It is true that I borrowed the title of this post from Rollo May’s narrative of the same name. A move I initially had misgivings about, provided my sometimes too-serious penchant for originality. Chill, I told myself. And, just do it your way (the single most valuable piece of advice I have yet to give myself when it comes to exercises in creativity and authenticity). To be sure, from the moment I conceived of this post, there existed a world of difference between May’s My Quest for Beauty and my own. His told largely through his own artwork. I, only feebly able to draw a straight line without a ruler. His personal journey revolves around travel, the fusion of internal and external realities, while I am interested in tracing the evolution, including the ebbs and flows, of my inner experiences. In articulating the nuances of the desire for beauty, as it is, for me, in art and in life. To enfold May’s ideas into Maslow’s, the latter having the most profound effect on how I am coming to view not only my own personal development, but human growth and motivation, more generally. I may even add a touch of Freud. A world of difference, indeed.
And, yet, I’m not certain we arrive differently, May and I. Or, May, Maslow, and I. Beauty as move toward, or a revelation of, the godlike within ourselves. As a product of play. A communication of the ineffable. A great unifier. The (or an) epitome of all human striving. But, again, the purpose of this post is not to philosophize. I’ll leave that to Dr. May. It is, rather, as I’ve said, to give form to my inner experiences. To talk about what it’s like to be one who is, very consciously, motivated by a quest for and a love of beauty. That’s doing what I do my way. The most authentic means of paying my respects to May and his beautiful little book that brandishes the same name. Here are some thoughts on what it means to be one who has chosen to embark on a lifelong quest for beauty:
The quest for beauty results in a higher form of creativity.
A few posts ago, I discussed the ways in which some of us use creativity to enhance our spiritual lives, to the extent that self-created rituals may take the place of formal religion, or constitute, for some, a kind of private religion. It was on that topic that I received a reader comment about the ways in which my ideas contrasted with Freud’s notion of creativity as a means of tension reduction. My response, of course, was to point out that, for many of us, creativity seems to have far “higher” uses than the discharging our inner tensions. That, for us, creativity serves as a means of life enhancement, self-improvement, even a kind of self-transcendence. Unlike Freud (on whose theory I might, if I were a psychologist, base my own thinking), I do think creativity has “higher” origins and functions. But, I use this exchange to introduce an important point. A phenomenon I’ve observed within myself regarding my own experience of and my own relationship to my creativity.
That is, there are times when I believe I experience both “higher” and “lower” forms of creativeness. At least, that’s what it feels like. Times when I create because I am sad/angry/lost/defeated/otherwise in turmoil and need an outlet. In those periods, writing provides me with that release, as do cooking and physical activity. I might even go so far as to suggest that, when I was younger, this was one of the primary reasons I chose to create. Maybe Freud wasn’t entirely off base. Yet, it’s apparent to me that, whether as a function of age, psychological maturity, or some other form of spiritual evolution, I create now far less often out of self-perceived tension or inner conflict. And, far more out of a need for beauty. A feeling I can only describe as lustful, wholly desirous, loving, and joyful. A kind of all-over amorousness. A childlike beckoning for play, for a distinct form of wondrous, fearless, awe-inspiring, totalistic engagement with reality. Vitality. Creativity, then, becomes an amplification of life. I create out of my own aliveness. To fuse my inner vision with the external world. A move toward communion. Toward vivacity and uniqueness. To celebrate my life and the life around me, which leads me to my next point…
Beauty is a lens.
Of course, I’d hesitate to suggest that there exist within me (or anyone else) two or more specific “types” of creativity (Although, maybe there are. Who am I to say?). I, rather, think it’s my subjectivity talking. That my experience of variations in my own creativeness is characterized by a perception of multiplicity. When, in fact, my creativity probably just changes with the rest of my personality. I evolve, and it evolves, too. As I become more capable of seeing and experiencing beauty, so does beauty become a more integral part of how I see.
…truth, goodness, and beauty are in the average person in our culture only fairly well correlated with each other, and in the neurotic person even less so. It is only in the evolved and mature human being, in the self-actualizing, fully-functioning person that they are so highly correlated that for all practical purposes they may be said to fuse into a unity. – A.H. Maslow
I am familiar with those moments in which I feel at one with the world, with others, when the entire universe appears to be in sync, if only for a few brief, blissful moments. And all is beauty. All is felt. All is ecstasy. But, I also know all too well those moments in which I am cut off, in which I am focused singularly on my own needs, my own wants and motives, my own opposition to reality. That self-centered, deficiency (as Maslow would call it) kind of seeing. In those moments in which I am satisfied, in which I allow myself to be one with the flow of my life, to approach those around me not as instruments for the achievement of my own desires–or, worse, as acting or existing in opposition to my needs and desires–but simply as they are, I see their beauty. I see their good. I see it all around them. And, it fills me. And, I am reminded that I must encourage myself to see this way more often. Beauty is a lens through which I view the world.
The quest for beauty results in a higher form of living.
But, I’ve written about this before, and surely this point doesn’t need belaboring. To achieve beauty in life is less about the coordination or manipulation of one’s physical features and far more about the harmonization of habit, of moods and drives, and the sculpting of one’s inner self according to a self-chosen aesthetic. My inner existentialist has, perhaps, never reared her head more forcefully than she just has. About self-regulation and self-chosen indulgence. About living in line with one’s highest values and virtues. Now, I sound like May, Maslow, and Peterson. With that last statement, I get the keen sense I have just come cull-circle.