Beauty + Power = Sublime

I’m perusing videos uploaded to YouTube detailing the storm and resulting damage from Friday’s tornado in Atlanta. It’s fascinating to me how websites like Flickr and YouTube allow for such dynamic and more or less real-time citizen journalism. These websites foster an organic creation of a veritable archive, of sorts, recording important, interesting and personal events. The founder and director of ArtsLink lives near downtown Atlanta but, thankfully, was unharmed; the house her and her husband just signed a contract one day before on is just blocks from a badly damaged neighborhood, however.

I’ve mentioned in one or two previous posts — posts probably more than two years old now — my own monumental run-in with tornadoes. Seven of them, in fact, all in one night. I was three years old and distinctly remember huddling in the basement with my mother. My father was galavanting around town with his sister, trying to rouse their aunt who they were worried wouldn’t heard the civil defense sirens. They were trying to do this without getting shot, knowing their aunt kept a .38 in her nightstand.


This is a photograph from the Night of the Twisters website, an eery
lightening illuminated cloud formation. The website doesn’t say,
but if I recall correctly this picture was taken looking west
over the Capital Heights neighborhood.

Even though I ended up with my first Big Wheel from a pile of rubble following the storm that devastated Grand Island, Nebraska in June 1980, I was terrified of tornado sirens for years afterward. I dreamt of the yellow noisemakers bouncing down the basement stairs of my home coming to get me. When the sirens would blair and storms were near, I would race into the house.

Somehow I overcame this phobia around the age of 12 or 13. By then I’d seen two other twisters in my hometown of North Platte, Nebraska, one as a funnel right over my little league game.

I can’t, unfortunately, lay out exactly how these powerful storms, with or without a tornado, went from being so frightful to so captivating for me. I would like to be able to understand how this shift occurred in order to better articulate the fascination I now have for thunderstorms, a fascination that impels me through my artistic processes.

As I’ve said before, I find storms both beautiful and powerful. They are beautiful when viewed from a distance (easily done on the prairies I grew up on); the textures, the forms and the light are stunning. They are powerful when upon you, which goes without saying. This combination awes me, how something so visually wonderful can also be so terrifying. Perhaps the best word to describe such a phenomenon is sublime.

Though I often lament living in Northwest Arkansas on account of it’s trees and hills obscuring the horizon, I still look forward to this stormy time of year. I’ve made note of a few places in town where one can look a ways into the sky and see approaching storms. I migrate to these locations with a camera whenever the forecast for thunderstorms is promising.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

3 Responses to Beauty + Power = Sublime

  1. Mary says:

    I am currently reading Edmund Burke’s essay A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. I wish I had a sufficient grasp of his genius to be able to summarize the similarities between your experience of thunderstorms and his ruminations on power, beauty, fear, and awe.
    I love your blog!

  2. TAE says:

    I think, but am not positive, I’ve heard of that essay by Burke. I’ve read some on the sublime written by Ruskin and, IIRC, one other. Possibly Burke. It seems to me that historical ideas of the sublime are somewhat different than modern connotations, especially as I recall what Ruskin posited. Nonetheless, the word seemed to fit as I reflected in this entry, more personal than most on the blog.

    Glad my writing is so encouraging to you! Thanks for the props.

  3. Pingback: Tornados as inspiration, not necessarily being glorified « The Aesthetic Elevator

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