How to See the Beauty Around Us
“In all languages, one of our earliest expressions is ‘let me see!’”—William White, Jr.
THE little child who stares at the fluttering butterfly, the elderly couple who gaze at a glorious sunset, the housewife who admires her display of roses—all are momentarily focusing their attention on beauty.
Since the beauty of God’s creation is everywhere, it isn’t necessary to travel hundreds of miles to behold it. Awe-inspiring scenery may be distant, but impressive art can be found in your neighborhood if you look for it and—more important—if you know how to look for it.
It has often been noted that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” However, although the beauty is there, not everyone will spot it. It may take a painting or a photograph to make us sit up and take notice. In fact, many artists believe that their success depends more on their ability to see than to draw. The book The Painter’s Eye, by Maurice Grosser, explains that “the painter draws with his eyes, not with his hands. Whatever he sees, if he sees it clear, he can put down. . . . Seeing clear is the important thing.”
Whether we are artists or not, we can learn to see more clearly, to notice the beauty around us. In other words, we need to go out and look at things in a new light.
In this regard John Barrett, a writer on natural history, emphasizes the value of personal involvement. “Nothing replaces seeing for oneself, touching, smelling and listening to living animals and plants with all the forces of nature acting upon them,” he says. “Let the beauty sink in . . . Wherever one may be, first look, enjoy and look again.”
But what should we look for? We could start by learning to notice the four basic elements of beauty. These elements can be discerned in almost every facet of Jehovah’s creation. The more often we pause to observe them, the more we will enjoy his art.
Isolating the Elements of Beauty
Forms and Patterns. We live in a world of multiple forms. Some are linear like the columns of a clump of bamboo or geometric like a spider’s web, whereas others are shapeless like a cloud that changes constantly. Many forms are attractive, whether they be an exotic orchid, the spirals of a seashell, or even the branches of a tree that has shed its leaves.
When the same form is repeated, it creates a pattern that may also be visually appealing. For example, imagine a stand of tree trunks in a forest. Their forms—each one different, yet similar—create a pleasing pattern. But to discern the forms and the pattern they create, there must be light.
Light. The distribution of light gives a special quality to the forms we find attractive. Details are highlighted, the texture is colored, and a mood is created. Light varies according to the time of day, the season of the year, the weather, and even the place where we live. A cloudy day with its diffused light is ideal for appreciating the subtle tones of wildflowers or autumn leaves, whereas the crags and peaks of a mountain range show off their dramatic forms when sculptured by the rising or setting sun. The soft, wintry sunlight of the Northern Hemisphere lends romance to a pastoral landscape. On the other hand, the bright sun of the Tropics converts the shallow sea into a transparent wonderland for snorkelers.
But there is still an important element missing.
Color. It gives life to the different objects we see around us. While their form may distinguish them, their color highlights their uniqueness. Furthermore, the distribution of color in harmonious patterns creates its own beauty. It may be a vibrant color like red or orange that cries out for our attention, or a relaxing color like blue or green.
Imagine a patch of yellow flowers in a glade. The light catches the yellow blossoms, which seem to glow in the morning air, while dark tree trunks fringed by the morning sun form a perfect backdrop. Now we have a picture. All we need to do is “frame” it, which is where composition comes in.
Composition. The way in which the three basic elements—form, light, and color—combine determines the composition. And here we, as observers, have a crucial role to play. Just by moving slightly forward, backward, to one side, higher, or lower, we can adjust the elements or the lighting in our picture. We can thus crop the picture to include only the elements that we desire.
Often, we automatically compose a picture when we come across a magnificent view that is framed by nearby trees or vegetation. But many exquisite pictures, on a smaller scale, may be underneath our feet.
Noticing the Small and the Great
In God’s handiwork both big and small are beautiful, and our pleasure will be multiplied if we learn to see the details, which also combine pleasingly. They form miniature paintings that are scattered across nature’s large canvas. To appreciate them, all we need to do is stoop down and take a closer look.
These pictures within a picture are described by photographer John Shaw in his book Closeups in Nature: “It never ceases to amaze me that a close view of a natural detail always invites an even closer view. . . . First we see the great vista, then a patch of color in one corner of the frame. A closer look reveals flowers and, on one flower, a butterfly. Its wings reveal a distinct pattern, the pattern is produced by a precise arrangement of wing scales, and each scale is perfect in and of itself. If we could truly understand the perfection that makes up that one butterfly wing scale, we could conceivably start to understand the perfection of the scheme that is nature.”
Apart from the aesthetic pleasure it gives us, nature’s art—both large and small—can draw us closer to our Creator. “Raise your eyes high up and see,” exhorted Jehovah. By stopping to see, to gaze, and to wonder, whether we fix our sights on the starry heavens or any other of God’s creations, we are reminded of the One “who has created these things.”—Isaiah 40:26.
Men Who Learned to See
In Bible times servants of God took a special interest in creation. According to 1 Kings 4:30, 33, “Solomon’s wisdom was vaster than the wisdom of all the Orientals . . . He would speak about the trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that is coming forth on the wall; and he would speak about the beasts and about the flying creatures and about the moving things and about the fishes.”
Perhaps Solomon’s interest in the glories of creation was partly due to his father’s example. David, who spent many of his formative years as a shepherd, often meditated on God’s handiwork. The beauty of the heavens particularly impressed him. At Psalm 19:1, he wrote: “The heavens are declaring the glory of God; and of the work of his hands the expanse is telling.” (Compare Psalm 139:14.) Evidently, his contact with creation drew him closer to his God. It can do the same for us.*
As these godly men knew, recognizing and appreciating God’s handiwork uplifts the spirit and enriches our lives. In our modern world plagued with prepacked entertainment that is often debasing, taking note of Jehovah’s creation can provide a wholesome activity for ourselves and our families. For those who yearn for God’s promised new world, it is a pastime with a future.—Isaiah 35:1, 2.
When we not only see the art around us but also discern the qualities of the Master Artist who made it all, we will doubtless be moved to echo David’s words: “There is none like you . . . , O Jehovah, neither are there any works like yours.”—Psalm 86:8.
[Pictures on page 10]
Examples of pattern and form, light, color, and composition