The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 7 (October 2, 1939)
Beauty and the Boast
Sometimes beauty is a vain boast as in golf and other activities of mischance. But, on the whole, the life of civilised man, whether he admits it or not, is a non-stop quest for beauty. Whichever way you look at it, Beauty is the goal at which he kicks the ball of effort.
He pulls up his socks and makes money to secure security, dispel anxiety, and achieve ultimate leisure. Each of these aims is an alias of Beauty.
The essential juices of Beauty are harmony and rhythm; and if the aim of human progress is not the capture of these elusive essences we will go “he”—in fact, he-he! But Beauty is a modest lady. She does not lay on the decoy paint. Her lips are her own and her hair is as innocent of waves as the village duck pond. She can easily slip by you unless you are on the look-out for her. It's up to you. She will not make herself known.
All you need to “mind” beauty is a mind of beauty.
The Eye and the Pie.
A cook with the seeing eye will discover inspiration in the harmonious entirety of a graceful pie. To him its gleaming streamline epitomises the zenith of culinary piefection. The glowing russet of its crust suggests the crisp, curled leaf of autumn, poised to be plucked by the gentlest breeze, light and lambent with the imprisoned tints of summer. To such a cook that pie represents a concentration of piefold perfections. There is harmony in the sweep of its outline, imprisoned tranquillity in its fragrant depths, a sonata of scent awaiting rerelease, digestive inspiration poised to pounce, and mental gratification in a thing of beauty achieved with culinary cunning.
A Meaty Point.
And, take a butcher—yes, we said, a butcher. A butcher with an eye for the aesthetic alchemy of choppery is capable of cutting a cutlet which could be placed in a vase beneath the picture of “Sunset over Venice” and still hold its head up. Such a butcher, were he accorded the rightful rib of recognition in the world of artistic cuttery, might prove a Michael Angelo of the cleaver.
In what is considered the least aesthetic of the arts he yet is able to trim a sheep so cunningly that its own fleece wouldn't know it. He can dissociate a steak from its native habitat with the harmonious nicety and modulated grace of the master and lay it, as puissant as the peony, lambent with the blush of dawn, correct to the ounce, on the scales. A performance, in all its aspects, of perfection and beauty; surely a work of art to awaken in the heart of man the gastric juices of human gratitude.
To the average man who is only average, an engine is merely an agglomeration of revolving metal propelled by an invisible force of no special significance.
But, to the engineer, it is a monument to beauty and the poetry of motion. The engineer sees beauty in the blue blurr of a whirring wheel. The sheen of a well-oiled shaft and the pulsing rhythm of a piston are as the love of Mark Antony for Cleopatra or the Arab for his date hound. The whole of his being is enraptured by the exquisitry of balance, the per- page 61 fection of poise and the completeness of co-ordination which, blended in perfect harmony, constitute a work of beauty unrivalled by the gardens of Babylon.
Here are the same aesthetic ingredients as in the perfect pie—a sense of harmonious completeness and accord.
The Eyes Have It.
Discord is the bane of Beauty and the ally of Ugliness. It is unfortunate that, in the affairs of man, there exist types which lag behind in the march from Chaos to Culture but, in the main, man goes to great lengths to cultivate and defend the essential harmony which is Beauty.
There are those who are not quite consciously aware of their inherent desire for beauty. They may liken a sunset to a plate of scrambled eggs. The Pyramid of Cheops may only remind them of dinner, the sight of the Southern Alps may set them sneezing; Egmont may leave them cold and the kauri forests merely give them a crick in the back of the neck. They will deny that they are Benedicts of Beauty. Yet they will hate pain, anxiety, fear and blatant ugliness, all of which are the born enemies of Beauty. Therefore, unless they are of the turnip tribe, they must be the unconscious allies of Beauty. With a little treatment for mental astigmatism they will see that beauty is what you make it. That:—
There's beauty in the tinned sardine,
So silvery and svelte,
There's harmony in sausages,
Tranquillity in smelt.
No sunset, like a peacock's wing,
Can beat young onions plucked in spring.
No need to seek where Sappho sings—
There's beauty in the common things.
A light reflected in a puddle,
Tired sparrows resting in a huddle,
A scarlet crayfish, proud and vain,
A lighted window in the rain,
A row of rain drops on a wire,
The painted caverns in the fire,
A string of washing on the line,
Whipped into patterns subtly fine,
A tap, a barrel ‘neath a tree,
A blade of rye, a horse's knee,
A new-baked loaf, like ingot gold,
A pungent clod of garden mould,
Wet asphalt streaked with bars of light,
A bunch of chimney pots at night,
A smoky billy smelling sweet
Of willow twigs and glowing peat,
A cabbage growing firm and stout,
All common things without a doubt.
A broken fence, the clouds that skim,
Like wadding on the sunset's rim,
A peeling door, a moulding roof,
The pattern of a horse's hoof,
These are the things that artists crave,
Not riches from Aladdin's cave.
The beauty of simplicity,
Which every common man can see,
Is there for every mortal eye,
So cheap that many pass it by.
But the quest for Beauty has no beginning and no end for those who have no need for the spectacles of synthetic culture. If the Parthenon were demolished to make room for a chain store, if the Mona Lisa had stuck to knitting instead of sitting, if Reubens had taken up bakery and Corot greengrocery and all the artists had put their efforts to coal-mining, there would still remain enough beauty between the kitchen sink and the back gate to nourish the souls of all men.