Seven Questions on Beauty : Tara from Olfactoria’s Travels

Tara is a regular contributor to Birgit’s Olfactoria’s Travels and comes across as a lovely person, quietly passionate.  I enjoy her thoughtful comments on perfume and the precision of her writing, which is especially evident in her answers to these questions on beauty.


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?

When I call something beautiful I am describing something that holds my attention in a positive way for a length of time. Often beauty will touch me emotionally as well. It has the power to transport me somewhere else for a time. I think most things I find beautiful in art and nature can be characterised this way.

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

When I am emotionally attached to people I find them beautiful, whether other people do or not. I’m extremely subjective when it comes to the beauty of people I have feelings about.

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 do make that distinction. For something to be beautiful it has to hold my attention. Something aesthetically pleasing will attract my attention but something beautiful with keep it. Aesthetically pleasing objects don’t hold me transfixed or move me the way beauty can. Often what’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye is symmetry, but perfect symmetry can be dull. It doesn’t interest me or touch me on an emotional level. So I think that something can be aesthetically pleasing yet not be beautiful.

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

I have only ever cried listening to music on the odd occasion, but I’m sure I have some subtle physical reactions when faced with something that I find truly beautiful. I would imagine my eyes widen slightly in order to try and take it all in.

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

 a) Painting/Sculpture 

Paul Klee, Frieda Kahlo and Tamara Lempicka are artists whose work is beautiful and resonates with my emotions. For sheer, transcendent, unadulterated beauty I’ll go for Henri Matisse. He did quite a few red interiors and I love them for their richness. They are a feast for the eyes.


b) Perfume

I would give Puredistance 1 and Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan as examples of beautiful perfumes.

There are a lot of pretty perfumes in the world but both of these keep me intrigued.  They are radiant, perfectly blended and not easy to fathom. Having said that, I don’t think a perfume has to be beautiful to be great. A lot of great perfumes have an off-note or something dark about them. Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit and Shalimar are perfumes that are great but not necessarily what I think of as “beautiful”.

c) Smell

To experience some of my favourite aromas, follow me as I take a walk one lunch hour in summer.

On stepping out of the office I inhale the smell of hot pavements that have just been rained on for the first time in weeks. Turning the corner I walk past a construction site that smells of burning dust.  Near the shops, there’s a bar with hookah pipes outside and I breathe in a little of the fruity tobacco smoke. In the precinct, I pass a German sausage stall and enjoy the smell of smoked meat that wafts towards me on the breeze.

On the way back to work, I walk through the park and fill my lungs with the rich green scent of plant-life. Back on the street, my mouth waters at the smell of spicy, charcoal singed food from the Indian tandoori restaurant across the road from my office.

However, none of these beat the smell of my young niece!

d) Male Face

Mark Oliver Everett

This is a classic example of how I often relate to faces. Although I was a fan of his music, I never found Mark Oliver Everett AKA. “E” physically attractive until I read his heart meltingly honest memoir “Things The Grandchildren Should Know”. By the last page I was a goner.

e) Female Face

Tori Amos. Probably because I’m mixed race myself I’m often drawn to women with some kind of dual heritage. The fact that I am a long-time fan of her as a person as well as her music also has a lot to do with it but her Scottish/Native American grandparents gave her such a unique look. If it’s not a complete contradiction, I think she’s earthy and ethereal at the same time.

f) Music from your own country

Bat For Lashes “Moon and Moon”

g) Music from a foreign country

I find piano music particularly beautiful when it has a strong – usually introspective – emotion behind it. Erik Satie is a good example of this.

h) Landscape

Two contrasting landscapes from my travels that stick in my mind because of their beauty are the rice terraces in Bali and the stunning waterfall I saw in Iceland.

Bali was so lush it was like being in paradise.


Iceland was the complete opposite of Bali, but its stark vistas of rock, ice and water had a striking beauty all of their own.


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?

I find the long shadows cast in autumn very beautiful. There’s an otherworldly quality to the light and shade at this time of year that almost gives me a shiver.

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?

Neither Brad Pitt nor Johnny Depp do a thing for me. What can I say?

That breathtaking photo of the rice terraces in Bali made me wonder whether a monochrome scene like that could be captured or ‘translated’ into scent, while still retaining the undulating beauty of the landscape. Can you think of any perfume equivalents of that photograph?

* Question 6 was suggested by Suzanne

Picture Credits

Pictures of Tara and her niece via Tara
Picture of Matisse's Red Room via Literaria
Picture of rice terraces in Bali via mi9
Picture of Icelande via wikipedia


  1. “Something aesthetically pleasing will attract my attention but something beautiful with keep it. Aesthetically pleasing objects don’t hold me transfixed or move me the way beauty can.”

    So true. Each time one of these surveys are posted, someone brings up a facet that helps me further define and round out my own answer to the question of what makes something truly beautiful.

    Tara is, to my mind, the kind of woman who makes me think of the descriptor, “an English rose.” She is a thoughtful beauty with exquisite manners and a thoughtful, reflective voice. And that has been emphasized for me in her answers to your survey, Lavanya. I can truly see her as being a woman who would appreciate the long shadows of autumn and stark beauty of Iceland, as well as the quiet lushness of Bali’s terraced rice fields.

    Lastly, Tara is the person who introduced me to Jarvis Cocker and Pulp (and I’ve been enthralled with Jarvis ever since), and now it’s great to hear about Bat for Lashes (just listened to “Moon for Moon” … so gorgeous and ethereal) and I will be fully exploring their music now.

    • “So true. Each time one of these surveys are posted, someone brings up a facet that helps me further define and round out my own answer to the question of what makes something truly beautiful.”

      Exactly my thoughts. Suzanne- I felt the same way while reading the various responses. It helped me further understand and articulate my thoughts.

      Ooh- I am not familiar with Jarvis Cocker and Pulp- so will give them a listen! Thanks!

    • Thanks for that unbelievably lovely comment, Suzanne!

      Jarvis is doing a Sunday afternoon radio show for BBC 6 Music called the Sunday Service which is well worth a listen if you are able to access the Listen Again facility on the website.

  2. Oh, I absolutely loved reading Tara’s answers, through which I got to know her tastes and what ‘floats her boat’ beauty-wise that little bit better! Really enjoyed the scents of her lunchtime walk and the Bat for Lashes video, which reminded me at times of Bjork and also of Stina Nordenstram – both noted for their wistful, slightly tortured songs from a Scandiwegian perspective that are right up my own melancholic alley! And I love Tori Amos’s face and second Tara’s choice as an excellent representation of female beauty.

    Regarding the translation of the monochrome scene into scent, I think there would be a suitable contender somewhere in the canon of Mark Buxton or Andrea Maack’s work, but I couldn’t put my finger on any one thing.

  3. Thanks for including me in this wonderful series, Lavanya. I really enjoyed pondering your and Suzanne’s thought-provoking and interesting questions. Even more fun reading everyone else’s answers and I can’t wait for your own.

    • Thanks for participating Tara. As Suzanne mentioned, I really love your point about beauty as measured by the length of time that something engages your attention (I mean attracting attention vs keeping it). I want to use that criterion and check if I come up with the same examples for what I find beautiful (same examples as when I don’t explicitly use that criterion). Very interesting!!

  4. I also found Taras point about beautiful things being the ones to stay in your mind very interesting, and the fact that she loves Iceland 🙂 Maybe we should organize a group trip for parfumistas to go visit there, that would be fun 😉

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