Last night I went to a talk about insight. One of the things that jumped out at me was the notion that a beautiful idea is more likely to be a good and correct idea than an ugly idea. What a pleasing concept! I immediately found resonance and connections with this proposition.
Keats said that truth and beauty were one and the same:
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty
That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know’.
I’m not sure that I agree with Keats about truth and beauty being one and the same, nor am I sure that this is sufficient knowledge. However, I do think that there is a strong relationship between truth and beauty. There are all sorts of questions about beauty and truth and whether they are objective absolutes or contextual relatives, and I am not going to enter that conversation. I do think though that we vary our positions on this. Sometimes we say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and we are quite happy with the understanding of beauty being subjective. At other times we sound off about things as if there were some objective standard of truth or beauty and we judge others or things as wrong/right, good/bad, tasteful/tasteless and so on.
But more about the relationship between truth and beauty… I know that I am most profoundly moved when people talk to me most honestly about themselves and their lives. For me there is a great beauty in that often raw, vulnerable honesty. I think people would be surprised or disbelieving were you to tell them that they were beautiful at times like that. I like it very much when people are honest enough to give their opinions, to make fools of themselves, to be themselves without affectation, pretension, fear or defence. Of course there are numerous reasons that make it unsafe for us to be altogether honest and truthful, but I find it a beautiful thing when that truth is apparent.
I grew up with a strong linking of the words ‘good’ and ‘honest’. My father would refer to “good, honest dirt”, “good, honest architectural lines”, “good, honest food” and so on. The implication was that things could not be good unless they were honest, and so started a process of judging things as dishonest and therefore bad, or bad and therefore dishonest. If I were logical and tolerant I should believe that if someone wants to have ionic columns holding up the corrugated roof of the face-brick stoep, that should be fine. I fear though, that I judge such things to be pretentious, bad and dishonest. I have a profound dislike of fake, stick-on rock walls, ‘natural’ fiberglass fountains, ‘Tuscan’ developments in suburban wastelands – things that pretend to be other than what they are.
It would seem to me that there is a lot more chance of something being beautiful if it is unashamedly what it is, rather than trying to pretend to be something different. I have seen this process at work in many of the people with whom I have worked; as people become more and more accepting of who they are, they become more beautiful, and are able to inhabit that beauty in unique ways.
Maybe our homes can remind us of this relationship between beauty and truth and help us to be more courageous in being honestly and beautifully ourselves.