Why is Beauty Important to Us?

Why is beauty important?

The New York Times asked a group of writers, scientists, actors, designers and thinkers to explain the indispensability of beauty in our everyday lives#.

Here's what chef Massimo Bottura said:

Beauty is a positive and dynamic energy that has the power to convey emotion and express individuality as well as collectiveness. It can be felt through each of our senses, yet it is more magnificent when it transcends all five.

Over more than 30 years as a chef, I have experienced beauty unfolding through my cooking and in the creation of new dishes. Recipes have shown me that beauty is not a singular ingredient, object or idea, but the sum of the parts. Each dish has an appearance, a flavor, a temperature, a smell, a consistency and a nutritional value, but its triumph is the story all those parts tell together.

When my team and I launched Milan’s Refettorio Ambrosiano, our first community kitchen, in 2015, beauty was the guiding principle in our mission to nourish the homeless. We collaborated with artists, architects, designers and chefs to build a place of warmth, where gestures of hospitality and dignity would be offered to all. What I witnessed by bringing different people and perspectives around the table was the profound ability of beauty to build community. In a welcoming space, our guests had the freedom to imagine who they would like to be and begin to change their lives. In that space, beauty wielded the power of transformation.

When I visit the Refettorios that Food for Soul, the nonprofit I founded, has built around the world over the years, what strikes me as most beautiful is neither a table nor a chair nor a painting on the wall. Beauty is the spontaneity of two strangers breaking bread. It is the proud smile of a man who feels he has a place in the world. It is the emotion of that moment, and its power to fill a room with the celebration of life.

Massimo Bottura is a chef and the founder of Food for Soul.

It's a good question.

Why is beauty important in our lives? An even better question is what is beauty?

In 2004, Umberto Eco Umberto Eco, one of Italy’s finest and most important contemporary thinkers, explored the nature, the meaning, and the history of the idea of beauty in Western culture.

History of Beauty is a beautifully illustrated journey into deeper questions. Here's how Eco introduced it:

Beautiful — together with graceful and pretty,” or “sublime,” “marvelous,” “superb,” and similar expressions — is an adjective that we often employ to indicate something that we like. In this sense, it seems that what is beautiful is the same as what is good, and in fact in various historical periods there was a close link between the Beautiful and the Good.

But if we judge on the basis of our everyday experience, we tend to define as good not only what we like, but also what we should like to have for ourselves. There is an infinite number of things that we consider good — a love requited, wealth honestly acquired, a refined delicacy — and in all these cases we should  like to possess that good. A good is that which stimulates our desire. Even when we consider a virtuous deed to be good, we should like to have done it ourselves, or we determine to do something just as meritorious, spurred on by the example of what we consider to be good.

Other times we describe as good something that conforms to some ideal principle, but that costs suffering, like the glorious death of a hero, the devotion of those who treat lepers, or those parents who sacrifice their lives to save their children. In such cases we recognize that the thing is good but, out of egoism or fear, we would not like to find ourselves in a similar situation. We recognize this as good, but another person's good, which we look onto with a certain detachment, albeit with a certain emotion, and without being prompted by desire. Often, to describe virtuous deeds that we prefer to admire rather than perform, we talk about doing a “beautiful” thing.

We admire beautiful things. Eco links Beauty to Art as over the centuries it's been the artists who've documented it. Thus he has a conversation with the writers of each historical period — Plato explains early Greek art, Hume the humanist style.

The idea of Beauty has changed over time, it's included nature and objects, along with people. Had the book been published this year, Roberto Bolle would have been an example of contemporary Adonis. He's spreading love of music along with an image of beauty.

Bolle is principal dancer étoile at La Scala Theatre Ballet and was principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre between 2009-2019. He also dances regularly as a guest artist with the world’s leading companies, including The Royal Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.

In 2015, he published Voyage into Beauty, a photographic journey of the dancer in the most beautiful locations throughout Italy, from St. Mark’s Square to Agrigento, from the Colosseum to Pompeii. Bolle has become one of Italy’s cultural ambassadors to the world through the art of dance.

Bolle talked about the relationships between beauty and dance#:

Dancing is hard work but at the end of the day it’s an expression of emotion. It’s the most beautiful thing for a dancer to express the emotion of their character. You feel the emotion and you give it to the public.

Nearly 4.5 million people watched his program Dance with Me on Italian national TV Rai1 in 2018. His message and interpretation are spreading. Because beauty involves all our senses, we respond to music.

Dimash Kudaibergenov SOS of an Earth Being in Distress is a beautiful and touching testimonial to how singing can heal us. Dinmukhammed Kanatuly Kudaibergen is a Kazakh singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He is university trained in classical as well as in contemporary music and is known for his wide vocal range of 6 octaves.

He says:

Everything good and bad is just one moment in life. For me spiritual features of the person are more important than his professional achievements. We came to this life to be human, not singers or teachers, but to be human first of all. We should cherish spiritual values and human qualities.

Dimash's wide vocal range measures up to 6 octaves and 2 semitones from C2 to D8, spanning from the baritone to soprano and whistle registers. That is beautiful to hear.

While people are deserting many small towns, one village is thriving thanks to the work of designer Brunello Cucinelli. His company makes some of the finest and priciest clothing in the world and has raised the fortunes of Solomeo.

Cucinelli, who believes that The beautiful is the symbol of the morally good,” in I. Kant's words, has restored the town's ancient buildings, and upheld the dignity of local workers by forging what has been called a humanistic enterprise in the world of industry.#

There's beauty and elegance in science and in nature. We think of beauty as a physical quality, but we recognize how it can be an emotional, creative force with spiritual depth.

I felt responsible for the beauty of the world, said Hadrian. It is through beauty that we can aspire to something greater. This is why beauty is important to us.


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