”Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” –
About four years ago in San Francisco, we had a series of amazingly beautiful sunsets, possibly because of a wildfire 100 miles away. Deep purples and golds, with sheets of red and fluffy white clouds, they were artworks no human artist could have matched, if only because of their immense scale. They made all the other sunsets I have seen pale into niceness. One evening, while sitting in my wheelchair on a street corner, enthralled by this sky scene, I noticed that nobody else was paying attention. They were hurrying by; some looking at devices, some just walking fast, missing this absolutely free gorgeous show. It was puzzling.
Finally, I stopped a guy walking by and, pointing to the sunset, said “Look!” He did stop, perhaps because of the novelty of being stopped, and looked at the sky for about 15 seconds, said, “Yeah, that’s nice. Thanks” and kept going. I stopped a couple of other people, and the first man’s 15-second gaze held up as the longest of any of them. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they weren’t beholding anything. So for them, the beauty didn’t exist.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a deeper saying than it appears. Dictionaries of idioms say it means that perceptions of beauty vary from person to person. The saying is usually accompanied by a shrug, similar to “There’s no accounting for taste.” But there’s another way to look at it. Without our beholding it, beauty may not exist at all.
Remember the most beautiful full moonrise you have ever seen. Now imagine that same moonrise, but with nobody to see it. No humans, no animals to observe the brilliant ball rising from the depths of space. Maybe the planet is uninhabited; maybe everybody’s busy watching their screens, but nobody beholds. Would it still be beautiful? Wouldn’t it just be one rock circling around another rock? Beholding is a crucial contribution to the creation of beauty.
The same is true of nonvisual beauty. Is music beautiful if no one hears it? Not necessarily human hearers – animals love music, too – but what good is unheard music? Or writing – a question with which I’m quite familiar – what good is writing if nobody reads it? The writing process might be healing for the author, but what happens to the beauty in it? Wouldn’t it just be ink squiggles on a page?
I’m pushing two ideas here: the first is Behold! Notice the beauty in the world; let it enrich you. That way, you may pass the beauty on to others by your presence or your actions, or by recommending a work to someone else.
The second is for creators: Find your audience. You can’t please everyone, so make your work count for those who can appreciate it. It doesn’t have to be a huge audience, but someone! Finding your audience is part of creating. It’s not the fun part, but it is rewarding for the artist, because we can see the beauty coming back to us in the audience’s reaction.
And notice the importance of you and of us, the beholders of the world. Without our beholding, there literally would be no beauty, so let’s pay attention!