Stephen-fryTo help motivate my morning walks I sometimes take my iPod and listen to one of the many podcasts I subscribe to but don't otherwise have time to hear. The other day I loaded up one of my favorites by the erudite British actor and thespian Stephen Fry.

Fry is always intelligent and insightful, and the topic he brought his formidable talents to in this case was one of his own favorite subjects, Oscar Wilde. In particular, he was talking about a promotional tour that Wilde had made to the United States in the late 1800s, just as his popularity was beginning to take off in the UK.

The US was in a particularly violent period at that point, having recently emerged from an extremely bloody civil war. We were engaged in a Western expansion charaterised by genocide and gunslingers and being plagued by eruptions of gang warfare in New York and Chicago. One of the many questions presented to the visiting Wilde, whose wit and ready answers were already becoming quite quotable, was why he thought American was so violent.

"That's easy", he reportedly quipped, "it's because the wallpaper here is so ugly".

Wilde's comment was generally considered to be a humorous and somewhat shallow response to the question, but Fry's deconstruction of it reveals something deeper. Fry's analysis has, I think, even more relevance as a response to the violence of today's world than it did in the 1900s.

As a philisophical Aesthetic, Fry explained, Wilde would have believed that beauty "acts" upon us, that the beauty of nature and art has a powerful positive effect on the human psyche. Thus, the opposite would also have been true – that a culture which had evolved with such a profound insensitivity to their environment (as to accept the hideous wallpaper referenced earlier, presumably 🙂 would obviously be effected negaively. That, surrounded by ugliness, one would be moved to ugly and violent acts.

I think Oscar Wilde had a pretty good point… but what do you think? Does beauty "act" upon you? And if so, how? What about ugliness?


  1. Wow – what a spectacular idea. We’ve become such a youth-oriented culture, we’ve lost track of where the real smarts are to be found – and very much to our own detriment.

    I loved this quote by Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

  2. Thanks for showing us the beauty of old age. It’s an insight that very few consider in this age of fast and faster moving and changes. Some of us “elderly” people are able to summon up the energy to shine and be respected, but the majority are unseen and unheard, even in their own families.

    I’m attaching a couple of poems that came to me recently as I stood in the Welfare lines to help an old friend who is down and out. She is the victom of the predatory mortgage scamers who pursued her and convinced her that she could lower her monthly payments. She ended up with a $30.00 valued house and a $68,000.00 mortgage at high interest. My husband and I got her out of the old house, set her up in a new subsidized building and have been helping her to apply for Medicaid and other programs.

    My aging disabled friend has worked hard all her life and deserves to be safe in her old age. Every one of the utilities, insurance companies, mortgage company, car loan company, etc. have deluded her into paying much more than she should have. She represents one of the backs of the poor upon which the inflated money fiasco on Wall Street is founded. And it’s not beautiful!!!

    Maybe my sad poems don’t resonate with your uplifting Beauty Dialogues. I want you to know that I enjoy your work and, as an artist, I need to find beauty all around me. What I have found recently breaks my heart.

    Peace, Cameo

    Standing in Line
    Soaking in the
    smothering odor of poverty
    snoozing babies restless
    snow hissing on old TV.
    Slipping dignity off at the door
    shoulders droop people sigh
    seeing a long ragged queue
    snaking over grimy floor.
    Squirming children, big-eyed
    scowling, struggling, finally,
    shrieking adult anger and despair..

    ~ Cameo Victor /08

    Swept Away

    Swept under the heavy gray rug
    of government indifference and ineptitude,
    a million bent elderly people
    live their dying years in this beneficent
    land like poor tattered characters
    in a Dickens novel.

    Born in the great Depression
    taught to scrimp save and be quiet,
    work hard endure the wars
    mind their own business
    make unspeakable sacrifices,
    make do and make nice.

    No longer useful nothing to give
    no one listens to their sad story
    baffled bewildered outpaced
    duped and outsmarted, impotent lives
    float on the ice floe of
    incomprehensible change.

    ~ Cameo Victor /08

  3. I was needing a little Beauty in my life and came for my Amy Beauty fix — what a wonderful project. I also enjoy the Chuck Close quote regarding inspiration, but it was beautiful to see the portraits of people who I admire and make my heart feel full of love and beauty — Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer — people who teach me about beauty and love and forgiveness and right and wrong….
    Thank you.

  4. Hi Amy, WOW!! These images rivet me, I find I want to just stare at them a long time. Thanks for posting this. It was interesting too, noting in that gap between reading your email intro and getting to the pics, where my mind went imagining what a “beautiful person” looked like, wondering what kind of images I was about to see. The images are so much more beautiful and refreshing than the images I was holding in my mind. Thank you for blowing some cobwebs out!, helping expanding the definition for each of us personally, what is beautiful, what is human, what is natural…. Big thanks to Hans Silvester too. –Laurie

  5. I am totally and completely taken to another world, another plane of existence by these photographs (these people). This beauty and art which so naturally and wondrously permeates their everyday lives also must have some deep effects on their very nature. I wish I could read the commentary that accompanies them.

    As an artist, I am profoundly moved, both visually and spiritually. I feel that my work will/must be in some important ways greatly influenced. Right now, I am in a beauty trance. Thank you for bringing this along with so many other captivating and energizing things to our attention.

  6. Dear AngelCatPainter and Laurie,

    Thanks for these luscious comments! It is such a joy to reach that common heart and reading your words takes me there. I’m so glad you saw what I saw in these faces, these totally natural beings.

    As a photographer myself, I am enchanted by Hans’ being there in that moment and his ability to reflect the beauty at the core of all humanity through his art. That’s what I want to do!

    Thanks again for writing!


  7. I really love your website which is such a powerful inspiration to me to get set up a website of my own. I was thinking of using the bluedot hosting company that you have an account with, but I cannot find anything indicating it is a socially conscious company. Do you know anything in this regard? As an alternative, I suggest LinkSky, which has excellent service and a great reputation and is presently offering six months of hosting free if you make a loan of $25 through True Change micro-lending program:

  8. Hello there, Amy (and, of course the Wedding People! : ) ))

    This must be the first and ONLY TRUE WEDDING I have EVER witnessed!…and I seen a few!…..

  9. October 6, 2009
    Tricycle’s Daily Dharma
    Seeing Clearly

    What does seeing clearly mean? It doesn’t mean that you look at something and analyze it, noting all its composite parts; no. When you see clearly, when you look at a flower and really see it, the flower sees you. It’s not that the flower has eyes, of course. It’s that the flower is no longer just a flower, and you are no longer just you. Flower and you have dissolved into something way beyond what we can even say, but we can experience this. This kind of seeing, this kind of understanding is “as-it-is-ness.” This wonderful intuitive wisdom infuses everything we do, if we just open ourselves up to it, and forget about all our selfish, petty concerns, forget about what we want, what we must get, whether this is doing something for us. Forget it. We are here for the sake of all sentient beings, and we are one with all sentient beings when we come to see this as-it-is-ness.

    –Maurine Stuart, from “Our One and Only Commandment,” Tricycle, Fall 1996

  10. Lovely picture Amy. I too like to go on “Beauty Walks”, thanks for sharing part of yours.
    Hope all is well for you. Sending you big hugs, Robin

  11. Of all of the beautiful images of yours that I’ve seen, THIS one is now etched in my
    memory. It evokes the color, feel and poignancy of the fall season for me.
    Thank you for blessing my day.

  12. Amy, your work with BK and these wonderful people is simply awesome. I LOVE Gisela Wendling’s site–and you’re right, the banner is perfect, and her work so inspiring.
    I’m delighted your work is expanding in this glorious way! And speaking of expanding, I’m under contract to write another book–this one on Sophia–Divine Feminine Wisdom. When I start writing the section on “beauty” you can bet I’ll be referring to you and to this site. 🙂
    Many blessings,

  13. These are fantastic websites. I was particularly struck by the presentation of liminal songlines, really good content and visual presentation. They are all wonderful and so are you!

  14. thank you dear one…”almost obsessive engagement with online media”… is an understatement!!!! you are the queen. bought mom a digital photo frame and you are in no less than 30 shots! she is overjoyed and totally mystified by the magic before her.

  15. Many thanks for posting “Winter Solstice.” It was beautiful. I especially liked

    “We are caught in a web of stars,
    cradled in a swaying embrace,
    rocked by the holy night,
    babes of the universe.”

    You might enjoy visiting my web page , where you will find
    in the Introduction of my book “Beauty in Science and Spirit,” my attempt to answer the question

    “What is Beauty?”

    Beauty is difficult to define, but we know it when we experience it.

    With gratitude,

    Paul H. Carr

  16. A beautiful story, Amy. I love how the artwork represents the energy of connection across communities and your connection with each other and the whole.

    I know the BEAUTY of your vision and talent you have in helping people, myself included, articulate our work through a web presence. Well done to both of you.

    Thanks for the explanation of the painting and holding space for celebrating together in a sacred way as our world is shifting. Inspiring.

  17. Thank you, Lisa!

    And of course you understand the idea of holding space for celebrating together in a sacred way in the deepest and most joyous sense.

    I look forward to featuring your work and what we have done together here in the Beauty Dialogues soon.

  18. Beautimus maximus in so many ways Amy…worldly and other-worldly – your sacred is our sacred. Thanks for sharing your amazing talents.

  19. Beauty Beings You Are…and the painting is a Beautiful Reflection of both of You! Truly amazing to BEhold! Love to you dearest Amy and again “Thank You” for showing up fully in Who You Are and sharing yourself with the rest of the World!

  20. Thank you for sharing this and giving me the opportunity of being grateful for every moment and to distinguish the miraculous in every moment. It is now 63,978.
    Blessings to you.

  21. Merci beaucoup! I am happy to say that this is a state of mind I’m in a lot these days! Thank you for sharing this video that reminds us all to ‘stop and smell the roses’!

  22. Thank you, my dear Amy! No, I wasn’t “one of the 63,977 people who’ve seen it on YouTube” uhh… oops… this one is (thank heavens) “going viral” … now at 288,604(as of 2/9/12 at 4:15PM Pacific). Just what I needed… and good for daily viewing!

  23. I am astounded every Spring by it’s renewal, it’s glorious colors and the vibrant energy that you can see and feel. Every morning I walk and I thank God for the miracle of the cycles of the seasons because it truly is miraculous what comes back to life and how the universe is designed.

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