The Foundations of Beauty (and this Blog)

The Foundations of Beauty - JillSimons.com

This is a blog about beauty. So what does that mean?

What is beauty?

It’s a big question, and one that many better minds than mine have wrestled with throughout the centuries. From Aristotle to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas to Hans Urs von Balthasar, philosophers and theologians have struggled to capture the essence of beauty. There is a plethora of brilliant writing on the subject. If the theology or philosophy of beauty is primarily what interests you, check out the list at the bottom of this page for some good next reads. What you will find on this blog is not quite that.

I am not a thinker of note. My insight is not that of a theologian or a philosopher, as that is not what I am. I am an artist. I have a background in theater, fashion, art, the handmade movement and entrepreneurship. I am a wife, a mother, and a ministry leader. I am a woman. Beauty has been the primary pursuit of my life, I think, and that is precisely why beauty is such a source of fascination for me.

Beauty in the Christian, Catholic worldview is quite a different thing than beauty in secular culture as it is one of the transcendentals – one of the ways we come to know God. Beauty in a true sense is something elevating – something that brings us up out of ourselves and reawakens the search for God and the desire to be united to Him.

But falsehood can also use the aesthetics of beauty for its own purposes and that kind of beauty is a false one that “stirs up the desire , the will for power, possession, and pleasure,” to quote Pope Benedict.1 Anyone who has seen a fashion ad or heard the maxim “sex sell” knows this kind of beauty all too well. This beauty is false because it does not elevate humanity, but instead further enslaves it, creating the desire for selfish possession that turns people in on themselves.

I think this is what most people first think of when they think of “beauty,” which is part of the uphill battle that has to be waged in reclaiming the good and true sense of beauty. “Beauty” typically means makeup, right? When I tell people I blog about beauty their minds are filled with YouTube hair tutorials and MAC cosmetic samples. That is such a cheapening of beauty, not because make up is bad or unworthy of the title necessarily, but because so often make up is not approached as a tool to serve true beauty. It is also the primary reason I felt called to start this blog. But more on that in a minute.

There are three fundamental “ways” of beauty discussed in “The Via Pulchritudinis”, a document published by the Pontifical Council for Culture in 2006,  that I will also adopt for exploration on this blog: beauty of creation, beauty of the arts, and the beauty of saintly living, which is ultimately the beauty of Christ.

Creation is pretty self-explanatory. The Grand Canyon. The Alps. The Pacific Ocean. The Great Barrier Reef. Cherry trees. In the art of the natural world we see a glimpse of the Artist. We feel a bit of the vastness of things – how extraordinarily minute and enormous things are at the same time and how it can only make sense in light of something beyond us. It moves are souls to seek that something, which of course, is God.

Then there is the beauty of the arts. As a working artist, you can imagine that this kind of beauty is dear to my heart, but I believe that it is important to cultivate in every person, self-proclaimed artist or not. Whether it’s through (even rudimentary) practice of art or art appreciation, the beauty of art is a necessary enrichment in all lives. It is, of course, possible to live a life removed from art, but I think that is also a bit of tragedy to do so. I also think that it happens rather frequently today because so much “art” created within our culture is truly devoid of beauty flowing from truth and therefore rather worthless, in my unpopular opinion.

Art is one of the ways we image the Creator, studying His work to know Him in a greater capacity. Art is a way to come to see God, even when we struggle to talk about Him, even when who He is continues to slip through the gaps in our humanity. Anyone who has seen the Sistine Chapel or the gothic cathedrals knows a bit of what I’m talking about.

And there is the beauty we see in Christ. The beauty of sacrifice, love, and service. The beauty of Mary and of the saints. This kind of beauty is luminous. This is where the light comes from.

This beauty often does not fit the narrow mold of aesthetics. It makes very little sense from a scientific, economic, or even artistic standpoint, which is in no way better captured than the fact that the most beautiful human act in this sense is that of Jesus on the cross. There is little to embrace aesthetically about that picture, and yet it is the pinnacle of beauty just the same. It is in imitating this that we are also elevated to the pinnacle of beauty that is the beatific vision in heaven with God for all time.

So three roads, and all are beauty, because all are true. All point to God.

And that brings us at last to the mission of this blog: expanding the appreciation, practice, and illumination of beauty into our lives in a holistic way, exploring all three roads. All these kinds of beauty should be nurtured in each of us in such a way that beauty is consistently present in our lives as it can replenish our spirits and uplift our hearts.

This blog will look at these ideals about beauty through a very simple and daily lens: Personal style. Makeup. DIY. Travel. Visual art. Hospitality. Development of virtue. These are the things our lives are already filled with, and sometimes they are even the things we already think of as beautiful in the secular sense. But I think that all these things can achieve new clarity and meaning when taken in light of beauty in its proper sense.

I have been greatly influenced by the book “These Beautiful Bones” by Emily Stimpson and I plan to adapt her everyday approach to the Theology of the Body with this theology of beauty, which will often coincide with the topics in her book as well.

I want to delve into all these everyday topics in such a way that we can take the conversation about beauty from the philosophical and even theological and into our closets, homes, schools, and workplaces. I want to look at how a modern life can sit squarely on the foundation of truth, elevated from the mire by a holistic, life-emcompassing pursuit of beauty. I hope to create a body of work that becomes a valuable reference for people looking for answers about the true nature of beauty and how they can embrace it with their lives.

I hope you choose to join me in this pursuit, for it is a choir of varied voices that creates harmony. I want to know your thoughts and hear your stories as we go down this road together in the comments and on our social media accounts. I like to hang out on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

I have added a list of some of the resources that I have found most helpful in my study about beauty, especially since, as mentioned, philosophy is not my first language. All are available free on the Vatican website, with the exception of Ms. Stimpson’s book, which I highly recommend. I find myself referring to it constantly, so it is a worthy investment.

Further reading:

“The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty” Message of his Eminence Card. Joseph Ratzinger to the Communion and Liberation (CL) meeting at Rimini (24-30 August 2002)

The Via Pulchritudinis, Privileged Pathway For Evangelisation And Dialogue. Concluding Document of the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Plenary Assembly, 2006.

Meeting With Artists. Address Of His Holiness Benedict XVI, Sistine Chapel, Saturday, 21 November 2009

These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body. by Emily Stimpson.

Notes:

  1. Cardinal Ratzinger, “The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty,” Message to Communion and Liberation Meeting at Rimini. August 2002. Accessed via the Vatican website.

One thought on “The Foundations of Beauty (and this Blog)

  1. I loved this, Jill! Your words help me clarify the direction I want my home decor/lifestyle blog to take. (Domain name is registered. Now to set it all up!) I can’t wait to read your recommendations and dive further into this subject of holistic beauty. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.