The Limits of Beauty

So it’s 3:30 in the morning and I’m totally wired from these blasted medications I’m on. What do I do? I sit up in bed in a pool of light from a lamp, staring blankly at my Mac and wondering about beauty.

I recently read somewhere that genuine beauty always has limits. It knows when to stop and it stops. That idea has been shifting around in my head now for days. It’s true. Beauty stops. It always stops. At least, down here in this life it stops.

If beauty doesn’t stop, it gets ugly fast. Think about it. No matter what kind of beauty you’re talking about, whether you can see it or touch it or smell it or taste it, it needs to stop or it turns into a cloying, overpowering mess of sensory gluttony. Sure, the rose is beautiful, but if it didn’t have a limit to its petals or its overall scale, it’d be a monstrous edifice of red velvet that would softly hammer any self-respecting rose aficionado into numbness and apathy.

After a while, old Mrs. Greerson of the Rose Club would get up and totter away, thinking, I need to find a smaller flower to appreciate. Like a pansy. Enough of roses.

Likewise, if the sunset kept on going, didn’t stop, filled up the sky, that’d probably be a very bad thing. After all, it needs the book-ends of night and day to really look good. Fleetingness adds value.

And that doughnut, that luscious, chocolate-glazed doughnut you’re eating (and that I’m not allowed to eat–curse these medications!)? Sure, it tastes beautiful on your sugar-dazed tongue, but would it still taste beautiful if it had no limit and you kept on eating until the bakers came home? Call me from your hospital bed and let me know.

So what are the limits of beauty in the art we create? Beauty must be regulated through words and form and the recognition that volume and tone and harmony and tune desperately need to stop, die away, end. Otherwise we no longer have art. Otherwise we end up with books that sicken, music that isn’t music, nightmare paintings slinking into other people’s dreams.

Keep beauty limited and keep it beautiful. How’s that for a bumper sticker?

Signing off. This is either me or my medication talking.

6 thoughts on “The Limits of Beauty”

  1. If that’s your medication talking, it’s quite eloquent.

    There’s a saying out there: “Enough is better than too much.” I think there’d be palates who would argue that your chocolate doughnut (or mine, as it were), has already gone beyond beautiful taste on account of its over-sugariness. And some floriphiles (is that a word?), that roses are just too much; they prefer daisies. But they *would* argue, wouldn’t they?
    The problem with this “keeping beauty limited” idea is that beauty is so much in the eye of the beholder to start with – how will you decide where it needs to stop? Or where, for that matter, it begins?

    Interesting ideas to muse on. Now go back to sleep, you need your rest.

    1. My medication is doing a lot of talking these days. I need to figure out how to get it to pipe down.

      True, there is that issue of taste, but at least everyone would agree that the taste for beauty in general is shared. Diving into the whole where-exactly-does-it-stop-? question… that’s a whole other million essays. I’m fascinated by the topic, but I know it’s a dangerous one.

  2. Reminds me of the “Christmas Every Day” story.
    If beauty must have its end, must pain and ugliness also? Because i am ready for that… Wait. I read the back of The Book. There will be no more pain or crying, etc.

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