Beauty is Tension

Sometime back in the 1990’s, a book was published by the Theatre Communications Guild (I think) that dealt in performance anthropology.  The book chronicled performance traditions from cultures around the world, and one of the ideas the studies explored was the push/pull of balance and tension.  In the body of the actor, the structure needed to create any performance is a dynamic relationship between the body at rest and the body in crisis.  The moment in which crisis/chaos settles into precarious rest is usually the moment of greatest attention and intention, the moment of greatest interest and revelation–beauty–for the audience.

Entropy is ever present.  As I suggested yesterday, beauty is a move toward order.  But always there is an enemy to that order.  Call it what you will, left alone, degeneration occurs.  Chaos ensues.  Messy rooms will not clean themselves, nor will dirty dishes.  Houses will not keep themselves up, and paints will not arrange themselves artfully onto a canvas.   Death is coming, and even as we soar in some artful endeavor, there is that move back toward muck always pulling at our heels.

Beauty depends on tension for its release into the hearts of the perceiver.  Tension is a crucial piece of the context for any aesthetic flash of insight, revelation, or delight.  Tension is the road along which balance must travel, the occasional stops being points of potential greatness and beauty.  Almost as if our very precariousness is the ground from which beauty rises.

Trouble is we don’t like precariousness.  We often run from the tensions suggesting themselves both in everyday and artful life.   But perhaps we should lean into the tensions of our lives, working for that moment in which the force of our spirits suddenly finds the lift in the turbulence, finds the place where opposing forces are forced into harmony for just a bit of what my friend calls “laminar flow.”


3 Replies to “Beauty is Tension”

  1. As I had said being here where God once set his foot is beautyful when I am in pensive moments… then reality sets in and brings me back to the here and now. This contrast of realities when I step back and look at it has beauty in it that I often fail to see because I get so wrapped up in daily dramas. Home schooling Matthew, changeing Miranda’s diaper or feeding her or figureing where she just crawled off too!
    Beauty is tension…I think that the tension gets to be overwhelming at times and that makes us overlook the beauty?

  2. Jeff, thanks for your posts on beauty. I ran across them today via Jeffrey Overstreet and read them during lunch. The idea of beauty being order and tension helped me put together some thoughts that I had this morning as I saw over a a formation of over a hundred geese all flying together, constantly shifting and in danger of splitting apart but always coming back together in a slightly new arrangement. I was amazed by God’s design in creating something so simple yet complex, orderly and dynamic, and realizing that it was just one of the countless ways he’s revealed his beauty in the creation.

  3. Yeah, I’ve been reading some insights from Fahreed Zakaria. Without being specific he touches on beauty as order. His insight that democracy and true freedom the true and liberal kind and not the illiberal kind has a specific recipe. Order. Rule of Law, A Humanistic and Liberal Constitution that protects the dignity of the individual. He makes a case that unfettered freedom is ugly and illiberal, (which is why so many “democracies” are failing in many ways) that life by self interest fiat is an ugly thing. It was interesting to see that. Also, I forget, (what’s his face) the guy that wrote “A Year of Living Biblically” The agnostic Jew from NY, the same guy that wrote the know it all book, he spoke eloquently and directly of his experience…one of the things that resonated with him was that by following rules he experienced a far greater freedom than he had normally experienced. He experienced a freedom from choice, a freedom that only by adhering to an order he could have experienced. All clearly very beautiful things. Which brings me to your word of “tension”…the tension between freedom and order and where and how does one find the hole shot, the nuance, be it a specific word choice, a light setting, a brush stroke….how one does exercise great choice in great order with the hopes of enfleshing something beautiful, something good. These thoughts, these words, so tasty.

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