I am kicking off the conversation on beauty with the responses of dear friend and perfume blogger, Suzanne Keller who blogs at Suzanne’s Perfume Journal. I ‘met’ Suzanne in the comments section of Birgit’s Olfactoria’s Travels. We seemed to have so much in common that we had to move our incessant chatter to email.
Here’s how Suzanne defines and perceives somethings beautiful:
1) What do you mean when you call something beautiful? Do you have different definitions when you talk of different things like faces, art, landscape? Or is everything you find beautiful characterized by something similar?
Now, when I’m talking about a landscape being beautiful, or an artwork, there doesn’t have to be symmetry, but the other definitions still apply. Not always, but in general, I find beautiful landscapes show a state of health (you know, either land that shows fertility and lushness … or, in the case of a desert environment, to be healthy in the sense that it’s clean and unpolluted and not carrying graffiti etc). And then those other things I mentioned previously need to be there too, to take it from merely pleasing to mesmerizing. An intensity of some kind, an interesting flaw, or both. I once took a photo of a bunch of trees in a park where all the trees were straight and healthy except for one, which had a Z-shaped trunk and was scrawny and stunted, but still growing. And I often take that photo out and look at it, because that little tree looked like a Japanese bonsai tree compared to the others, and it made me love it for uniqueness and its will to live. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but that’s how I felt about it.
2) Is there something that you find beautiful that is an exception to the above definition or which lacks the above characteristic/s?
Yes, I can think of exceptions in terms of faces. There really is not much that is symmetrical about singer Lyle Lovett’s face, and yet I find it so charismatic, charming and sexy. Why is that? My husband, sisters, nieces … they all think I’m crazy to think that Lyle Lovett is attractive. And I would have to admit, he’s quite odd looking. But there is something so intelligent and flirty about the way he uses his eyes, his crooked grin, and event that crazy hair of his. And then there is the rest of him — the intelligence that comes through in his songwriting, and that voice!. I can’t separate those things out and say, “Well, he’s not attractive but he’s talented,” the way other people can. No, to me his whole package is beautiful. And I have feelings along the same lines when it comes to the actor Paul Giamatti. I can’t ever look away from him, because there is that intelligence that I see in his eyes, and with him, there is also this sense of vulnerability. It pulls at my heart! But I suppose the question is, are we now talking about personality? I suppose we are. Personality, intelligence and charisma can bring great beauty to someone who isn’t all that attractive. And by the same token, a dull or flat personality is not attractive to me, no matter how pretty the person might be. And a cruel or egotistic personality is a real turn-off.
3) Do you make a distinction between aesthetically pleasing (or appealing to the senses) and beautiful? Can you call something one without it being the other? Is something that is aesthetically pleasing to you also defined by the characteristics described above?
I think I more or less answered this above, in response to your first question, but to reiterate: Yes, there’s a big distinction. For me, something that is beautiful goes beyond being aesthetically pleasing to possessing a trait (or traits) that makes it memorable. Something intense, something slightly imperfect that makes it both unique and also makes me feel like the object of that beauty is accessible to me. Thinking of an example, I might see two cute little redheaded girls together. They are both darling, but the girl who has an abundance of freckles will probably be beautiful to me. Those freckles will make me remember her, make me want to count them. Make me say, ahh, both girls are lovely, but look at the one that the fairies kissed with so much pixie dust!
4) Do you have physical reactions to beauty? (e.g. eyes opening wide, tears etc)
I get a feeling in my solar plexus that shoots up through my head. A whooshy feeling that reminds me of champagne bubbles. I don’t know if my eyes get bigger, but usually I can’t look away. Can’t stop returning to look some more, even when it leaves me bashful (here I am thinking of seeing a person that is beautiful, and I’ll get bashful and look away, but keep stealing looks out of the corner of my eye).
5) Could you list examples of ‘things’ you find beautiful under the following categories
I recently talked about this on my blog: the fairytale illustrations of Kay Nielsen leave me smitten. Michelangelo’s David will always slay me. Van Gogh’s Starry Night, too.
The smell of certain vegetation always gets to me: tomato vines and the memory of peas in their pods (which I used to shell on the porch with my mother … such a gentle, beautiful smell). And lamb with rosemary … I’m a fool for that smell.
d) Male Face
George Harrison’s face is one of the most beautiful male faces I’ve ever seen. At every age, he was beautiful. Viggo Mortensen, too. Also, Edward Norton and Stanley Tucci are both yum! And though he’s an old man now, I have always loved Peter O’Toole’s face (and voice).
e) Female Face
Minka Kelly … I’m not a lesbian, but to look at her is to want to go to bed with her. There is the lushness of her lips, the glossiness of her hair, and then there is this playful element to her expressions that I find really attractive. Playfulness is a big thing in my book. One of the most beautiful women on the perfume blogosphere is Victoria Jent of EauMG. She’s classically beautiful, but also punkish and fun. And she has the most phenomenal lips.
f) Music from your own country
My tastes are so eclectic that we could be here all day. But probably the most beautiful voice to me is Allison Krauss’s voice. I was quite lucky to see her in concert in a small venue, and it was like being in the presence of an angel.
g) Music from a foreign country
British pop, and so much of Corrine Bailey Rae’s stuff. Some opera arias, particularly the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes’ opera Lakmé. I also love Indian music, but can’t say that I particularly identify pieces by name. My husband once gave me this tape that was ayurvedic in the sense that it featured different sitar arrangements that were each geared to a particular body type/humor. So there was an arrangement for people with a strong vata, pitta or kapha temperament – and I don’t remember which one I was, but I loved all three pieces and used to use this tape as a method of going to sleep. It was a music that unraveled like lace, and trying to follow each strand really relaxed my mind.
The following question was suggested by Suzanne.
6) Is there a piece of art (or ‘thing’ or face) that you find particularly beautiful even though you are in the clear minority in that opinion? If so, could you discuss it and explain why it appeals to you?
Oh gosh, I did suggest this question and that was rather dumb of me, because I think I answered it in your question number two. Lyle Lovett’s face would probably be it! 😀
7) Is there something that is renowned to be beautiful that either doesn’t appeal to you or that you don’t find beautiful? Could you explain why?
Most of the leading male actors … they all look the same to me. So much so, that I can’t even sort them out by name. 😀
Is your definition of beauty similar? What do you call beautiful? Please feel free to share responses to some or all questions in the comments.
Picture Credits: Suzanne's picture via Suzanne's Perfume Journal Lyle Lovett's picture via Fox Hanford Kay Nielsen's illustration via Artists and Art Mount Teton via Wikipedia