Beauty is a matter of je ne sais quoi
“Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. This line was delivered by the character of Robert Sarno portrayed by Alessandro Nivola in Nicholas Winding Refn’s bewitching movie The Neon Demon (2013). With this statement as a starting point, I want to define what beauty really is and how its powerful force impacts us. This is my Manifesto della Bellezza.
We all know that first impressions do matter a lot and I am not taking about the first time you speak to someone, I mean the appearance, the way you present yourself in terms of looks. We all judge a book by its cover.
Take a look at your lover and at the people you had a love relationship with. Look or remember at their faces. Now, go back to the time you meet them for the first time. What was your first reaction? Did you notice the looks or the personality. I know the answer, I know you wouldn’t even have stopped to look if you didn’t feel attracted by their look.
Even the nicest people you know are superficial at some point. Everyone is. It’s part of the human brain. The outside is the first thing we see, and since our way of getting to know someone and decide if they are worth keeping in our life is by judging them, we start by what’s on the outside for us to see.
Most of the time we travel through life looking for an epiphany, something that tells us what to pursue. Beauty is the direction everyone should follow. Beauty elevates the spirit. It’s cathartic, it eases the pain away. It’s a way of life.
We all look for something special, extraordinary, something that stands out from the mediocrity that surrounds us. Beauty stands out, when nothing else does. There’s nothing we can do other than worship it.
The French philosopher Paul Valéry once said that “the beautiful is what makes us despair” and it’s true. In this regard another French intellectual, Albert Camus, wrote that “Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we would like to stretch out over the whole of time”. We live by beauty. We cannot live without it, because life is too dismal without the sublime.
But what really is beauty? There’s an ancient Greek saying that can answer this question and it’s the famous “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. It tells us that we all have a different perception of beauty. It’s very subjective and varies from person to person. Everyone can define beauty by its own standards. As Hume said “Beauty exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty”.
So, what does your idea of beauty have in common with mine or with the people around you? As I stated a couple of lines above, we all have a different view of looking at the beautiful. However there’s something that underpins us and the reason can be found in the title of my short Manifesto.
As far as I know, there are two minds in a person. One is commonly located in the brain, the latter is found in the eyes. The eyes’ mind is designated to remember forms, colours, shapes etc. The brain’s one to keep track of all the other things.
Eyes not only perceive, but also store everything we come in contact with. We can draw parallels between the looks of various things. If you can do this, you know that that your eyes are used to admiring beauty in its declinations.
How does all this answer the question I posed a couple of paragraphs above? This dichotomy between the two minds helps me to illustrate how our different perceptions of beauty are correlated to an extent.
When we stumble across beauty, there’s always that sense that there’s mysterious about it. Something hard to define. We can clearly point out what delights us, however at the same time the sum of all the aesthetic features leaves us in a state of meditation. The mind of our eyes interrogates itself looking for a reason to understand what’s so special about what we are seeing. Maybe the brain’s mind interferes, who knows. The thing that bothers our eyes is the “I don’t know what” factor, it’s what the French regard as je me sais quoi.
Every thing of beauty is affected by je ne sais quois. There’s no way one can truly identify what it is, it’s fated to be an eternal mystery. It’s the reason why a thing of beauty is a joy forever, it will never pass into nothingness. It’s the reason why we should all strive for it. To be beautiful is the ultimate meaning of life.
As we reach the conclusion of my Manifesto I want to quote another line from the 2013 movie The Neon Demon. It’s spoken by the character of Robert Sarno. “Beauty is a diamond in a sea of glass”.