Monday, December 15, 2008


There is a question that has rattled around in my head for so long I can't really remember not thinking about it, at least not in my adult years. What makes us, humans, wish to possess so much of the time the things that we find beautiful. We pick or buy flowers, we buy music that moves us, we "take" photos of sunsets or brown bears on the side of the road knowing full well that those pictures will present themselves as being nothing like the intensity of the real thing. We pick up pine cones, stones, shells, and store them on shelves, so far out of their element that they loose much of the intoxication that gripped us before (the clear exception to this is of course those who do remember the place that breathed soul into the object and are able to see that, photograph that, paint that, write about that, once it is removed).

because of rain

I think this tendency to want to possess is one of the reasons that Flickr is so popular amongst the visually inclined. On Flickr you can favorite other people's photographs, like you would add a web page's link to your favorite links list. In this way you are not copying someone else's work, thereby violating copyright law and ethics, but still, somehow, owning it in that you can go and see it amongst all the other pretty photos you have collected there. It's like marking the best paintings in the Louvre's visitor's guide and then being allowed to enter anytime you want, alone, and be nearly instantaneously transported to the work of your whim. (I know this is why I love Flickr so much. Well, that and the fact that it's basically a free art show at anytime I have a spare moment... Oh and the meeting of minds there is astounding... And the support and learning amongst like minded & different minded folks. Oh don't get me started)

Choosing a tree

I'm sure this tendency is strongest amongst those of us who are deeply in touch with our own sense of creativity (we all have that sense, it's just easier to access for some us than others and that has everything to do with our belief about creativity and how we were taught to embrace or deny it as children... IMHO) but we all want that beauty around us. Some of us may mistake brand, or price tags with beauty... but beauty is what we are searching for, I'm convinced.

But why? How does beauty serve us as a species? That's really the question I go back to whenever I wonder about us humans. If "A" is true about humans then "A" must benefit us in a very biological sense, somehow. But, in this case, it doesn't really seem to fit.

where will the rest come from-

Beauty makes our hearts, our souls, soar to heights greater than our bodies or technology can take us. For the life of me I can't understand how such a thing contributes to our survival, our propagation of the species.

Any ideas?

This all popped to mind again tonight when I stumbled onto these photographs and thought "Oh gawd, I can't favorite them! What am I going to do, just look at them and move on? No, I can't! I must have them!"


kristin said...

wow where did you stumble upon that project. how intriguing. gosh to be in my 20's and starting at this. why did i stumble into my passion so very very late. oh well .

curious girl (lisa) said...

I'm still thinking about your post after reading it yesterday. I struggle with the compulsion to have and own what I believe to be beautiful. your post made me think about this more and more, to discover why this is. I'm still thinking...

great post.

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Very interesting. I've read this post several times without leaving a comment because I'm not quite sure how to express what I feel. I've wooden and ceramic bowls filled with rocks and pine cones and shells and fossils and stones from every travel. Touching them takes me back, but it's more than that. It's a tactile pleasure, like holding spirit in my hand. That sounds kinda odd but maybe you can glean something out of it that I cannot.

kendalee said...

I've been considering this post for a while too... Intriguing and thought-provoking! I am definitely a hoarder. I love to buy & hold on to beautiful things, have flowers in a vase, collect a small pebble from somewhere I've been to... I take zillions of photographs and I even compulsively collect words in the form of books, quotations, poems... I think mostly for me it's because I want to create a sanctuary of beauty and a connection to nature in what can be an ugly urban world - I live in a big, industrial city. But there's also the fact that these things act as memory triggers for me. Every time I look at the small glazed bowl I have on my desk, for example, I think of the happy time I enjoyed in the small seaside town in Italy where I bought it over 10 years ago now... I guess it's a kind of filing system that allows me to access the memories more readily? Like smells and songs, all these things, photographs and words connect me to my own history and the greater history of my world... And through collecting the beauty created by others, I think I feel connected to kindred spirits. But why is it so important to me to do that? Should I not be self-contained, unattached and all about living in the present?

As for the genetic/evolutionary imperative... Perhaps a consciousness of our history and beauty and an ability to create art are just a side effect rather than the central imperative of some of the things that make us - along with being able to retain (possess) knowledge, learn complex skills, invent things, and gather to create nations (that then fight other nations for ownership of their knowledge, lands etc) successful as a species in the biological sense. And as a species, there's no doubt we've been successful. So successful that we are in danger of entirely destroying our planet through overpopulation and greed. We've gone too far. Extremes of anything can be dangerous. Maybe a search for and the creation of beauty, trying to connect to nature (even through a seashell in a bowl or a cut flower or a photograph of a beach) is our way of trying to express what's good about our nature and abilities, or to atone for the ugliness we create? Restore balance. We're not doing as well on that front I fear. Mmmm...

Sorry about the ramble - you might like to delete the comment! You just really got me thinking and I'll be thinking about this for a while yet. Thank you for that. :)