~ 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.