Modern Fairies
Breathing our way to courage

Dark Beauty

Andrea Kowch

This has been a very rough week for American women, and for sexual violence survivors everywhere. Many people I know are filled with "sacred rage," and I honor that; indeed, I feel it myself. But today I'm going to focus on making beauty, now more than ever. This piece, first posted in November 2016, explains why....

Having grown up amidst violence and ugliness, I have long dedicated my life to kindness, compassion and beauty: three old-fashioned ideals that I truly believe keep the globe spinning in its right orbit. William Morris, artist and socialist, considered beauty to be as essential as bread in everyone's life, rich and poor alike. It is one of the truths that I live by. Beauty in this context, of course, is not the shallow glamor peddled by Madison Avenue; it's a quality of harmony, balance and interrelationship: physical, emotional, and spiritual all at once. The Diné (Navajo) called this quality hózhǫ́, embodied in this simple, powerful prayer: With beauty before me may I walk. With beauty behind me may I walk. With beauty below me may I walk. With beauty above me may I walk. With beauty all around me may I walk

We are living through a time when dark, violent forces have been released, encouraged, and applified, on both sides of the Atlantic: by Trump in America, by the Brexit mess here, by Le Pen in France and Orbán in Hungary and too many others eager to extend its reach. I contend that in the face of such ugliness we need the beacon of light that is beauty more than ever -- and I hold this belief as someone who has not led a sheltered life, nor is unaware of the true cost of violence on body and soul. It is because of the scars that I carry that I know that beauty, and art, and story, are not luxuries. They are bread. They are water. They sustain us.

Andrea Kowch

And yet, like many of the writers and artists I know, I too have been struggling with how to move forward: not because I question the value of the work that we're doing here in the Mythic Arts/Fantasy Literature field (addressed in this previous post), but because public discussion, on Left and Right alike, has become so dogmatic, so scolding and contentious, and so mired in black-and-white thinking. In such an atmosphere, nuance and complexity sink like stones; and the idea that there are things that still matter in addition to our political crisis is damned in some quarters as trivial, escapist, or the realm of the privileged: labels which I do not accept.

47037752238356cced089bb59f5d9ae5Here on Myth & Moor, I advocate for the creation of lives rich in beauty, nature, art, and reflection -- but this is by no means a rejection of engagement, action, and fighting like hell against facism. Myth speaks in a language of paradox, and so all of us who work with myth are capable of holding seemingly opposite truths in balance: We'll fight and retreat. We'll cry loudly for justice (in our various ways) and we'll have times of soul-healing silence. We'll look ugliness directly in the face, unflinching, and we will walk in beauty.

"Beauty is not all brightness," wrote the late Irish poet/philosopher John O'Donohue. "In the shadowlands of pain and despair we find slow, dark beauty. The primeval conversation between darkness and beauty is not audible to the human ear and the threshold where they engage each other is not visible to the eye. Yet at the deepest core they seem to be at work with each other. The guiding intuition of our exploration suggests that beauty is never one-dimensional or one-sided. This is why even in awful circumstances we can still meet beauty. A simple instance of this is fire. Though it may be causing huge destruction, in itself, as dance and color of flame, fire can be beautiful. In human confusion and brokeness there is often a slow beauty present and at work.


The Travelers by Andrea Kowch

"The beauty that emerges from woundedness," O'Donohue noted, "is a beauty infused with feeling: a beauty different from the beauty of landscape and the cold beauty of perfect form. This is a beauty that has suffered its way through the ache of desolation until the words or music emerged to equal the hunger and desperation at its heart....The luminous beauty of great art so often issues from the deepest, darkest wounding. We always seem to visualize a wound as a sore, a tear on the skin's surface.  The protective outer layer is broken and the sensitive interior is invaded and torn. Perhaps there is another way to imagine a wound. It is the place where the sealed surface that keeps the interior hidden is broken. A wound is also, therefore, a breakage that lets in light and a sore place where much of the hidden pain of a body surfaces."

Light Keepers by Andrea Kowch

"Where woundedness can be refined into beauty," he adds, "a wonderful transfiguration takes place. For instance, compassion is one of the most beautiful presences a person can bring to the world and most compassion is born from one's own woundedness. When you have felt deep emotional pain and hurt, you are able to imagine what the pain of another is like; their suffering touches you. This is the most decisive and vital threshold in human experience and behavior. The greatest evil and destruction arises when people are unable to feel compassion. The beauty of compassion continues to shelter and save our world. If that beauty were quenched, there would be nothing between us and the end-darkness which would pour in torrents over us."

So please, fellow artists and art lovers, keep seeking out, spreading, and making beauty. Don't stop. We all need you. I need you.

Andrea Kowch

The art today is by Andrea Kowch, an award-winning American painter based in Michigan. Kowch finds inspiration in the emotions and experiences of daily life in the rural Midwest -- resulting, she says, in "narrative, allegorical imagery that illustrates the parallels between human experience and the mysteries of the natural world. The lonely, desolate American landscape encompassing the paintings’ subjects serves as an exploration of nature’s sacredness and a reflection of the human soul, symbolizing all things powerful, fragile, and eternal. Real yet dreamlike scenarios transform personal ideas into universal metaphors for the human condition, all retaining a sense of vagueness to encourage dialogue between art and viewer.”

Andrea Kowch

Andrea KowchThe passage above is from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O'Donohue (HarperCollins, 2004), all rights reserved by the author's estate. All rights to the art reserved by Andrea Kowch. A related post from 2014: "The Beauty of Brokeness."


Wonderful post - and arresting paintings. I feel just the same, even though (of course) we all have different ideas of what is or is not beautiful.

I would question whether everyone who has felt deep emotional pain is capable of making the leap into compassion. I know people who are not able to do this, who remain sunk in their own view of the world, and solipsism. I also know people who do not seem to have suffered particularly but who are brimming with sympathy and empathy. There's also the troubling point that too much compassion would make a surgeon unable to operate or a lawyer to litigate in a fair trial. It's a mysterious business, and one that I grapple with as a novelist.

The paintings, in some way, remind me of Wyeth. But on the other hand, they don't.

Thank you for this much needed reminder during these days when rage flares almost daily.
Thank you for introducing me to such a wonderful artist as well. Let us continue act in beauty.

Yes, beauty more than ever. I also experienced violent beginnings and know how much beauty and light mean as a result. Thank you for reposting this.

Beautiful art...thanks for sharing. The artist, (in any medium) more than ever today, must express the emotionality of our cultural conditions, blending the fears with hope, exclaiming at the abuses and exhaulting at justices. It has become part of our calling.

Your words are so true and strong...the light comes through the cracks and the cracks are beautiful. I've followed this wonderous artist for some time and I love your blogs, Terri! Thank you and I will be sharing for sure!

Thank you for this post in particular. Today I needed it. With all that is going on in American (I live in California) and throughout the globe, it is necessary to remember beauty, life, love and compassion. To remember to use such things in fighting against the intolerance and hate that surrounds us. I find in the creative life, one is never done. Now more than ever, creative work, beauty, art and kindness are absolutely necessary to move us forward and fight (if necessary). I wish you, like so many other artists out there (including myself), keep up the good work and hold the line.

Beautiful and inspiring post. From which book is the John O'Donahue quote excerpted? I'd love to read more of his words.

Thank you, Terri, for this post; for the paintings. I spent the day watching the hearings, so I needed the words of writers and poets, and the arresting strange beauty of the paintings.

This post just shook me. The paintings are gorgeous and haunting and evoke a story (and we each as viewer make that story up). very powerful. And of course all the well spoken words. I sent this day's post to all my bestest sisters in honor of Christine Blasey Ford. and I honor you Terri for your persistence and exquisite editing and tunings.

Beautiful words and wonderful art. Hugs to you and everyone today.

How the Light Really Gets In

The day he introduced himself,
The day we said forever,
The day our first child
and the next and the next
slid into the world,
the day we discovered
the last manned lighthouse
in Scotland on its last day,
on the day our first grandchild
lay cradled in my arms.
On the day I held your hand
as you slipped away,

All that light flooding
though the cracks.
I have given them in pieces
to you and you and you.
No one can hold it all
in a single chalice.
But together we can drink it down
and enlighten the world.

©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Beautifully said and beautifully illustrated. Thank you.

A truly beautiful dance between words and images... thank you <3

Hi JaneAll

that light flooding
though the cracks.
I have given them in pieces
to you and you and you.
No one can hold it all
in a single chalice.
But together we can drink it down
and enlighten the world.

This is poignant and exceptionally beautiful. And how true, the light of hope, compassion, love and sustenance does slip in through scenes and emotions that comfort, enlighten and sustain us. You capture those moments of revelation, partnership, birth and death with such perception and tender understanding. And yes, in conclusion, we must all drink together from the cup of light to live and live among others. I am so deeply moved by this poem Jane, what a pleasure to read and contemplate its words and wisdom.

Thank you so much!
Take care

every woman who has suffered sexual assault and listened to the live-stream of that kavanaugh hearing was basically re-traumatized. every mother who has been unable to protect her daughter from casual predation felt that anger and pain reactivated. i was astonished how strongly it impacted me. even women who didn't listen to that 2 part tragi-comic horror seem to be impacted. we are all reeling at yet another revelation of how our pain and lack of safety is at most viewed as an inconvenience by our fellow humans in high (and low) places.

beauty has always been my refuge. i appreciate the balm of words and imagery in your post.

Well i expect that human capabilities are unlimited so we have to believe in ourselves and always try to break all the boundaries. It is very useful info so we will talk about it with my students and discuss it.

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