversations at the party feel so real, as do most all of the conversations in the film, and made me wish I was part of it. Adele and Emma open up to each other about philosophy and art and you can really feel the intimacy between them, not only physically but also intellectually since they’re always learning from each other.
The film is not without heartbreak, but it wouldn’t feel as authentic if it wasn’t, since heartbreak is such a natural and inevitable facet of love. Their breakup is incredibly sad and although Emma may seem overly harsh, her reaction is fairly accurate; even so, I found myself sympathizing with Adele. I felt the heartbreak the most towards the end when Adele and Emma meet again after having been broken up for a while and I could literally feel that there was still love between them, and although they have a reunion of sorts, it ends with them going their separate ways again. I really felt for Adele in a way that I’ve never felt for any other character in a film before. It’s an incredibly powerful scene. I could also identify with Adele in the way that she desperately tries to move on with her life without Emma, but unsuccessfully so. I think anyone who has been broken up with can identify with her in this way to a certain extent. It’s striking how the actresses are able to show so much real emotion on screen, which makes it feel as authentic as it does and evokes the powerful response from its viewers that it does.
The French title of the film, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2, suggests that we might perhaps see a sequel with more chapters. I certainly hope so, as I am dying to know more about Adele’s life and her intimate relationships. Although with the controversy over the filming of the movie, it may be unlikely that we will see more on this project from these two actresses.
When you think about it, life is completely absurd. There is so much sadness in the world, but also so much joy, and the clash between the two is a difficult thing to come to terms with sometimes. I get sad around the holidays when I think about people who spend them alone because they have no one to spend them with. I also get sad during the winter when I think about homeless people that have to stay outside in the unbearable, freezing weather. I am sad for animals in shelters who have no home, and I am sad for families who do not have money to buy Christmas presents for their children. Amidst all this sadness, we sometimes catch a glimpse of something so extraordinary and pure that brings us joy and happiness practically to the point of tears. Such events occur to me when I visit my grandfather in the nursing home and see his face light up when I walk into the room. Or when I’m at the symphony and I hear a beautiful, perfect melody. This happened to me recently, at the nursing home actually. I was visiting my grandpa and they had a concert for the residents. The concert was put on by a group of children, and although they were still learning and not fantastic, their harmony and unity was so beautiful I had tears in my eyes. It was also nice to share that moment with my grandpa. Moments like these overwhelm us with joy and beauty, while others overwhelm us with sadness. Although this clash seems absurd and is difficult to understand, we get through life experiencing a combination of both.
I am searching for a more beautiful place than here. Here, is Indiana. More beautiful places, for me, are many places in Europe. Last winter, I went to the Czech Republic and spent most of the time in Prague – the most magical city in the world (I think!) Prague is so beautiful and charming; it’s like a dream. So full of history, like many places in Europe, and you can really see it and feel it everywhere around you. You can tell that the people there lead, and have led, a hard life. The beautiful city they live in seems to be of no avail to them because it is simply where they live, much to their detriment perhaps (because of what they have been through with the Nazis and then the communists). But to a visitor, even aware of its history, it seems so magnificent and just beautiful.
Another beautiful place I have had the pleasure of enjoying is Rome, Italy. I was born there and lived there for the first eight years of my life. Rome, of course, is very historic and its history can certainly be seen and felt there as well. It is home to many attractions that people flock there to see, like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican, Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona, etc. Places that I experienced everyday as a young child and could not possibly understand their significance at the time. Even now, I suppose I do not view the city as other tourists do because to me it was simply home for 8 years…home, 5 minutes from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona…what sounds like a dream now looking back on it.
Places like these, that are so much more beautiful than the United States, to me, are places I would like to try to get back to in the near future.