By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
This week in Toronto, I had a mind-blowing encounter in a museum with the artwork of a particular man. The artist is El Anatsui, working from Nigeria, using African materials and motifs. I’ve been a gallery-goer since I was a child and have taken in beauty and colour beyond description. But beholding the work of this man, I knew I was in the presence of a monumental gift. I was awe-struck and couldn’t move from this particular piece for 10 minutes (and returned to it again and again). Moving on to further pieces – wooden sculptures, ceramic and brick pieces laid on a floor, trees made of the lids from cans of milk, and more magnificent hangings – I was confirmed in the certainty that being here now was not only a special personal moment, but a collective one, because his work reached out in ways that resonate with universally-held concepts of form and balance and harmony: the essence of beauty. It was beyond narrow cultural dictates, touching on more transcendent awareness. Many people in the gallery had looks of wonder on their faces. Wonderful!!
Being Here Now with the Right Brain
Being pulled into the beauty of that collection called us to Be Here Now. Ram Dass and we old hippies would have to give each other a nod. For year, with the guidance of New Age gurus, our goal had been to live in the present and try to free ourselves from constraints on thinking and action that we deemed to be non-authentic. Not unlike what we’ve been learning from Jill Bolte-Taylor, about there being different qualities of experience associated with the side of the brain that is more active at any given time: thinking and reasoning and remembering with the left and experiencing directly and reacting spontaneously with the right. We may stay predominantly on one side, that being mostly the left, or shift more often toward the right.
I believe that some familiarity with the right-brain experience, and trusting it, provides a better chance for transformation of both the large and small aspects of our lives. And that becoming better able to respond directly to others and to their actions helps provide better connection between others and us. And that such experience gets us closer to being able to address human problems – particular to us, and more general to the social fabric. Like poverty.
The Function of Beauty as a Humanizing Force
On a personal level, at this stage of life – early into retirement, feeling well but with a touch of heart disease that makes me very aware there is to be an End – I’m super sensitive to beauty. A flower, a cat, a young person, a baby, a piece of fabric, can provide a moment close to rapture. Such moments help to transform my outlook, briefly. The impact provides balance.
I believe that the role of beauty in our human functioning has always been to shift us away from thinking and judging and categorizing and move us into sensing, receiving, opening, even changing. ‘More fully human’ might not be too broad an image. I’m not sure that real transformation can happen without enough beauty and humanity built into the movement.
I also think, and this seems an obvious point, that God is present where there is beauty. Some beautiful things were created with forced labour and through the pain, the agony of workers. It’s wise not to be too romantic about human-made artifacts. Nevertheless, if something lovely calls to my whole being, God has been there in the creation. Whether in the spirit of the person making an object, in the connecting spirit between groups and teams and armies of people who worked together to create large beautiful objects, or in the actual design of the earth, where there is beauty the holy spirit is there.
Please let me know ways in which you find your own senses (your right brain) shifting or transforming your mood, your outlook, your attitude. Skiing? Playing with your dog?! I’d love to hear all the ways that we nourish the present, the immediate responding part of us.
Reminders of Beauty Encountered, Forty-Seven years ago.
I’m attaching some photos recently re-discovered while digitizing them from slide form. They are encounters with beauty before which I held up my camera almost half a century ago. The quality isn’t the best, but they represent moments when my heart beat a little faster for the seeing of them. It’s my chance to share with you what my left brain can remind me were fine beautiful moments.