In this wide-ranging and deeply felt book, J. Ruth Gendler invites us to reclaim the often misunderstood quality of beauty. Drawing on observations from art and nature, contemporary culture and personal experience Gendler looks at best not simply as a quality of appearance but as a pathway to integrity, coherence and love. Written with courage, curiosity, a discerning eye and a lyrical sensibility, and illustrated with 57 line drawings, Notes on the Need for Beauty celebrates beauty as a bridge between the senses and the soul, between contemplation and expression, between ourselves and the world.
J. Ruth gives an overview of the book:
“Beauty doesn't mind questions and she is fond of riddles. Beauty will dance with anyone who is brave enough to ask her.” When I first wrote these words twenty-five years ago, I had only begun to imagine how we could invite beauty into our lives. I had no idea how deeply they would lead me into an exploration of beauty.
Writing about beauty feels like drinking water out of the cup of my hand from a clear spring. As I bring this water to my mouth, so much spills away. The water tastes delicious; the freshness and purity startle me. I have been drinking water that was mediocre for so long, I have forgotten how good water can taste. Like water, beauty is ordinary and essential, as well as extraordinary and magnificent.
Beauty, like water, takes many forms and permeates our environment. Just as water travels across the world and pools in everything from our cells to underground streams to magnificent storms, beauty also travels, gathers, concentrates. It is beautiful to look at and listen to the way the world changes with rain, to trace the path of the river by foot or from an airplane window, to talk at the ocean's edge, swim under the waterfall. Beauty rinses our eyes. Sometimes beauty moves us to tears. We bathe in, drink the presence of beauty.
Slowly I have come to savor the beauty of the unknown, the unnameable, the contradictions and paradoxes. Beauty is simple and complex, obvious and elusive, superficial and profound, spontaneous and achieved with great effort, impossible to define and essential to articulate. Beauty is allied with the radiance of fire, body and soul, vision and music, movement and stillness, the daily cycles of night and day.
Beauty refuses to yield to analysis, refuses to be perfection. Beauty moves within and around us, rearranging our moods, taking us home. Beauty is always moving and beauty is very still, the light in the dark, the dark in the light, the subtlest shades of pale white and blue, the richest tones of indigo and black and deep brown, the brightest reds and oranges and golds. We find beauty at the intersections, the edges, the center of so many experiences. Although we keep trying to talk about beauty as inner or outer, that language is too static, trying to fix beauty in a single location. Beauty is an energy, not an image, and that energy can go anywhere; that energy takes on an image, a form, many images, many forms.
About J. Ruth
J Ruth Gendler is interested in living in a world where people are more compassionate, creative, and lively. This desire informs her own creative work, including her books, her art and her teaching. She is the author of...