Life through the lens of beauty and meaning

Sofia Ordoñez a senior English major. She is the former Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Newswire from Cincinnati.

Our quotidian existence makes us impervious to meaning. The way we live within the matrices of our societal structures and the way we become entrenched in the banality of our routines make our beings suffer the most dangerous strain of lassitude, ennui. This mode of being threatens the very vibrancy of our existences. It is so easy to stagnate, to become complacent, to be suspended in inertia within the normalcy of the everyday. When we find ourselves embedded in the sediment along the rivulets of discovery and inquisitiveness instead of being immersed in their flux, we fail to perceive the intrinsic meaningfulness and purpose that predicates our existence. It takes a tremendous and often uncomfortable experience that irrupts our tedium and exalts us into the beautiful, meaningful stratum of living beyond, yet within, ordinary existence.

When we surrender to this tumult, we may find ourselves irradiant with the furtive significances of life that were previously inaccessible to us, that transfigure our lives and ways of being with beauty and possibility. We can derive insight into the structures of our world and become more cognizant of the nature of our own beings. Yet we can only acquire this perspicacity by engaging with that which most nourishes human life: works of art. It is the times of uncertainty, like our present moment, that disrupt the continuity of the quotidian, that give us an opportunity to create works of beauty and meaning, and that give us glimpses into our very existence.

This is not to say the quotidian is meaningless. It is simply our usual approach to the quotidian that lacks meaning, when we are not grounded in the ordinary but just “going through the motions.” To approach the everyday inquisitively, that is to say, creatively, is to transfigure mere moments of being into the liminal space of ritual, through which we can access the eternal, the sacred. After all, routine can become meaningful with just a little bit of consciousness.

Creating beauty and meaning from the matter of existence can simply take the form of a breakfast that suddenly becomes a moment of being still, where one takes note of the arrays of sensorial experiences framed by the elapsing of time. It can be a moment where you fully immerse yourself into a conversation, such that time passes beyond your comprehension. It could be reading a book or listening to music or watching the rain fall in a way that inquires into the moment itself: what meaning lies in the silhouetted presences of things? How do the play of light, the sound of rain, the look of things in themselves, the rise of feeling, the constellations of thought interact to form a lens into existence itself, into the asymptotes of being?

Uncertainty is the crucible that gives rise to beauty and meaning – it always has. So many works of art were born out of anguish, suffering, tumult, just as much as they emerged from moments of love, camaraderie, or beauty. What we can derive from the maelstrom that is our individual and collective existence at this moment in time is the meaning that intensifies our lives.

How we approach the world and its structures, our relationships, and ourselves can be transformed in a time of crisis. It can be the prism that refracts the variegated hues of living that we ordinarily fail to perceive. If our ordinary existences make us impervious to meaning, then the extraordinary circumstances we all find ourselves in now can be the force that compels us to create and the light that illuminates the fundamental meaningfulness of our lives.

After all, the beauty of art is not that it is merely beautiful, but that it reveals the meaning of existence and our nature as human beings. It is in the times of uncertainty when we are shaken from our stupor and transfigure our existence with beauty and meaning.