on beauty

"What is beauty? And when shall we call a thing beautiful? These, too, are questions no man has ever answered in such a way that all men have said, "Yes, now we know what beauty is and now we know how to tell the beautiful when we find it." The nearest that men have come to answering the question, "What is beautiful?" has been in their saying the beautiful is the appropriate, that which serves. No hat is a beautiful hat which does not fit you and which the wind can easily blow off your head. A Five-gallon Hat on a cowboy riding a horse on an Arizona ranch is beautiful- but the same hat on a crowded city street car would be out of place, inappropriate. No song is beautiful in a room where persons desire complete quiet. No polite behavior has beauty unless it has thought and consideration for others. The most beautiful room is the one which best serves those who live in it.

The most beautiful skyscrapers are those without extras stuck on after the real structure is finished. Why should a good, honest skyscraper have a dome or a mosque or a cement wedding cake plastered on top of it? Nearly always, what serves, what is appropriate to human use, is beautiful enough- without extras. A farm silo, a concrete grain elevator, a steel barge hauling iron ore on the Great Lakes, or a series of tall coal chutes rising as silhouettes on a moonlight night, may any one of them have as complete a beauty as the Greek Parthenon or a Gothic cathedral. Steichen, the photographer, declares he occasionally meets newspaper photographs which in design and as works of art are superior to many of the proclaimed masterpieces of painting and etching."

C. Sandburg


Joshua Keel said...

Thanks for posting this, Holly. Beauty is so hard to define and quantity and analyze. I think about what God has created, and some of the creatures in the ocean literally scare me. Since God pronounced them good, I have the idea that they should also be beautiful in their way. I can't say I'm pleased when I see a deep sea angler, though. Of course, we have to remember that the Curse is in full effect, and that modifies both creation and our own sensibilities.

Joshua Keel said...

In case you were wondering, I'm home for a couple of days from school, which means I now have access to Blogger again. Yay! ;)

emelina said...

I'm confused? That is some of his prose? Did you mean fiction? Oh, I'd have to post entire books.

Jeffers said...

Hm. I don't think a cowboy hat would be out of place in New York. But maybe I miss Arizona too much :)