It’s truly a wonderful world with beauty all around; we needn’t go far but just look around ourselves to enjoy it and escape from the things of life.
I am fond of arts and consider myself to be an aesthete. I happen to be a keen music-lover and one thing I get to enjoy along with the music when I buy an audio CD album is the album cover design, which we call “album art” or “artwork”. About a month ago, I came across Christina Aguilera’s latest album “Bionic” and it has this really elaborate cover. The left half of her face was replaced by mechanical parts to give it a cyborg look, and yet she has those sexy red lips on and wavy blonde hair. The design is provocative and very well crafted, but – although there is a good meaning behind it – I wouldn’t have gone that far.
I was greatly fancied by the “Bionic” artwork, but the ones I really love are simpler and can say well about what music in the album. For example, in the album cover of Leona Lewis’s “Spirit”, Leona’s eyes can tell that we are in to hear Leona’s psyche, her train of thought, etc. The photo of Celine Dion embracing a wrapped gift in the album art of her holiday album “These Are Special Times” is really telling about the album contents. Sometimes, for various reasons, we are conditioned into thinking that only objects created with a touch of sophistication are of artistic value, whether we can or cannot appreciate art well.
Compare these three divas' artworks - LEFT TO RIGHT: “Bionic”, “Spirit” and “These are special times” artworks
Guess what? The dull-looking dreary things work just fine. We just need to know how to appreciate them.
Louis Armstrong sang of a “wonderful world”, and come to think of it his way, the world is wonderful in its own way – without Michelangelo, Beethoven, Shakespeare or even Armstrong himself. As a matter of fact, the reason these artists’ works – in fine arts, music, literature or whatever art form – has held international acclaim since their creation is that their works portray with a natural tone the things that goes on in real life.
This profound essence can be clearly observed in Jane Austen’s oeuvre. Honestly, I have never read the original writings of Austen but I daresay that there wouldn’t be much eloquence in her words, for words are not what make her writings special. The beauty of her works lie in the themes and the plots of the stories. If we were to pursue only beautifully written words, we could easily find them in love letters our admirers had given us or those we had given to our loved ones. (Love letters can contain words more impressive than those from romantic novels!) Therefore, whatever may love letters say, we continue to read works by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, etc.
In the realm of music, many musicians credit Mozart for being curious and positive like a little child about the world even in his most mature pieces. And Mozart’s music, I’ve come to be able to relate with many things in real life. I’ve listened to it on a taxi in the busy streets of Yangon, on a bus trip from Yangon to Mandalay, while staring out the window on a rainy day and in the darkness of a sleepless night, and yet every scene matches perfectly with his music. There’s more than magic in the music. This feeling can be observed in the music by only few artists. Contemporary songs in which people play “love games” or want “bad romance” could be exciting but they are in fact too outlandish to be classic. People resort to the classics when they want true music, which reflects nature. (NOTE: “Classics” is NOT “classical music”.)
As for the arts, the majority of existing works from long, long ago are usually the finest works of the artists in the old days. And the reason for their long-lasting is probably their depiction of things that are real, things to which any person can relate. I am not very knowledgeable about paintings and sculptures, so I dare not give any examples for the renowned works of the studio arts. But one sure example would be Claude Monet’s oil painting series of “Water Lillies (or) Nymphèas”. They truly are mesmerising.
One thing I have learnt recently is that works based on ideas that are too fanciful tend to be transitory. In the late 1990s and in the early 2000s, there was one thing very popular with children called the “Power Rangers”. They have almost perished from our thoughts, and we rarely see their action figures in toy stores as many these days as we used to a decade ago. Many of us might think that is because we now have more fascinating superhero movies with more advanced graphics. (Some of us may not notice this because we grew up to put away the toys.) The Transformers or the X-men would soon be forgotten as the Superman, the Batman or the Spiderman had been replaced by various species of Power Rangers. We always forgo what we have for what is better, while, in fact, such things are too good to last. The same thing happened to disco music in the 1970s: it was too exciting to last. However, I could say we would still watch Mr Bean as long as we can recall Charlie Chaplin.
Movie trend – LEFT TO RIGHT: “The Batman”, “X-men” and “Avatar”
Apart from the intentionally created works of art, we can also find beauty in our daily lives and enjoy it. Pigeons flying about among the busy citizens in the streets of downtown Yangon can be a special movie clip. One can find musical rhythm in the chanting of a Buddhist monk or the falling of the rain and the blowing of the wind. The joyful squeals of little children hold more music than Mariah Carey’s whistle ringer. A gourmet can find as exquisite taste in a street-hawker’s food as in a dish from an elite restaurant.
Besides the aforementioned type of aesthetic beauty, there is some other kind of splendour that we can appreciate. It is what Richard Feynman called “scientific awe”, and he would often talk about it in his book “Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman”. It is conventional to think that a person with keen scientific instincts is incapable of exploring the wonders of art. However, Feynman proved himself to be a very able aesthete with passionate appreciation of the world around him. He claims to see even more than his friend can; he can appreciate the complicated biological and physical functioning of the flower’s interior, which is impossible to be seen with the naked eye! He even learned drawing so that he could express how he feels about the world and its beauties. Although artists may find bliss in the creation and the appreciation of arts, students of science with some artistic sense can have great indulgence in various wonders of the world. Feynman states that the scientific awe – which is understanding that everything, however sophisticated it may be on the outside, can be explained by the same rules of physics – is like realizing in religion that everything is so different and yet run by only one individual (God).
There are many wonderful things in this world. Sadly enough, in the midst of our highly active lives, we are blinded from these special beauties we are endowed with. Everybody needs to feel the splendour, and the more we can appreciate, the better for the outlet of our souls. (This does not imply over-indulgence in the arts.) If we are capable of finding beauty in the wee small things of our day-to-day lives, we wouldn’t need to plan in advance for a tour to a historic site or a natural wonderland but find satisfaction with the things we are already blessed with in our lives. This would have a very profound effect on our lives; we would be happier than we are and we would be leading better lives. If we are also capable of comprehending the sciences, a little scientific awe adds on to our aesthetic sense. So, look around and find something beautiful … for the sake of enjoyment!
LEFT TO RIGHT: “Japanese bridge in Giverny”, “Coin du bassin aux nympheás” & “Seerosen” from Monet’s “Waterlillies (Nympheás)”