Quotes on beauty

I’m becoming a fan of GoogleDocs, and have begun a Docs document documenting pithy quotations on beauty. Here’s what I have so far. Most of these I’ve probably cited on the blog already.

    Endeavouring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us, just as trying to sleep with someone may be the bluntest response to a feeling of love. What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.
    — Alain de Botton

    Beauty is the promise of happiness.
    — Stendhal

    “There is nothing more demanding than the taste for mediocrity. Beneath its ever moderate appearance there is nothing more intemperate; nothing surer in its instinct; nothing more pitiless in its refusals. It suffers no greatness, shows beauty no mercy.”
    — Cardinal Henri de Lubac

    We don’t want merely to see beauty . . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
    — C.S. Lewis

    To see the face of God is to behold beauty, which is the source of all lesser beauty.
    — Randy Alcorn

    Beauty reaches far beyond art, music and literature, for it is characteristic of the natural world — or as Christians would say creation. For beauty, like truth and like goodness, has its origin in God. But we mustn’t think of beauty as belonging to objects in the world, as if beauty were a quality like size or yellowness: beauty is in the relationship between the object and the person who comes into contact with it.
    — Rev. Peter Mullen

    The temple, like the tabernacle, was not planned by man (I Chron 28: 11-12) . . . the temple was to be filled with art work. “And he [Solomon] garnished [covered] the house with precious stones for beauty” ( 2 Chron 3:6). Notice this carefully: The temple was covered with precious stones for beauty. There was no pragmatic reason for the precious stones. They had no utilitarian purpose.
    — C.S. Lewis

Last month I was meditating on the Stendhal blurb. This month it’s the first C.S. Lewis quote. I want to say that I completely understand what he’s saying, but that would be too strong of a statement. I don’t think, as accurate as the quote may be, any Earthly being can fully comprehend that truth. Regardless, I can say with all honesty that I want “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” Even Lewis notes that this is something that can hardly be put into words.

Being wholeheartedly invested in the plastic arts I first think of this statement in reference to the visual environment including nature, architecture and people. Other arts are also easy to consider in the context of this phrase such as literature, drama and not-so-popular music. More recently I’ve also come to realize — even as little as I understand it at this point — that human relationships are extraordinarily beautiful as well (rough as they may often be, mainly on account of our selfishness). Any thoughts to continue this line of thought from readers?


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 pcNielsen.com.

5 Responses to Quotes on beauty

  1. jim Janknegt says:

    I checked a book out of the library that I am excited about. The Beauty of Holines and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity, and the Truth of Catholicism by John Saward. I heard John Saward on A Journey Home program several weeks ago where he mentioned this book. I was immediately intrigued.

    The opening quotation from Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) totally had me from the get go.

    “The only really effective apologia for Christianty comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendour of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No, Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty-and hence truth-is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of Hell.”

  2. pNielsen says:

    Very nice. I’m adding it to my list. I’m intrigued by this in particular:

    “Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendour of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history.”

    I asked my seminary educated office-mate what he thought of the quote (it obviously resonates with me off the bat as an artist). He said what I thought he would, that if you’re an artist it will make sense, but if you’re a “logical” person (his word, and knowing him he’s not suggesting artists are necessarily illogical) it’s “hogwash.” He was surprised where the quote came from (we’re neither of us Catholic).

    Much as I like the quote, that sentence seems to “dispense with” apologetics, which — like art — has its place. It comes across as though the Pope is swinging to the other end of the spectrum instead of trying to find balance. The church has been strong on piousness and apologetics for decades now and largely ignored the arts. This is wrong. But so is trashing apologetics.


  3. jim Janknegt says:

    The odd thing about that quote is that id didn’t list the source besides saying it ws from Ratzinger. I’d love to know the context. My guess is that you are right and that he was addressing a particular issue and trying to regain some balance. The Pope has written some very apologetic books and always defends the use of reason.

    I do think more folks are convinced of the reality of Christianity by seeing it lived out in a persons life (the saints) than can be reasoned into believing, IMHO. I don’t have that experience with the arts affecting people in the same way in modern times, although I have heard stories that it has, such as Thomas Merton.

  4. jim janknegt says:

    My wife and I re-watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid last night. The opening scene shows Paul Newman as Butch casing a bank. The bank guard is closing up and is putting all the security features in place.

    Butch asks: What happened to this bank? It used to be so beautiful?
    Guard: It kept getting robbed.
    Butch: Small price to pay for beauty.

    It made me think of your blog.

  5. Anyone who mentions the name Henri De Lubac is a friend of mine lol. Keep up the great quotes. I invite you to my webpage for Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. wjholland.wordpress.cm

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