For the Love of Beauty

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The Article

Our family doesn’t have a television, at least not one that gets any channels. We just use our box for movies, because I know if we did get channels, I’d watch it. A lot.

But when I go away, and I’m in a hotel with a TV, I have to admit to a certain weakness. I just love those makeover shows. It doesn’t matter what they’re making over—a woman, a house, a garden—I’m glued to the set.

It all started one night when I was by myself in Toronto and decided to check out CSI to see what all the fuss was about. That particular episode told the story of a woman alone in a hotel room discovering a dead body under her bed. I had to call my husband to get the courage to peek under my own bed to ensure a lack of corpses. He told me to switch the channel, and there was What Not to Wear. I haven’t been the same since.

Last week Keith and I were teaching at a marriage conference in New Brunswick, and on “date night” I insisted Keith watch Flip This House with me. And what an episode it was! The buyer had to hire hazardous material specialists to clean out this disastrous abode, as the previous owners had left rotting garbage to feed the multitude of rats and cockroaches. It was atrocious. And by the end of the show the house was absolutely lovely. It made for great television.

Unlike much of the media which profits in ugliness, I think these makeover programs showcase very noble professions. Whether it’s taking an insecure woman and giving her confidence, or taken a hideous house and transforming it to something extremely livable, the hosts are increasing the sum total of beauty in the world.

That, of course, was the role of artists in years gone by. It still is the role of those who truly value their craft, whether it’s art or graphic design or knitting or hairdressing. The lost art of homemaking even bears many similarities as we clean up messes, create tasty meals, and decorate for holidays. But such things are often viewed as passé in our rush to accumulate more and more money and more and more stuff. We have focused instead on getting what we can from the world instead of leaving a better world behind us.

Even art has lost the ability to make people smile or just to inspire an appreciation for hard work and creativity. Our family recently toured the National Gallery in Ottawa, where millions of our tax dollars are gleefully spent on things which you may, or may not, consider art. We sighed rapturously at the Monets, with the water lilies and the purples and greens and blues. We loved the paintings from centuries long ago when artists were perfecting painting the human form. But the modern stuff is often, well, just gross.

Coinciding with our visit was a unique photography exhibit by a guy who seems to enjoy taking pictures of distasteful things. It seems no matter where we looked in the Gallery there was a lifesize photo advertising this strange exhibit. I wouldn’t have minded if the photo depicted a lily, or a wildflower field, or even children. But it was a photo of a naked, fat dude with absolutely no hair. He was supposed to look like a baby, I think, only he was sixty. He was Lifesize Creepy Dude, and we couldn’t escape him. Even Monet’s water lilies couldn’t get that awful picture out of my mind.

I wish our society didn’t value shock so much—whether it’s rappers, or the latest celebrity gone wild, or terrorists, or even too many modern artists. Why not just celebrate beauty? It’s a much higher calling, and it makes those around you feel so much better. I guess some people don’t care and no longer appreciate this pinnacle of creativity, but that makes us about as human as Creepy Dude. We think our society is progressing, but all I can say from my trip to the Gallery is that it seems to me we’ve lost a basic vision of our humanness that artists possessed in centuries almost now forgotten. And I don’t think that’s progress at all.

S. Wray Gregoire
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