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
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.
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”.
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
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
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.
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