“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am embarrassed to admit that I avoided art appreciation in college because it just sounded terrible. While we are all naturally drawn to beauty, some of us are raised to find that hard to admit or believe or even notice. The creation of beauty (as Emerson defined art) was not my native language, and it has taken me years to recognize that my reticence to embrace an appreciation of beauty is the real terrible.
So I am making up for lost time.
Last week my wife and I gorged ourselves on beauty with a trip through stunning Arizona. At one moment we were rocketing through the searing desert in our air-conditioned car in silent admiration of the towering cactuses (saguaros) standing proudly against the otherwise nothingness. At another we are winding our way to otherworldly Sedona where the colossal Red Rocks attract their spiritual disciples—and we were speechless in our reverence. And then we climbed to higher elevations where the ponderosa pines seemed to appear out of nowhere and made us wonder if we had been magically transported to Colorado, especially when we saw the summer snow high on the San Francisco Peaks. Oh and there was this little place called the Grand Canyon up there, too. Breathtaking is no hyperbole.
We were determined to watch the sunset at the Grand Canyon, and it was a good decision. We arrived about an hour early—the magic hour—and found a point just west of Mather Point to watch the sunlight play off the canyon walls and witness the beauty for which no human being can claim credit. Words and pictures all fail. The sandy browns and the sleepy blues and the flashy reds and oranges undulated across the vast expanse like a wave of exploding fireworks in extreme slow motion.
I would love to say that it was unforgettable, but I know myself too well to say such a thing. I still have the ability to dismiss the grand spectacle of nature and revert to seeing beauty merely in utilitarian terms. That is my particular training, and I am nothing if not a good student.
Utilitarian Me asks what good watching something like a plant or a tree or a big rock or a ravine or a sunset does for me. Utilitarian Me can be a pain in the butt and doesn’t always deserve a response. But I will give in this time and respond with a quote from Kafka: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
I feel younger already.