Tag Archives: Beauty

You do not have to be good.

Wow. This is the most beautiful poem I’ve read in a while. It’s worth thinking through what this is saying to you, and what your answer will be.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver 

You can watch the author reading her poem here:

What Is Essential Is Invisible to the Eye

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

The quote above is from The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. The best English translation I’ve found is “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This tattoo may well be my all-time favorite.




One Thing Computers Cannot Do

The most creative innovations of the digital age came from those who were able to connect the arts and sciences. They believed that beauty mattered.

Steve Jobs Speaks At Apple Web Developer Conference

This short essay from Walter Isaacson is well worth reading. I believe he’s right about the necessary intersection between art and science. I like to say that science makes our lives possible but art makes them worth living.

Turkish Citizens Brighten Istanbul with Rainbow of Colors


A summary from the Good News Network details this wonderful action as well as I could.

“A 64 year-old man in Istanbul decided to brighten people’s days by painting rainbow colors on the old, gray, crumbling stairs near his house.

When municipal officials sent workers after nightfall to hurriedly repaint the stairs gray, a quiet revolution started on Twitter.

Not only did volunteers come out to repaint those stairs that Huseyin Cetinel had spent hundreds of dollars on, they started painting other stairs and walkways in other cities around Turkey posting photos on social media.

A very colorful Pandora’s Box had unwittingly been opened.”

This New York Times article has the full story.

I would wholly support such a movement here. My personal tastes run to “plain” colors, but I love to see people express themselves in vibrant colors and shapes, in their appearance, possessions, and (as here) on their surroundings. It’s a quintessential part of being human. 

Beauty Comes in All Shapes and Sizes


This post is based on a short Google Plus dialogue on the graphic above – https://plus.google.com/u/0/+ChristopherLamke/posts/YNXaMRLn6CY – The term pretty implies (to me at least) something shallow and petty. Beauty is a better word for what women (and men) want.

A woman (or any human) can be attractive, and attraction is obviously a physical/chemical phenomenon that occurs in the one attracted. I think people generally mean this when they say someone is pretty. Pretty also implies decorous and pleasant, also properties women are supposed to have.

Beauty is the great idea associated with this domain. A woman can be perceived as beautiful without being considered attractive or pretty or decorous. Most things I think of as beautiful are also pleasant, but there’s an overlap between beauty and “the sublime” which covers catastrophic events such as supernovas, atomic bomb explosions and volcanic eruptions that may count as beautiful without being at all pleasant.

Beauty is an ideal that overlaps but is greater than the physical world. I see the sublime as a symbol, a pointer to an idea that cannot be instantiated in the physical world, whereas beauty can.

Uche Eke noted that Plato’s Forms are helpful here. Beauty can be considered as a form and therefore timeless (i.e. outside time). His description adds to this conversation:

“Pretty seems to have an of the moment, temporal quality, and inspires notions of fragility, possibly even weakness, whereas beauty seems to describe an inherent, almost immutable, property e.g. I’m quite convinced the ruins of Ancient Egypt still possess a beauty that must have been present from the day they were originally completed. One would never regard them as pretty!!”

Uche also notes that when awe accompanies any experience, as an encounter with something that is almost painfully beautiful generally does, it touches the sublime and “the sublime is that je ne sais quoi feeling that is simultaneously alien and completely familiar, that seems to draw us to all things that possess it.”

Uche’s inclusion of je ne sais quoi is excellent, as is his characterization of it as a feeling, something ineffable but which resonates in your mind.

I’d like to add the concept of mysterium tremendum et fascinans here. It’s closely related to the idea of the sublime and also helps us describe the human experience of someone or something so beautiful, so powerful, that we are simultaneously terrified of it and inexorably drawn to it. This state of awe, which lies beyond reason and can move us independently of any rational thought, helps us understand some aspects of extreme, unreasonable human behavior.