Can everyday objects have a ‘soul’?

Canon Alan Amos

“You cannot limit beauty or grace and put it in an ecclesiastical bottle..."

As a designer and design planner I frequently find myself tossing around the word ‘soul’ in relation to a particular brand or piece of design. Which is to say something that has a bit of ‘authenticity’ a bit of evident ‘humanity’ in how its been conceived and made and a bit of ‘spirit’ in terms of how it carries itself.

But I sometimes wonder if I am diminishing and trivialising a pretty heavy word, one with obvious (if multidimensional) importance for people of faith. Luckily, Canon Alan Amos is my uncle, so I called on him to give his faith perspective on the question ‘can everyday objects have soul’?

Alan Amos, A Curate's Egg

As a direct answer I think you can say that things have “soul” and that the designer puts it into them…

…But this is to speak metaphorically, otherwise the things would all be strutting around pumped full of AI. To say something has “soul” to me means that it has resonance and depth.

And that is in the mind of the artist or designer when shaping whatever it is.

Interestingly, the word “grace” has similar applications. It is a term in Christian theology, and yet also a term in life – to say something has grace, or is graceful is not unlike saying it has a kind of “soul.” I once asked a class of students to say what “grace” is – one of them replied by talking about ice-skating, and another interrupted and said “that has nothing to do with ‘grace’ in Christian theology.” Not so quick, I replied. There is a connection. You cannot limit beauty or grace and put it in an ecclesiastical bottle.

The wondrous things of life have a habit of overflowing. So it is that, aware of our own dimension of “soul” we can attribute “soul” to things or objects as a way of emphasising their resonance, transcendence, depth, and beauty.

If we did not know intuitively what “soul” meant applied to ourselves, we could not apply it to anything else.

Perhaps Keats “ a thing of beauty is a joy forever” gets near to it, when poetry is not just romantic wistful thinking or illusion, but a glimpse through a window into the reality which is beyond the reality which we experience.

To believe in the soul is to believe in mystery, in wonder, and in the existence of what we cannot see and cannot understand.

Alan Amos, A Curate's Egg

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