Seven Questions on Beauty : Vanessa from Bonkers about Perfume

I started reading Vanessa Musson’s blog Bonkers about Perfume very recently. Had I known how  quirky and funny her writing was, I probably wouldn’t have waited this long. So of course I had to ask her to weigh in on this very important subject of beautiful things…:-)

me with door

Here are her responses:

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?

2) Is there something that you find beautiful that is an exception to the above definition or which lacks the above characteristic/s?

Beauty to me is an aesthetically pleasing interplay of variables such as shape, colour, layout, texture, light effects, sound etc that ideally also stirs the senses and/or moves the soul (whatever that may be, as Prince Charles famously said of ‘love’).

There are very broad, generally agreed definitions of beauty: in the case of faces, for example, features being a certain distance apart and more or less symmetrical is considered important – which is why we refer to someone as ‘classically’ or ‘conventionally good looking’. Yet the old adage ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and my mother’s favourite gnomic utterance of ‘Handsome is as handsome does’ also hold true, namely that outside the received wisdom of such narrower definitions, perceptions of beauty remain hugely subjective. Some people (me included) find more quirky variants on this classical ideal as attractive if not more so, not least because I think I might tire of perfect beauty more quickly than a slightly wonky interpretation.

Now the notable exception to this is babies: all babies are described as ‘beautiful’, even if they are tiny troglodytes with scrunched up faces. I tell a lie – I was a rather plain infant, and when I was presented to family and friends, they typically remarked: ‘Now there is a baby!’, which had the twin merit of being evasive but factually correct. In terms of my own personal response to beauty in all its manifestations/media, this affection for the offbeat or the imperfect is a common thread. Another aspect I am often drawn to but I won’t state it more strongly than that would be a moody or melancholic facet, which could be a plangent piece of music in a minor key or a brooding landscape with jagged peaks and wind-blasted vegetation in shades of murk and sludge. Yes, I tend to seek out imagery that is not ‘chocolate box’ pretty, but has some kind of edge to it.

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?

Yes I would, but it is a subtle distinction, and when beautiful objects fail to move me they default to a position of merely being aesthetically pleasing, blurring the boundaries in the process. Case in point: an Art Deco chair in a leather fabric I would call aesthetically pleasing, but not beautiful.  A more dainty shape of chair covered in a Zoffany damask I might call beautiful, and feel a visceral desire to have in my home.  Then a sumptuous Louis XIV chaise longue I might consider beautiful objectively speaking, but too ornate to appeal to me personally.    A different (human) example of relegating beauty to the level of the aesthetically pleasing would be Gwyneth Paltrow.  By any yardstick she is beautiful, yet her aloof, repressed, wheatgrass-infused good looks do not move me a jot, so she slips back a notch too.

 4) Do you have physical reactions to beauty? (e.g. eyes opening wide, tears etc)

I cried at a piece of music only the other day, but that is unusual.  My favourite music regularly makes my heart beat faster, especially when heard live.  Oh, and I can think of one or two other physical responses to beauty that are probably not suitable for publication…;-)

 5) Could you list examples of ‘things’ you find beautiful under the following categories

 a) Painting/Sculpture 

Paul Lessing Klosterhof im Schnee

The Lessing painting is not reproduced on the web so I photographed a book I have with it on the cover!  But sadly it only features a small section.  I found a crude painted copy of the original, but it doesn’t do it justice.

lessing book cover

Lawren Harris Snow,

my own print of it :

lawren harris snow

David Gleeson, Eggs in a bowl (hanging on my wall)


b) Perfume

how long have you got?!

c) Smell

nag champa, a specific kind of pinky peach rose

d) Male Face

Pete Duel

NB :  I slept under Pete Duel’s face (on an Athena poster, admittedly) from the age of 10 to the age of 26, when I thought it was perhaps time to put away such mooning childish things.  He doesn’t look handsome from every angle, which is another reason I like his face.  Also, it is friendly and open, and not too self-aware.

e) Female Face

Elisabeth Moss, Gina McKee – planes and angles to die for… - gina mckee

f) Music from your own country

Bliss by The Monochrome Set

g) Music from a foreign country

Eberhard Weber Later that evening

h) Landscape


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?

Wind farm in Mojave desert– some might consider it a blot on the landscape, but to me this was a majestic sight, like a canopy of giant daisies.

mojave desert

Peeling paint on a boat hull or a door – the object in question is technically damaged, but I find the muted colours and textures you often find on weathered wood to be more appealing than a pristine paint job.

Specific instances of graffiti – the very act of defacement can challenge expectations and give a façade a vibrant new lease of life.


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?

Mona Lisa – she has no eyebrows or eyelashes as far as I can tell

Van Gogh Sunflowers – not feeling all that yellow!

*sounds of stifled laughter*

One of my favorite things about collecting responses from various people has been discovering pockets of beauty that I was previously unaware of. I googled Connemara while listening to Bliss by The Monochrome Set (a band I hadn’t heard of) and was blown away by the pictures.

Is there something new and beautiful you discovered through these posts on beauty?

* Question 6 was suggested by Suzanne

Picture Credits

Photographs of Vanessa,the paintings/illustration 
and the Wind Farm on the Mojave Desert via Vanessa

Picture of Gina McKee via United Agents

Picture of Graffiti via


  1. I hope I can do a better job responding here than I did at Vanessa’s interview at Birgit’s blog this morning. 😀

    First, I have to say that the picture you have of Vanessa is just lovely. V’s hair, expression and tunic are so artsy! She looks like a free spirit.

    While our definitions of beauty are so very similar, what’s fascinating to me are the specific examples of what she finds beautiful – because (1) it allows me to get to know her better, and (2) it expands my world. I’d never heard of Pete Duel (believe it or not), Gina McKee, or The Monochrome Set, the latter of which I’ll be adding to my YouTube set for further listening (I loved “Bliss”). And I can definitely see why Gina McKee is beautiful to V; I love faces like that, too, and have always wanted a thin, more aquiline-like nose (the total opposite of mine). 🙂

    Can’t share V’s love of the wind farm in the Mojave, but quite agree with her on the peeling paint on an old boat or door. Fascinating answers, all around.

    • haha- your comments on that interview on B’s blog gave me quite the giggling fit..:)

      I know!- I loved her expression in this photo too- it seemed to convey her personality (atleast what little I know of it)- the humor, the niceness.

      I didn’t know Pete Duel either-haha. I did know Gina McKee, in that I have seen her in movies (e.g. Notting Hill) but didn’t know that that was her name. But yes- I also find that kind of face attractive. Wait- let me go and look at a picture of your nose..ok- from what I can make out you have a nice nose..:).

      I love the specific examples too- I think it is interesting that even when the definitions are similar to yours/mine, the specific examples are not necessarily loves. I don’t yet have an opinion about the Wind farms having never seen them in real life.

      Oh and I have to tell you that I ‘discovered’ the Flower Duet because of you. I don’t think I have ‘knowingly’ heard it before. It is quite lovely and I would love more opera recommendations from you.

  2. flittersniffer

    Hi Lavanya,

    Firstly, may I thank you very much for giving me this fun opportunity – fun and mentally challenging – for I don’t think I have grappled with a good philosophical topic since I was a student, and it gave my flabby grey cells a good workout! I do agree with Suzanne that it is most interesting to see the differences in our choice of things or people to illustrate our points. We may all love the quirk factor in beauty, but have quite divergent takes on what constitutes ‘beautiful quirk’ as opposed to just plain odd. 😉 Very much looking forward to seeing what comes next…;-)

    • “We may all love the quirk factor in beauty, but have quite divergent takes on what constitutes ‘beautiful quirk’ as opposed to just plain odd. ” Haha exactly- that’s what I was trying to say in my reply to Suzanne but you’ve put it much better!

  3. V really got to grips with the questions and I agree that her specific examples are really interesting and helpful. I’ll listen to the music clips when I’m home but I’ve looked at the Connemara mountains which are breath-taking.

    Elisabeth Moss does have a beguiling face which I will take over poor old Gwyneth any day 🙂

  4. After reading this (and Suzannes recent post on Kay Nielsen) I’m thinking all perfume bloggers should do mandatory art posts in between the scent ones, because you guys are helping me finding so many artists and artworks to love 🙂 I did look up the Klosterhof image, it can be seen at: and it’s just as stunning as Vanessa says! The Lawren Harris reproduction I also loved (as well as the pictures of snow clad mountains showing up when googling him). It’s a funny choice because I used to have a “trees with snow” phase myself, when I was obsessed with taking photos of trees covered in snow, catching the interplay between white snow and dark branches/shadows. In my case, it was mostly birches though, maximizing the black and white monochrome thing 🙂

    • I know- I was just going to say that Vanessa seems to like trees weighed down by snow (which again fits in with the melancholy pattern, no V?). Thanks for the link Sigrun- that really looks lovely..And I see a lot of peeling paint too..:)
      I used to have a thing (and probably still do) for bare/leafless trees- I think I loved the ‘weathered’ beauty of them as well as their ‘starkness’.

      And I agree with you about the art posts- I’ve been loving these specific examples because there is just this range of beauty in art and music to explore.

  5. Natalie

    I am going to discover so many new artists and musicians via these posts! Thank you L and participants. 🙂 Funny thing about Gwyneth: while she is now considered such a beauty, I can remember a time (when she first came on the scene – with Shakespeare in Love) when everyone from my mom’s friends to my friends at school (I think I was in 5th or 6th grade) were talking about how ugly she was. Further evidence, in my opinion, that beauty is subjective and our perceptions of it are deeply susceptible to trends and other factors. But I digress. Great responses, V!

    • I think there might have been something awkward about her which might have been endearing about her in the past- though I don’t remember. I do remember that Chris Martin was a whole lot more awkward and interesting (and endearing) before he got married. Now he looks too ‘preppy’- I hate when fame polishes the rough edges.

      • You are spot on – Chris Martin does look so preppy now – I hadn’t twigged to that before. Long gone is his faint patina of indie grunge. 😉

  6. I did the same thing as Lavanya: watched Connemara pictures (they do love their donkeys!) while listening to Bliss by The Monochrome Set (it is beautiful).

    I could never understand why people keep calling babies beautiful:most of them are ugly – and that’s ok, it doesn’t undermine their importance in their parents’ lives or in the society, why should everyone lie?

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