I most likely am not the first person to admit being distracted by superficiality disguised as beauty. Being a part of the generation who grew up with the instant gratification of a “like” doesn’t help. Working in a creative field can also complicate things — what one person finds attractive may not evoke a response in the next, so I’m always under pressure to make something that pleases and holds up to a general audience.
Ever since I was a kid, I was always trying to express my creativity on scraps of paper and corners of worksheets, but would critique myself if I fell short of perfection. I would spend hours perfecting my cursive handwriting or drawing flowers in my sketchpad. Even in college, where I studied studio art and graphic design, I always felt the lingering presence of self-criticism — that I was never good enough, never innovative enough, never technically skilled enough. I have never described myself as artistic — an ironic thought considering my job title is “art director” — because I have always been reluctant to praise myself on such a subjective and convoluted scale.
But over the past few years, something has changed in me: My definition of beauty has shifted. Beauty is not limited to the masterpieces of Michelangelo or Monet. It’s not a perfectly curated Instagram feed. It’s not something with a specific aesthetic or limited to those who can afford to experience luxury. It’s so much simpler than that. Beauty is a part of any experience that grabs us by the aorta to pull us outside of ourselves. We recognize it in emotion and creativity, but it goes beyond art and music. The wideness of the universe and whatever is beyond it has the power to grab us in that way. So does looking in the mirror and being filled with the existential awe of how you were created with that specific curve of your nose.
I still struggle to find beauty everyday, especially when it’s February and you live in the Midwest and everything is cold and gray. But I’ve discovered that if I stop trying to search for it, it finds me. It’s the respite of a sunny day in the middle of winter, or the call you get from a loved one you haven’t spoken to in a while. Beauty is in the new baby that your friend welcomes, or in the routine of making a perfect cup of coffee every morning. The beauty of beauty is that the world is brimming with it. Like a gas (or perhaps a cat?) it fills any space we open for it in our awareness. Even in this cold and gray Midwestern winter, there’s beauty on offer here — it visits me in surprisingly small ways when I make room for joy and wonder.