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Reflections on Beauty II

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As I mentioned in my last post, my initial aim is to simply share some reflections on beauty I have run across by a number of authors.

I have probably learned more about beauty and why it matters from Dana Gioia than anyone else. My first exposure to his thinking (and passion) was on a Mars Hill Audio Journal segment. Simply to hear Dana read some of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins was itself a delight.  

The excerpt below is from a video conversation with The Trinity Forum, where Gioia describes the experience of encountering beauty.

 Beauty is really quite complicated, but it’s also something that all of us have an experience of. All of us have the experience of just walking along or sitting and then being stopped in our tracks by something that strikes us as beautiful. It could be a tree, a person, a landscape, a painting, a building. But somehow it makes us say, “Wait. I’ve got to pause.”


The experience of beauty is in four stages. The first is what I call “the arresting of attention,” where we stop our busyness, our preoccupation. All of us are walking around full of worries and hopes, and suddenly we stop. The second thing is, as we stop, we begin to take pleasure in the thing that we are beholding. And frequently it is pleasure that is somewhat disinterested. I’ll be walking by the hillside, and it’s covered with flowers. I don’t own the hillside; I don’t own the flowers. But it just stuns me. Then out of that arresting of attention, which is where we actually stop our busyness and think and take in the world, take in reality, we’re filled with this pleasure, and thirdly, suddenly we’re given an insight.

I’ll give you an example. Just outside the door of my studio are hillsides that were completely devastated in the October fires in California. Hundreds of my trees were destroyed. The ground was burned down to this blackened surface. Yet after the winter rains, suddenly, everything began to grow. But what began to grow was not necessarily what had been there beforehand. I’ve got a whole hillside now covered with lupine that’s about two feet tall. It’s spectacularly blue. I realized that for decades, the seeds of these lupines were sleeping under the surface of the earth, only to be reawakened in the fire. That’s an example of the third thing: your attention is arrested, you get pleasure, and suddenly you get a glimpse, large or small, of the inner workings of reality.

And then the fourth part of beauty happens. It’s over—which is to say, you can’t control it.

(Dana Gioia, Online Conversation, The Trinity Forum)

Click below to watch Gioia’s 28-minute film

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