Zak Foster Asks, Is Beauty Enough?

In our final post of the year, Zak Foster asks the question of whether making a quilt for beauty’s sake — and beauty alone — is enough. In a year that has been challenging for so many, finding beauty can be difficult. We love the answer that Zak arrives at in the end of his analysis, and we hope that you do, too. Happy New Year to all of the members of the FeelGood Fibers community. We are so grateful for you and we truly see the beauty in you all.

“Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature.”

— Eckhardt Tolle, A New Earth

Is beauty enough?

By Zak Foster

I didn’t grow up in a family of artists. I didn’t go to art school. And even though I’ve made art my whole life, I always had this nagging sense that I wasn’t a real artist. A real artist, after all, made work with meaning. Was I really an artist if I was just making pretty quilts? Is it enough just to make something beautiful?

For a long time, I didn’t think so, but I’m coming to some peace with these questions. Beauty is enough, I believe, because it is the nuclear core of who we are. It can stand on its own as the central meaning of a work. It makes me think of a poem by Emerson I ran across years ago in college. It’s one of the first poems I ever committed to memory and I’m so glad I did, because it has found its way back in my thinking on beauty. In the poem, Emerson is talking to a rhododendron bloom (or as he calls it here, rhodora) and he gives this flower a boost of encouragement, saying:

Rhodora! If the sages ask thee why

This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,

Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,

Then beauty is its own excuse for Being[.]

What I love about this idea is that we know flowers aren’t beautiful simply for beauty’s sake. They’ve evolved over the millennia to attract pollinators who ensure that their floral genes will be carried on for another generation. It is this functionality of beauty that I hold on to. As quilters, we love not only the way a quilt looks, but we also love all the things we hope it does in this world: keeping our loved ones warm, preserving memories, telling stories. A quilt’s function, in tandem with its textures and colors and patterns, makes it beautiful.

And how does beauty work? I wonder if, whatever beauty is, if we aren’t made of the same elemental substance. What if the animated core of our being is made of the same life force we call beauty in other situations? The work we create then, by merit of being part of creation, is beautiful. With our hands, we call into being something brand new. This creation is now seen and felt and known. All those other ideas that go uncreated in this world will never hold that spark. And maybe the resonance we feel when we experience something beautiful— the sound of laughter, the first warm day of spring, a masterful quilt— maybe we are moved because we are simply looking into some cosmic mirror and seeing part of ourselves reflected; or better yet— maybe Beauty is seeing itself reflected in us.

So this year let’s make something beautiful. Let’s turn ourselves inside out and let us witness how that cosmic beauty can make itself visible in fabric. That’ll be more than enough. 

Thank you, Zak, for this beautiful and thoughtful essay to end the year with. For more of Zak’s work, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.

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