This post, Practicality and the Death of Beauty, was one of the first blog posts I ever wrote on my original blog. I published it on February 16, 2005. I’m republishing it with a few light edits and updated formatting.
We live in world driven by practicality. Everything must be efficient, easy to clean, and inexpensive. People want quick meals, comfortable clothing, and bargains. Sadly, one of the results of this compulsion to be practical and get to the bottom line is that beauty has been trampled to death.
Practicality or Beauty?
The American Heritage Dictionary offers several definitions of practical including:
Designed to serve a purpose without elaboration; Level-headed, efficient and unspeculative.
Some synonyms for practical would be sensible, utilitarian, functional, and pragmatic.
Here are some of the definitions of beauty from the same dictionary
A pleasing quality associated with harmony of form or color, excellence or craftsmanship, truthfulness, originality, or other, often unspecified property; Appearance or sound that arouses a strong, contemplative delight; loveliness; A person or thing that arouses such delight; a specific excellence or grace.
Some synonyms for beauty are artistry, grace, loveliness, fairness, style and winsomeness.
Now which one would you rather be?
Beauty Matters to God
Francis Schaeffer wrote a little booklet called Art and the Bible in which he discusses the idea that art matters to God and, more specifically, beauty matters to God. In the section called “The Temple,” Schaeffer outlines some of the instructions God gave for the building of the temple. There were a number of things that were not utilitarian and actually served no useful purpose other than to be beautiful! There were two large pillars topped with woven chains with a hundred pomegranates attached to the chains. The inside of the temple was overlaid with pure gold and the temple was decorated with precious stones (2 Chronicles 3:1-17). What purpose did these have? Their purpose was to be beautiful.
As a Christian woman, one of the greatest gifts I can give to my husband and others who come in our home is a beautiful, restful environment. I am always looking for small ways I can make our home more beautiful. Sometimes we do spend more than was “necessary” because we find something beautiful that ministers to our spirits in an artistic way. Other times I find beautiful things for very little money. The key is finding the balance.
Making Your Home Beautiful
There are so many ways we can make our environments beautiful and it doesn’t matter if your style is traditional, country, American primitive, or eclectic! It doesn’t matter if your clothing style is classic, country, English, or trendy. Each can have its unique charms and beauty. Here are a few things of beauty I have done around my home.
We have very nice high quality cotton sheets, edged with embroidery, that I always iron before putting on the bed. I would not have believed how luxurious ironed cotton sheets could feel! Ironing is one of my least favorite tasks around the house, but I wouldn’t dream of putting the sheets on the bed without ironing them. They feel too wonderful that way! We also invested in a down comforter and down pillows. We LOVE to climb in bed each night. It is better than any bed and breakfast we have ever visited.
I try to keep a vase of fresh flowers in the living room as often as possible. Lately I have been buying a lot of tulips! They last about a week so we are able to enjoy them for a long time. Flowers, especially in the winter months, are such a thing of beauty and definitely refresh our spirits.
I have been making an effort to use a tablecloth and special dishes more often. I have china that we picked out when we were married and I also have my grandmother’s china. There is no point in letting them sit in the cupboard collecting dust so we use them!
When we were on vacation last summer, I found two small glass dishes in an antique store. We thought they were lovely so I bought them. I use them several times a week to serve fruit. They aren’t practical because they don’t go in the dishwasher and I have to be careful because I don’t want to break them. But we enjoy them each time we use them.
Feeding the Birds
As I’ve mentioned in other entries, we do a lot of bird feeding. It is not a free hobby to keep multiple feeders filled for different varieties of birds. But to see the beautiful birds throughout the day is worth the expense.
One of my favorite things to wear is a high quality worsted wool long pleated skirt. I find them very comfortable and versatile, but they are not practical financially. They are much more expensive to buy and they are expensive to take to the dry cleaners, especially when I have to pay to have them pleated. But I still buy them and wear them. Why? Because I feel lovely in them! They flow and swirl. They are beautiful! I love them! Even if they are not practical, the joy I receive from wearing them makes up for the cost of owning them.
Those are just a few of the things I thought of off the top of my head. The things that would be beautiful in your home will look differently. But there are so many little things we can do to add beauty to our lives and the lives of our families.
Women are Starved for Beauty
It has been interesting to see how interest in Jane Austen and similar authors has been running very high in recent years. I think part of the interest in movies such as A&E’s Pride and Prejudice and theatrical releases such as Sense and Sensibility and Emma is because women are starved for beauty! We watch these movies and secretly wish that just a fraction of that beauty could be a part of our lives.
I truly believe that as women we were created to admire and seek beauty. It is natural for women to want to surround themselves with beautiful items in their home and to enjoy dressing in beautiful clothes. Sadly, our culture slowly beats this natural inclination down in us as we buy into the practical and busy pace of life. The little girl who loved dressing up as a princess is transformed into a sloppy college student who wears jeans and oversized shirts and sweatshirts every day who becomes a harried mom in black running pants and an oversized denim shirt. Is that really how we want people to see us now and remember us when we are gone?
Is there a place for practicality? Of course there is! It is practical to make dinner in the crockpot on a busy day. It is practical to put a mat down on the floor if a messy baby is getting ready to eat. It is practical to put old clothes on when you are painting. But our life should be governed by more than just practicality. We should try each day, in some small ways, to reflect the beauty of God and the beauty of the world that He has given to us, written on our hearts.