Monday, February 4, 2013

Beauty, Bodies, and the Artist

“The Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot.”
~ St. Augustine

 Artists tend to obsess over physical beauty. They live in one extreme or the other, setting up physical perfection as a tiny god or rejecting it utterly and filling their lives with ‘meaningful ugliness’ - pushing out the beauty in search of relevance. I lean toward the former. Beauty, physical and otherwise mix themselves up in my mind until I have trouble distinguishing between the levels. I feel holier when I look good (I know, that I’m not really holier, don't worry), but I do focus better on the liturgy when I’m wrapped in beauty. It’s the way God inspired me to start covering my head in church, I’d felt a call to begin covering, but I had trouble convincing myself to do so at less attractive (meaning, for me, non-Byzantine) liturgies until I felt that refusing to pursue personal beauty at a less attractive mass was an insult to God.  I do have to work hard to avoid making physical beauty an idol - reminding myself that so many of the Saints were not beautiful people in the physical sense, and some were unpleasant people to be around as well. 
Beauty itself is an aspect of God - the visible form of the Good - but physical beauty is truly the least of beauties, it is not a virtue to possess, though it can bring joy when shared by displaying to the world to brilliance of the creator. But physical beauty isn’t limited to the young and whole, there is a rich physical beauty in weathered skin, gnarled hands, and the nobility that well-worn age brings to the body. There is beauty in Rubenesque women and in the darkness long sorrow leaves on the face. Beauty is simple, but not simplistic. Beauty leads us closer to Christ, and when Christ has taught our eyes to see, physical beauty can be seen even in the ugliest form, not because we pretend -as so many in the culture do- that physical flaws are non-existent, but because we don’t see the parts so much as the whole - formed in love and raised up by the breath of God to show yet another aspect of His face.

It is this aspect of the artist’s obsession with beauty that brings him closest to Christ - this aspect that allows him to paint, lovingly, the broken people..or write them, with all sympathy and understanding, as Tolstoy does: showing clearly the flaws and failings, but showing them with a love that allows us to see the person.


  1. I loved this. I have been thinking so much along similar lines lately. Well said.

    1. Thanks!
      I intended to put this up on Wednesday, to kind of offer it as a discussion, but I got excited and jumped the feel free to agree more on Monday if you want ;) I've been thinking a lot about the whole 'appearances' aspect of beauty, and trying to see it more clearly..there's always more to beauty than what we see at first, I guess..

  2. I felt the same call to head-covering. I _feel_ more inclined to worship when I'm dressed beautifully, or when I'm veiled like a bride. And though I've not yet had the privilege of attending a Byzantine rite Mass, I feel more natural wearing a veil at a Latin Mass than a Novus Ordo.

    I am trying to look forward--rather than in trepidation--to growing old in Grace and beauty.

    1. I know! Covering, beautiful clothes, lots of eyeliner, and a lovely building are my ideals and the liturgy always seems richer all around me...

      I do worry about how to wear my makeup when I'm's a silly worry, but still, it lingers in the back of my mind.

    2. I totally feel the yearning for a head covering sometimes! One of my sisters-in-law wears one, but her parish is conservative enough that they get away with such things, whereas at my parish... well, I could swear I heard one of the older choir members say "Our mother who art in heaven" the other day (I just about DIED.) The veil would definitely be a move to stand out around here, and since I'm almost six feet tall and sing in the choir, it would be an immediately obvious one, so... yeah. I haven't taken that plunge yet. But I have been known to dream of it.

      Ah, yes, growing old in beauty. Am already finding a few little gray hairs up front (now if only I could outgrow the teenage acne...) Upon my talking of dyeing the gray out, my sister recently said "Oh, no, I'm wearing my gray hairs. I've earned those!" That attitude seemed beautiful to me. I think I'm still learning it, though. ;)

      Masha, I'll definitely think about making a blog response. It might take me a couple of weeks to put the ideas into comprehensible words.

    3. Oh, yeah, that would be tough..completely under the microscope at mass. I don't think I'd be able to start.."Our Mother"? seriously, wow. :p If you do take the plunge though, you could always go with cute hats..or artfully tied scarves..maybe people would just chalk it up to you being one of those crazy artist-types.

      Take your time, I obviously did, in coming up with a response..we're sort of settled on the slow track now, I think, and that's been great for me!

    4. Hats and scarves are a great idea. I have never been good at accessorizing--I'm all crazy about my eye shadow and liner and mascara, but have been known to forget entirely about earrings--on account of which, I haven't figured out a way to work headgear in. But I should really do some research.

      The slow track is good for me, too! I love writing the long, thoughtful blogalectic posts, but it's a relief to have a little more time between them. This is a fantastic topic, but it is likely to become so personal that it will need some thought, so thanks! :)