Beauty: What is it?
It’s a question I ask the art students in my composition classes. A question they have a difficult time answering. A question for the ages, isn’t it? Beauty is a concept that is easier to recognize than it is to define, I think. I see it in the line and color of these petals fallen from flowers in a vase on the kitchen table. I see beauty in the blue-tinged morning light illuminating the petals and the wood grain of the table. I see it, too, in the faces of those whom I love and admire. But what is it?
In Refractions, Makoto Fujimura presents a definition for beauty, as described by Dr. Tomonobu Imamichi, a professor of aesthetics at Tokyo University:
In comparing beauty and goodness, I consider beauty to be the more transcendent of the two. The ideogram of “goodness”( 善) is made up of two ideograms; one of a sacrificial “sheep” (羊) on top of an ideogram of a “box.” (口) To be good, it is only necessary to fulfill pre-determined (a “box”) sacrifice determined by society. Paying taxes, or participating in traditions, rituals and such. The ideogram of “righteousness”( 義 )is made up of ideograms of sacrificial “Sheep”(羊) on top of “Self.”( 我 ). It means to carry the sacrifices yourself. But the ideogram of Beauty is made up of the sacrificial sheep on top of an ideogram for “Great” (大), which I infer to mean “greater sheep”. It connotes a greater sacrifice, a sacrifice that cannot be boxed in by rituals or self. This greater sacrifice may require sacrifice of one’s own life to save the lives of others. This sacrifice is not enforced by rules nor is it predetermined, but originates from self-initiative, a willing sacrifice. This is what is truly beautiful.
That description of beauty–“a willing sacrifice” to “save the lives of others”–is a wonderful description of the very thing celebrated this past Sunday: Jesus’ willing sacrifice to save humanity from sin and death. Beauty, then, is not a what, but a Who, from whom all we call beauty flows, presenting us with fragmentary reflections and refracted images of who He is.