Blessing Ngobeni, Who Am I?, 2013.
Blessing Ngobeni, Who Am I?, 2013.
Image: Supplied

I am in a low-grade but ongoing battle with a friend and colleague over the value of certain kinds of journalism. His camp, for context, is one that’s fortified by market data, annual results presentations, and withering columns about opportunistic politicians and underperforming CEOs. His entire campaign in the tepid war we’re waging between coffees and the odd single malt is centred around the tactic of, “What’s the ‘so what?’” It’s always followed by a calm but confident salvo of, “If you can’t answer that question in a story, then it’s not a piece of reporting with value.” He’s been field marshal of that approach his entire career, and I’ll admit the awards and many fans probably say something of his strategy. 

Across our media Maginot line, and to an independent observer, my stronghold may seem unfit for the fight. My barracks of block-printed curtains billowing in the breeze, fields of seasonal wildflowers, and picnic blankets heaving with plates of mezze and cold bottles of chenin could appear flimsy. You see, I think that purely aesthetic and pleasurable articles are also journalism of value. I believe that offering readers pictures of beautiful houses inspires them. You may not ever be able to live in that Corsican farmhouse, but why shouldn’t the images of its lush landscape and whitewashed walls offer mental escape or something to aim for?

Is the interest-rate hike vexing you? Close your eyes and imagine you’re walking between the myrtle and rockroses of the island on a searing summer day. What bliss. Or turn your lounge into your own pocket of the Mediterranean.My sense of the importance of delighting readers also extends to food, travel, fashion, design, words, and art. Yes, everything I’ve listed there can be viewed through the useful lens of what they say about society (the “So what”, as it were). And yes, it is beneficial to know what a mania for avocados says about salaries, global eating trends, and carbon footprints, for example.But sometimes we can present (and indeed celebrate) items or ideas simply for the joy and beauty they bring.

Under the spell of beauty, we experience a rare condition called plenitude, where we want for nothing
author André Aciman

People are quick to malign beauty as superficial, but that is underestimating its significance. The merits of beauty have kept everyone from Greek philosopher Plato to US essayist Elaine Scarry busy for eons, and for good reason. Beauty is something we all appreciate, individually and irrespective of who we are, rich or poor. You may be struck by a Blessing Ngobeni painting because of what it says about humanity and the way we live. For the important questions it raises.

You may covet that William Kentridge etching because its financial value has skyrocketed. But knowing nothing of cultural discourse, or the appreciation of alternative assets, does not exclude you from standing in front of an artwork and gaining immense pleasure from its composition, colour, or feeling.In 2019, the New York Times asked persons of note to answer the question, “Why is beauty important to us?” In it, author André Aciman said, “All beauty and art evoke harmonies that transport us to a place where, for only seconds, time stops and we are one with the world. It is the best life has to offer.” He went on to add,

“Under the spell of beauty, we experience a rare condition called plenitude, where we want for nothing.” In the same piece, fashion designer Zac Posen observed, “The interesting thing about beauty is that there is simply no downside to it: It can only enhance our lives.”If journalism is an act of service, then pages of beautiful art, clothes, interiors, and destinations speak to Posen’s point exactly — they are doing the job of enhancing our lives greatly.

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