Ann Voskamp on Beauty

I sat in the audience and watched Ann Voskamp take her place behind the podium.  I had never heard of her nor had I ever read her blog.  But, based on the comments I had heard the first couple of days at The Relevant Conference, Ann was a speaker not to be missed.

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She started by letting us know she was not a speaker.  Within minutes, I knew she was right.  She was not a speaker, but an artist…a poet.  She weaved words and painted pictures like that of a master painter.  She layered colors and descriptions with the lilt of her voice and with the authority of a poet like Browning.

The whole room was swept away in her composition.

She began to unfold a story about a wooden spoon her son had made out of a block of wood.  You can read the full story here. It is about the struggle of her son to believe that anything he created could be beautiful, valuable.  He looked to his mama for approval.  She eventually ends with this…

“Make a dozen, a hundred, a thousand. Cut down a forest and carve out a million. I’d fill up my house with your carved wooden spoons, right to the ceiling. I can’t get enough of your spoons! I never want you to stop making and creating and doing your best work and I think what you do is perfect and grand and wonderful.” He’s grinning now.

And I speak it right into his eyes: “I think you are perfect and grand and wonderful.” He shifts his eyes downward and his cheeks flush embarrassment in my palms and he scuffs his feet awkward and that is why it’s hard to believe that our work is good.”

Photo by Ann Voskamp

My thoughts went to China.  I spent some time in China a few years ago with my family.  We met with Chinese college students in English Corners.  English Corners were places where students could practice their spoken English with those from English speaking countries.  I sat at a table with three young ladies.  One was preparing to be a doctor.  We started with small talk.  I shared with them that I had visited a place that morning where blind and deaf children had learned to do art.  I went on to say how touched I was by the beauty that came out of these kids.  The doctor-to-be, looked at me shocked.  “How could their art be beautiful?  How could something that comes from someone with handicaps, even be called art?”

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Before meeting with these girls, we had learned about some of the culture of China…the need for perfection.  Years and years are spent in studies trying to be the best, to excel.  To be “beautiful” it must be perfect.

I answered her.  “I have four children.  Not one of them is the same as the other.  When my two year old gives me a picture with scribbles in crayon, to me it is beautiful…perfect…one of a kind.  There is no other painting exactly the same.  No other drawing created just like this one.  It is art.”

She sat back and crossed her arms.  You could almost see the gears shifting.  She looked at me and said, “You just gave me a whole new way of thinking.”

There is no one else like you.  There is no one else with your experiences, your history, your genes, your talents, your passions, your failures, your successes, your story.  No one.  If there is no standard on which to base beauty, then can’t it be argued that you are beautiful?  And therefore, what comes out of you is beautiful…is art.

Poetry and masterful art reflected in a wooden spoon or in a crayon drawing…in a blogger or a doctor.



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