Below is the first from a series of interviews on the personal meaning of ‘Beauty’, which appeared in the King’s Review, Cambridge. Originally published by Gilded Birds, a website devoted to the aesthetics of beauty and curated by Kerry Shaw. (www.gildedbirds.net).
Jane Haynes, psychotherapist and author on her husband’s photograph, ‘Dog and Grass’.
Gilded Birds: You’ve chosen a photograph of your dog. So is the beauty sentimental? Would you find this picture beautiful without any personal experience of this dog or this grass?
Jane Haynes: I have no interest in the sentimental and regard it as a vice. The reason I have chosen this image is because it represents a random moment of phenomenon I regard to be beautiful. The grass is not my grass. How could it be, and although the dog is ‘my’ dog, she does not ‘belong’ to me. My husband’s image captures a reflection of an autumnal dog of perfect proportions in declining grass. In this picture the grass matters as much as the dog. It also reminds me of Dürer’s ‘Clod of Earth’. Snakes lurk in grass but so do daisies (which once upon a time I wove into endless chains of love), buttercups, sexy-milked dandelions and minute orchids with beautiful names: green winged orchid, the lesser butterfly orchid, the bee orchid. I should add that the dog is a Magyar Vizsla and I regard the breed whose eyes and nails are polished autumn amber as ‘living art’.
Gilded Birds: Do you think your picture is universally beautiful? Does this choice reflect a current state of mind or would it always be an ideal of beauty for you?
Janes Haynes: I do not think there is any such thing as universal beauty. I am not interested in the universal or collective but prefer the subjective. I might allow the moon the privilege of being an universal image of beauty, but then again how to choose between its slither and full? I also privilege the sun, but unlike the moon, which inspires me with awe, my sensation of the sun is accompanied by an intrusive fantasy of foolish human beings sunbathing without realising that the God is flaying them alive.
Gilded Birds: Do you think it reveals other things about you other than simply what you think is beautiful?
Janes Haynes: Not unless I share them with you. I have already indicated that I like the idea of the grass concealing exquisite beauty and deadly snares. It also happens that the dog’s pedigree prefix is ‘Siriusbell’. It must already be evident that I find the natural universe beautiful and I also find it serendipitous that ‘Sirius’ stands for the brightest star in the universe but it is also the feared ‘dog star’. I value all combinations of opposites. I like the fact that Keats’ last poem was, ‘Bright star would I were steadfast as thou’; that Shakespeare immortalised the star to every wandering bark, and that ‘Bell’ is the name of my youngest grand daughter whose beautiful smile was born on the seashores of the world.
Gilded Birds: Do you think we can become more self aware through examining what we find beautiful?
Janes Haynes: Most definitely. I am obsessed with and by Beauty. My family would say I am Beauty-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disordered. I am not proud of that but it is true. To return to your question: beauty whether in nature or the flesh – since childhood when I searched in the grass endlessly to find a four leaf clover – has been a consolation to me for the loneliness and ugliness that I feel in being human and separate. I find it hard to forgive ugliness whether it is in architecture or ignorance.
Gilded Birds: What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
Janes Haynes: Integrity. Symmetry. Soul. Mystery. Myth. Language.
With thanks to Kerry Shaw for permitting the reproduction of this material..