Transformation and Beauty

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.

Beauty, God

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.

And Yourselves?

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.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Transformation and Beauty

  1. Jamie Perttula

    I too found the exhibit by El Anatsui breathtaking. It was exhilarating to stand back and see the swaths of colour and texture, and then to look closely and see that what looks like fabric has been made from metal bottlecaps and wrappers. I was inspired by the colour. I was inspired by the way he turned something we consider waste into a thing of beauty. I wanted to start collecting bottlecaps myself and try the same thing (but knew my wife would object to bags of bottlecaps flooding our basement!) I couldn’t stop talking about the exhibit for days.

    Over the past year or so, I have been exploring more of my artistic side and it has been wonderful. I can’t always express in words what I am feeling or what it is that needs to come out in my attempts at art. However, I have felt a real compulsion to create certain images because I couldn’t shake them from my head. I have collected images in different colour groups and take great delight in just looking at them and marvelling at their beauty. I don’t fully understand my experience, but I have found this a very exciting and liberating exploration, and have a new view of what it means to create.

    I have often fallen into a utilitarian view of what it means to be a creator made in the image of the Creator. Things I create at work are supposed to be useful. I think about creating things that would be useful around the house.

    This exploration of art is not about usefulness. It has been about expression, about beauty, about creating for no reason other than to see what I can create.

    In looking at God’s creation, I think that this must be behind a lot of what God has made and done.

  2. I spend each Sat. morning listening to comedy on BBC. Today I extended it to listening to storys and then to Alan Bennetts serial about his childhood in Leeds during WW2. As he described his life he said that there was no colour and no animals in his world. I was at that moment as they say in England ‘gobsmacked’. My childhood was full of incidents that cause me to feel very unhappy, but……….no colour? ……no animals?…no drama? My lord I thought how horrible. How unbelieveable. I would have died without the sight and sounds of beauty. The call of the loon, redwinged blackbird, noisy crows. The seasonal changes and the beauty of moonlight on snow. Sunlight on wheat. The thrill of rolling down the side of the ditch in the chill, thick , dew covered grass. Sunlight through the slats of the corncrib and the smell of the cobs in the fall. Burning leaves, red, yellow, brown. The heat of summer the frozen breath of winter. Was this excellent writer really not aware of all this beauty? Why Monet never painted a haystack like ours all purple in the evening mist. Van Gogh never saw such a starry starry night as my spring or even summer night. Nor sunflowers covered in bees as I saw every year. I saw his painting at the National when it first arrived. Call me a lumpen proleteriat but I wouldn’t give you five cents for a sunflower that looked like his……..no……..not the whole vase or more. Our sunflowers smiled at you when you went by. His were by comparison a greeeny, dingy colour.
    Even through my window in the morning, as the sun shines through my genuine fake crystal chandeliers, I see rainbows on my walls more beautiful than all painted sunflowers, haystacks ever painted by these undoubted artistic genius’.
    I could not live, nor would I want to live without beauty. In beauty I find ‘my’ God. Bouncing off the walls and giving me ‘free’ shimmering rainbows.
    I pray that the last thing I lose is the ability to see beauty. And I hope that Mr. Alan Bennett has found some since he grew up and left Leeds. If he did. Poor man. Poor literally, because to see no beauty must be a terrible thing.
    D

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