Why beauty matters
From a TED talk
Theaster Gates, a potter by training and a social activist by calling, wanted to do something about the sorry state of his neighbourhood on the south side of Chicago.
He along with people from the community set about transforming abandoned buildings to create community hubs that connect and inspire those who still live there (and draw in those who don't). He wants to add 'beauty' as a basic right in every community. He has a fervent belief that culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere.
Theaster says, “In my city, Chicago, I have seen firsthand what happens when a focus on, say, housing fails to account for our human thirst for beauty, for the sublime, the emotionally enriching, the spiritual. If we build homes without culture, without a social agenda, we’re simply creating new kinds of problems — and we won’t come close to solving the ones we have."
Beauty can change how people act. People act differently around beautiful things.
Gates continues, “If you’re in an environment where there’s a bunch of waste on the ground, it’s easy not to care for that place, to add your filth to the existing filth. By making a place beautiful, which often means simply peeling back the layers of what is already there, we remove the distractions. We are able to see the existing beauty more clearly, and we are able to start to begin to care. When someone walks past flowers every day, when he sees litter picked up over and over again, a sense of pride begins to seep into his soul. This isn’t about giant interventions that bring in hundreds of volunteers from out of town to ‘transform’ a neighbourhood. This is about daily pride at living this life, and how our joy in our surroundings might influence our neighbours and those around us.”
Small civic actions can be beautiful. Beauty begets beauty.
“In my neighbourhood, we used to feel the constant threat of violence hanging over our heads,” says Gates. “Now, summer’s coming and instead everyone’s talking about the next barbecue, when we’re having our block party. The hunger for cultural programming, the creativity generated on our block allows people to embrace the possible. We’ve become a positive beacon shining a light to show what’s possible. And yet all we’re doing is providing a platform for the skill, talent, love and genius of those who are already there.”
Beauty should be the starting point of everything.
“At every level of the human experience, we are looking for the beautiful, something that gives priority to our souls, not just our physical needs,” says Gates. “We drink in nature, we yearn to commune with the beautiful, we crave the sublime, so that’s why the starting point for everything I do is the beautiful, not the practical.”
Listen to Theaster Gates' 17 min talk here on his efforts to build a "miniature Versailles" in Chicago:
How can you provide platform(s) for the skill, talent, love and genius of those who are already in your community and help them connect in a deeper way?
A contact sent me a quote by Henri Nouwen, headed 'Seeing the Beauty and Goodness in Front of Us':
"We don't have to go far to find the treasure we are seeking. There is beauty and goodness right where we are. And only when we can see the beauty and goodness that are close by can we recognize beauty and goodness on our travels far and wide. There are trees and flowers to enjoy, paintings and sculptures to admire; most of all there are people who smile, play, and show kindness and gentleness. They are all around us, to be recognized as free gifts to receive in gratitude.
"Our temptation is to collect all the beauty and goodness surrounding us as helpful information we can use for our projects. But then we cannot enjoy it, and we soon find that we need a vacation to restore ourselves. Let's try to see the beauty and goodness in front of us before we go elsewhere to look for it."