Looking for beauty among the ashes

April 16, 2019 — Leave a comment

This morning I woke to the news that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was burning. I cried for the loss of something so beautiful and iconic and then more when I saw Parisians crying and singing quietly in the streets, mourning as they watched their grand old lady burn. Footage of fire fighters, the spire falling and the gutted remains of the cathedral were everywhere.

As the day wore on I began to see photos of destruction interspersed with sketches and paintings and holiday snaps. Artists were sharing hundreds of memories and flooding my feeds. People were reminiscing and grieving, and searching for the remembered beauty. It meant so much to so many and for a million different reasons.

Sketching or painting something captures memories of more than just the building. A sketch is imbued with your emotions, impressions and interpretation of your experience of the place at a moment in time. I think this is part of what artists everywhere were looking for.

I visited Paris in 2011 but I wasn’t a confident sketcher then and the details of the Notre Dame architecture scared the life out of me, so I didn’t even try. I thought I had, but was sad to discover I had not sketched it at the time. What I do remember was the feeling of awe as I took in her size and tried to wrap my head around the centuries’ worth of pilgrims that had made their way there seeking shelter or solace.

Today I flipped through my photos and searched for beauty as I tried to process the devastation on a page in my sketchbook. I found one where the sun was flaring across the front facade and did my best to capture her on that glorious Autumn day.

I saw a comment on Twitter where someone commented: “posting all your holiday snaps of Notre Dame is not helping”, and I imagine there are similar sentiments circulating about the artwork that is being posted. Perhaps they think it is an attention seeking thing? I know everyone processes these tragedies in their own way, but I would beg to differ and believe that sharing beauty can help. It is the same reason we have pictures of our loved ones at the funeral when they die. We are remembering the beauty of their lives. Even now, artists all over the world are digging out photos and drawing and painting to find the jewel among the ashes that we have been presented with today.

I felt silly being so upset about it, but was reminded by the Viking that I am attached to beautiful things, and that is not a bad thing. I am not the only one a long way from Paris shedding tears…I am reading of people all over the world reacting the same way. Never be afraid to attach yourself to beauty and to mourn it’s loss when it goes. We don’t buy a bunch of roses without knowing that it will be withered and in the bin a week or two later. Nothing around us is guaranteed to be there tomorrow — be it flowers, a pet, a loved one or an 860 year old cathedral. We cannot deprive ourselves of these things because we know it will hurt at some point.

The heartbreak of seeing Notre Dame burn is still present, but the beauty and the memories remain, albeit in different form. It will not be experienced in the same way again, even when she is rebuilt. We will mourn her loss and then celebrate again when she is reborn.

Beauty is one of the things we all cling to in a world that is at times so very ugly. It can unite us when so much is at odds around us. We need to keep looking for the beauty around us and not be afraid to get attached. Keep drawing, keep seeing the beauty even when it seems dark.

If you draw the world becomes more beautiful, far more beautiful.

EO Plauten


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