Friday, May 24, 2013

Confessions of a Beauty Glutton

I feel so lucky to live in a time when I can communicate with and share with creative spirits around the world.  When a phenomenal photographer like Kristy Mitchell creates a new epic fantastical narrative photograph, or a phenomenal artist like Charles Vess is creating art for his new book, we get to see the results immediately.  Sometimes we even get to see the piece in stages as it unfolds.  What an inspiring and amazing opportunity!  The mythic arts community is closer and closer at hand, and we all feel much less alone.

However, there is an unintended and unfortunate side-effect to all of this ready access to aesthetic wonder:  We've become a society of beauty gluttons.

New images bombard us constantly.  Every day I undergo a delicious assault of wondrous imagery.  Pinterest overwhelms my senses, and after a while I just have to let all of the beauty wash over me in waves of awe.  But I find myself waxing nostalgic for the time as a teenager that a single image would refresh my senses for days...weeks...sometimes years.  I would stumble on an artwork that really spoke to me on the cover of a card in a random gift shop in a mall I would visit on a vacation, and I would stare at the purchased card all the way home, putting it up in my room and letting it fill my heart with motivation, awe, magic, belief.  Part of me really misses the singularity of that experience.

This painting by Helena Nelson Reed captivated me as a teenager.

Now, I see new images just as soul-stirring as the ones on those cards every single day.  New artwork by an entire globe of kindred spirits is brought before me like a feast before a queen.  And unlike a physical feast, it can be a challenge to know when I'm "full" of beauty and any more will leave me a bit overwhelmed.  I start depending on the visual stimulation like a drug.  I become numb to anything less than the best, and any emotional "beauty buzz" I feel lasts for less and less time.  As a fine art photography model, I can have a photographer send me an incredible image from a session that blows me away with its emotive and mystical brilliance, and yet a few days later I am restless for my next "fix."  

I know...I'm mixing my metaphors is both a feast and a drug.  It makes me wonder just how the admirable Aesthetes of the Victorian age would respond today to Pinterest and Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.  These followers of visual pleasure who counted beauty as their religion and not just as shallow impression...would they also be overwhelmed and not know how to deal with such a steady visual assault?  Would they remain content to gaze upon the beauty of a sunflower for hours when they have new images by Brian Froud, by Tim Walker, by Forest Rogers, displayed before them on a semi-regular basis like the most wonderfully-formed of bouquets ever?

How would they deal without becoming reliant and anaesthetized?  How do you?  How can I? 


  1. Lovely post! You've so eloquently put something which has been buzzing around in my head for a while now.
    It's true, we do have wonderfully easy access to so much breathtaking beauty - which is great - but I, too, find myself guilty of gorging and not spending as much time on individual pieces as I used to. There's always the intention that I'll take a good, deep look later, but in the mean time, what's next?
    Thanks to the Internet, we have access to so many pieces, many of which we'd otherwise probably not have the chance to see, but this can lead to a sense of near panic at not wanting to miss any of it!
    What to do? I don't really know. For myself, I almost have to put a limit on what I'll look at on the Internet in order to curb on-line visual pig-outs which can leave me feeling full yet oddly unsatisfied. I think perhaps our minds/souls (well, mine at least) aren't capable of properly absorbing too much beauty at once. There's the need for a digestive, a walk, a nap, or even an occasional fast.
    Sorry, I have rather rambled on here! I look forward to hearing how others are feel about this topic. It's certainly an interesting dilemma!

  2. I think the constant images have raised my standards- something has to be really, really good for me to love it. I pin things all the time on Pinterest, and I save many pictures on computer and phone, but I have become much more selective about the art in my home. I don't want to live with anything less than the very best.

  3. (2 parts since apparently I've written a very long comment here..!)
    I've been thinking a lot about this and should say first that these thoughts are just what I've found to work for me. Your own experience may be different (heck, it may be the complete opposite!) but I'm sharing in case some of it is useful.
    Just like everyone else here, I am on a creative journey that's very individual with it's own quirks and real-life stresses. My own way of being creative is very cyclical - in that I have a tendency to go through the arts (drawing, dance, writing, & more), flowing from one to the other, and work best if I don't fight that. It also includes a need to have downtime and not actively create so I can rejuvenate.
    Last year was, for me, more difficult than I could have predicted and as a result I didn't have energy or stamina to continue things I'd started. Even long term, supposedly simple things I already had habits of working in, like a well followed blog that I really loved doing, were too much to manage and as a result felt like a huge creative failure. Of course, there are sometimes those seasons where emergencies, health & similar urgent situations make that necessary but once my creative tank was drained I had difficulty knowing how to fill it up again. Then I let myself browse Pinterest with no end in mind for a few weeks (it may have been a month) - just being escapist - and I suddenly realized I was having ideas for the first time in a very long time (at least that's how it felt). I began to put together boards with purpose - not just collections I thought others who had liked my blog in the last might find useful, though I did those too, but image-collages on a theme. I was initially worried about this, how it might turn off some of my followers, and I even considered setting up a second pseudo-identity so I could try it out. In the end, knowing people had the option to follow all of my stuff or just some boards, I went ahead. Turned out it was the right thing to do. Once I let myself be free with the images in a way that was true to myself (instead of for a purpose to serve others), I found some of them "speaking" to me and standing out, asking me to think about things in a new way. If I paid attention I found it springboarded me into being creative in other ways. I started drawing again, I had story ideas, I collected image resources without getting stuck on the fact I might lose them (or that it was all I might end up doing) and I found myself discovering and connecting with different people there through brief comments, "likes" and recommendations to other pinners - and NOT in a way I felt pressured (unlike the blog, in which I felt I had to write well, be thoroughly researched, be knowledgeable in responding and responsible in replying to comments properly and in a timely manner - which can feel tiring and overwhelming to me).
    (cont in next comment...)

  4. (InkGypsy comment cont..)
    I now use Pinterest as a creative fueling station with one caveat: if I find myself browsing with no purpose I give myself a task: build up an existing board to be more comprehensive, create a new board on a different (sometimes challenging) theme with a specific mood in mind, try to look for pins you known other pinners would like and pass them on etc. Doing this means rather than be passive in looking at things I become active - in a way that I don't feel pressure. When I let myself do that I find my creative juices begin to flow. The trick is to follow through on that "I want to create something now" spark when it happens and go do something about it. If I don't I become restless in the following days and start "looking for that image fix". If I DO go do something I find I don't get caught up as much in "needing to go back to Pinterest".
    Something I've known about myself a long time, is that despite being primarily known as a writer, I'm a visual thinker. When I write stories I am writing the movie and it's scenes as I see them in my head. When I problem solve I am running scenarios in my head as options. I adore big thick books with thousands of pages but if I can't bask in images for a while I feel lost. To realize this - and take care of that part of me - has become an important part of opening that creative door to once again find the courage to write and draw in times that feel bleak and barren. I've learned that if I am "image binge-ing" it likely means I have a need somewhere internally that's asking to be taken care of. Sometimes it's that I need a fill up and it's OK to let myself go swim around in images a few days (or even weeks) to help me find my creative equilibrium. Other times it's because I really want to be creating and my subconscious is trying to push me into going for it. Some days I'll create a board on a theme, go back and look at it as a whole and realize my subconscious is trying to tell me something here.
    It's been difficult to let myself go through phases of "filling up" without berating myself ("You're wasting time!", "You're not doing anything useful!" or worse still "You can't create, you can only look at other creations!") but being able to relax about it seems to push me into getting back to creating faster and Pinterest becomes a tool I use instead of a drug that I drown in.
    I apologize if my explanation seems long. I guess you could sum it up with when I try to be "active" in Pinterest (or other image research & browsing situations) rather than "passive" I get "juiced". Just like with any fuel/food I put in my body - if I use it, I get fit and have more (creative) energy. If I don't it turns to "fat" and I get both tired and restless. And that makes all the difference. ;)
    Hope this helps!

  5. I think that even since you and I were teenagers that the world has become faster and more relentlessly in your face. We're exposed to an overwhelming array of images anyway in the form of advertising and 24-hour news and media, and personally I want to counterbalance that with as much beauty as possible. I *am* a glutton for beauty, and will happily allow an endless stream of it to pass before my eyes. I use an intuitive approach to what gets saved and reposted, something in it just has to click and it could be triggered by my mood, or something I've read or a song... and I still get the 'whoa, punched in the gut' reactions to the really special pieces which I come back to time and time again and get really lost in.