Above is a photo of 49 Talavera Mexican tiles. Not a great photo, and it certainly doesn’t do them justice, but hopefully you get a sense of their beauty.
I love beautiful things. After what was mostly a dreary week of disappointment, I received a box from Mexico full of these lovely tiles. They are beautiful. I like the click clack of them against each other, the glassy coolness of the tops of them, the rough feel of red clay on their backsides, and how the sun in my dining room glints off their shiny surfaces. I love them. I have no idea what the hell I will do with them, but I know I love them. Maybe I’ll make them into magnets, or frame them. Had I my own place, I’d glue them somewhere in the bathroom or kitchen.
I have traveled widely and have collected beautiful things from around the world – Celadon from Korea, tea sets and calligraphy scrolls from China, lacquer bowls and kokeshi dolls from Japan, brass coffee pots and woven hangings from Saudi Arabia, and so on.
We are, I know, a materialistic culture. Our economy is built on a foundation of MORE. All the same, not all of that MORE is beautiful, and I’m going to be brazen here and say there’s nothing wrong with loving beautiful things.
The Buddhist in me is a little ashamed, I admit. Everything is temporary, after all. Grasping for things (or fame or money etc.) is a desperately losing battle, destined to only bring you unhappiness.
There was an article in a local magazine about a man who prided himself on having only 100 things in his life. He strives to live an austere and non-materialistic life. I suppose that is admirable to some degree, but a friend pointed out that by being so purposeful in not having things, he was perhaps obsessing about things anyway.
There’s got to be a balance.
The first thing I do in a new place is put my posters and pictures up on the wall. It makes it home for me. It makes it beautiful. I think if you don’t surround yourself with beauty, your soul is not being fed. I remember being struck in the movie “Office Space” not only of the sterile environment of the protagonist’s work space, but also the sterility of his home. Nothing on the walls, not much furniture, a kind of brown tone to everything. It showed a paucity of spirit, I thought. It was depressing.
I suppose it’s a little obnoxious to have things around your home from faraway places. It’s a way of saying “Look at me. Look how cool I am and how well traveled.” It’s a little precious. I don’t want people to think of me that way, of course. I’m not out to impress. But people’s stuff defines who they are, to some extent. It shows a side of their personality, more than just where they’ve been.
In Arthur C. Brooks commentary “Love People, Not Pleasure” in the NY Times last week, he points out that “Some people look for relief from unhappiness in money and material things.” Is that what I’m doing? Certainly when I engage in retail therapy – usually clothes or books – that’s what I’m doing- filling a hole of unhappiness or discontent. But beautiful things? Maybe not.
Brooks goes on to say, “More philosophically, the problem stems from dissatisfaction – the sense that nothing has full flavor, and we want more. We can’t quite pin down what it is that we seek. Without a great deal of reflection and spiritual hard work, the likely candidate seem to be material things, physical pleasures or favor among friends and strangers. We look for these things to fill an inner emptiness. They may bring a brief satisfaction, but it never lasts, and it is never enough. And so we crave more.” He states that this “lust for material things” leads us to a “deadly” formula – Love Things, Use People. He suggests inverting this equation to – Love People, Use Things.
In my defense, I would say I do Love People and Use Things. It’s not that I love beautiful things more than I love people. Not by a long shot. It’s just that I need beauty in my life as much as I need good people. But I think this raises a good question – how do you reconcile your stuff with a higher good? To that I would say DO GOOD in your life. Make sure your obsession with your stuff isn’t taking over your love of the people around you.
We don’t need to justify art. It is necessary and important to humanity. Similarly, I don’t think we have to justify our love of beautiful things.
Why not surround yourself with beauty, whatever that is for you, while surrounding yourself with people of beauty (not to be confused with “The Beautiful People”) and work of beauty. That we should be doing good deeds in our life goes without saying. That we need beauty, though, is just as important.