Make the world a more beautiful place. Starting with where you are right now.
(few spaces have been made as beautiful as London’s Southbank Undercroft)
Look, I’m not going to quit the politics and power-up the aesthetics. Nor am I going to go all self-improvement on you. I am as rabidly against the individualism of the how-to industry as I ever was. And there’s serious politics in beauty – just take a look at my post “art, violence, and the way we occupy space“.
But whilst this has an eye on the political – indeed it *is* political to the extent that it advocates the reclamation of public spaces for the public consciousness, and raising the minutiae of the everyday above the level of functionality to the plane of beauty – this is a New Year type of post. It is programmatic, manifesto-ish.
I want to do three things.
– to assert that whatever else people or places my lack, there is a value in their not lacking beauty
– to call writers without a creative outlet to action to bring beauty into their immediate surroundings
– far less altruistically, to introduce you to some of the themes of the book I’m working on.
To take the last, and least interesting, point first, my main work in progress is a very dark book set in Oxford. It features an underground group of the disaffected and the dispossessed who live on the margins of society and beyond and call themselves Petrichor. Their motto is “Make the world a more beautiful place. Starting with where you are. RIGHT. NOW.” They do all kinds of things to make forgotten spaces more beautiful. For example, they film themselves performing parkour on the city’s landmarks, post the videos online and then link to them with QR codes discreetly placed around the city.
(one of the poems from Paint Oxford With Poetry)
One of the reasons I wanted to write about a group like Petrichor is one of the oldest in the writing book – I get to do on paper the things I’d really love to have the courage to do in real life. I’ve made tentative steps in the past – in 2012 I organised Paint Oxford With Poetry, for which 21 poets from across the world sent poems that I printed and posted around Oxford overnight so the city would wake up a more beautiful place. But it’s something I would love to do more and more, and I’m always thinking of new ways it could be done. Writing a book with people who actually do it both gets that out of my system and, um, gives me ideas.
I want to make a few basic assertions and suggestions I hope will inspire us all to go out and make 2014 a more beautiful year.
Everyone deserves beauty. It is easy, in a world riven with inequality and injustice, to place beauty a long way down our list of what we need to fight for. And yes, however loud we shout for beauty we should shout louder still for an end to poverty and oppression. But denying the need for beauty strips away a part of people’s soul as much as denying their need for expression, autonomy, subjectivity and respect.
Everyone’s beauty is equal. That’s so important. We live in a world in which we are constantly told what is beautiful. Beauty has become as much a tool of oppression as it has a means of enriching everyone’s lives. When we objectivise an aesthetic that is little more than the confluence of a nexus of threads of cultural dominance, we not only deny beauty to those who find it elsewhere, we silence their voices further within the larger cultural world – when beauty is the beauty of a few, or even a privileged many, then the world that includes and embraces it simultaneously shuns and makes invisible those or whom beauty is other. The world becomes no longer their world.
So, don’t let people tell you what is beautiful. Make things that you find beautiful whether they conform to many widespread norms or none. Because when you do so you do the following things
- you make the world around you a little more beautiful
- you expand the world in which you find yourself by expanding those that world welcomes
- you make the world a less alienating place for those whose beauty it has shunned, because you make a statement – that all beauty is valuable, that there is space for that which the overwhelming majority find ugly, if so much as one person finds it beautiful
- you expand the horizons and the art of those who have yet to encounter beauty in this form.
So, create beauty. In any and every form you can. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the vastness of your canvas. Beauty can be made in the smallest ways. It can be made now, and it can be made here. So whether you find yourself at a bus stop or sipping coffee or on a deserted street while the city sleeps or the darkest corner of the internet, do something to make it beautiful.