Today I started to prepare for my fall semester classes. I browsed a file of images I’ve collected over the years, hoping to find a few to use in my critical thinking class (with first semester college students).
I was simultaneously thinking about my latest project (THE BEAUTY PROJECT), a collection of ideas about beauty from people of all walks of life and from all cultural traditions. And, then I found these two images and I thought: “Are either of these beautiful?” “How might we talk about each of them or about them together as a diptych?”
They were taken at the time of the 2015 uprising in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray and in 2016 during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge.
It was, as artist Makato Fujimura proposes, “a generative moment,” a moment when a still, small urging arises from who knows where—exactly—but from somewhere nonetheless, a moment that asked for something from me and that received my longings. It is a risky moment to talk about publically. Because the idea of beauty is problematic—it points us to relativism, to distasteful and damaging impulses as well as to deep connectivity and caring. Fujimura links generative thinking and attention to beauty to something he calls “Culture Care,” a care for the world and all its sources of beauty and strife, a call to make culture inhabitable.
Culture Care ultimately results in a generative cultural environment:
open to questions of meaning, reaching beyond mere survival, inspiring
people to meaningful action, and leading toward wholeness and harmony.
It produces thriving cross-generational community. To make culture
inhabitable, to make it a place of nurture for creativity, we must all choose
to give away beauty gratuitously. “Gratuitous” can be a negative word, as in
“gratuitous violence,” but here I am using it to speak of intentionality, and
even forcefulness, which, as we will see in later chapters, is necessary in
our deeply fragmented culture. I will also be looking at how the reality of
beauty can help integrate such fragmentation.
And so, I propose my question again: “Are either of these images beautiful?” If you are inspired to comment here, please also consider adding your name to the growing, world-wide list of BEAUTY PROJECT contributors. You can do that here on this blog-page. Please rest assured that I will never share our e-mail address with any third party. It will be used only by me to send you quarterly updates.