…finding beauty in what is, and, of course, in the spots of Dalmatians ;-)
Does What You See Exist?
In reality there is nothing in the universe which is completely perfect or completely still; it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist. [Alan W. Watts]
I find the concept of perfection fascinating — that there is an interplay between what is, and what we strive for, and how we blind ourselves to the perfection of the present by placing a close-up image of something that exists only in our minds — to be defined as ‘perfect’.
The Perfection of Imperfection
The Japanese Taoist term wabi-sabi is sometimes used to define this — a reaction to lavishness, ornamentation and materialism, there is art of finding beauty in imperfection and in what comes out of time and loneliness.
Yes. Time and loneliness. And the characters have a longer history — wabi 侘 is reported to mean ‘despondence’, and sabi 寂 ‘loneliness’ or ‘solitude’.
This isn’t just about the broken pot, the admiration for age, the wonder at decades or millennia of use, and the honouring of ancient craftsmanship, there is a feeling to the idea, not just a form.
It isn’t about seeing beauty in simplicity or imperfection, it’s knowing that beauty and perfection only exist in the fabricated constructs of our minds, taking form in language and fashion and the constructs of human hands, but that is the act of construction that is where the feeling comes from, not the physical representation.
Expression not Appearance
If Alan Watts is right and noting is completely perfect or completely still, then the very activity of creating something as fixed (so that we can judge it), whether in the present, past or future is nothing more than taking a snapshot of a star. And we can see this if we look at the changing form of the material in front of us — we construct the experience by seeing, not by defining what is physically in front of us.
I have a Dalmatian dog, who has spots — of course he does! At certain angles, in certain pictures, I can see shapes in his spots — usually hearts, and, not just me…
Perfection is Elusive…
If we allow ourselves to look at the changing form in front of us, we see expression, not perfection. I have a Dalmatian dog, who has spots — of course he does! At certain angles, in certain pictures, I can see shapes in his spots — usually hearts, and, not just me…
…a friend painted him and told me she loved his heart. I laughed, I see it too, but I know it doesn’t literally exist, it’s shape-shifting magic, something that draws our eye to love.
And what’s beautiful about that is we can appreciate the expression of what is, and then we can pause, without fixing that expression in anything other than the moment we experience it, and without questioning it. We can feel what it is to experience the heart on his shoulder, but the experience comes from what our own awareness, it’s our love, our heart, not what is painted in literal black and white on the screen in front of us.
Fleeting, and Elusive, and Yet Ever-Present
To accept what is, is to accept our humanity, without the need to strive for a higher meaning, or placing ourselves or others in a register of winners and losers.
If nothing is ever completely perfect, or completely still then nothing is ever complete. The world, and all of us, are in perpetual motion. To take a picture, or write a poem, or create something like the 200-year old cupboard I am looking at right now in my kitchen, is to capture a moment in time, but it does not capture a life, or define anything at all.
Yes we can place form and structure, we can create norms and rules, and put our creations into them; we can even draw a line and say something’s ‘complete’.
Here is the the strategy.
I finished my essay.
I love my antique kitchen furniture.
If we have more, or less time, more or less attention, then what is created is different. It’s more, or less, it isn’t better or worse.
I remember meeting a local abstract artist last year and spending time in conversation with him about his process. “How do you know it’s finished”, I asked him as he talked about one of his paintings.
The painting tells me,
And I could tell that he really heard what was being communicated from the canvas in front of him. He did not stress whether it was really finished, whether a small mark here or there would make it better, or worse. He was in total acceptance of the art being what it was, rather than what his changing opinions might make it mean.
In the moment, it was complete, and that was enough.
And, if we cannot capture anything beyond the moment, isn’t it better to appreciate what is, rather than judge what is not?
Originally published at https://cathypresland.com on September 30, 2020.