The Scoop @ MSCO

The Thing About Beauty

In the enchanting Robert Redford film, A River Runs Through It, a minister father advises one of his young sons to take back a homework report he wrote and “cut it in half.”

When the boy, eager to have his studies behind him so he can take to the Montana spring and fly fish, returns the report to his dad, he is instructed to “cut it in half again.”

The loving father, who brings a sense of discipline and frugality to his child, is in the process of teaching him the wisdom and the power of Less Is More.

So much of what we do and see in 21st century life is based on the belief that More Is More. More words. More money. More homes. More people reporting to you at work. More to-dos on your calendar.

Today, I met with an editor, a smart and engaging young woman, who visited me to discuss my new book, Rich Is A Religion, to be published this October. She asked if we could make it longer. To which I responded, I have nothing left to write on the subject. All that I want to say on the subject, I have written in the manuscript now in her possession.

I know from experience that the publishers’ sales teams like a beefy book with lots of pages. I challenge that believing that people don’t weigh books, they want ideas, entertainment or both and if that comes in a 100, 200 or 400 pages, they don’t care. Particularly for the kinds of books I write, it’s the takeaway that counts.

An enlightened and open-minded graduate of Columbia University, the editor agreed and instead of wasting time talking about tonnage, we engaged in an interesting and rewarding discussion about content and philosophy. Her ideas were wonderful and the book will be better for it.

We agreed that in this case and in many others where the instinct is to pile on, Less Is More.

In A River Runs Through It, one of the minister’s sons , played by a young Brad Pitt, is, in half of his personality, a human metaphor for the power of less. He fly fishes with a simple elegance of wrist movement. He dances in a way that his feet barely touch the floor. He radiates a charm that overwhelms everyone he comes in contact with, just a smile and a bright-eyed confidence that is as silent as his lure skimming the surface of the river.

In the end, which is tragic because part of him lives by More Is More, the narrator, playing Pitt’s brother in the film, says he was more than handsome and charming and talented.

He was beautiful.

So often in life, we want to smother beauty by adding and accumulating and expanding and enlarging and directing and controlling and twisting the thing of beauty – the idea, the invention, the person – into what it is not and was never meant to be.

Before you touch it, before you vow to change it, before you decide to take over and apply “the rules,” stare at it for awhile. It may be perfect as it is.

And if it is, tell it so.

Mark Stevens


  1. GM ∣ March 13th / 2008 at 11:04 am

    These words and thoughts help tremendously. Most people go through life without even thinking of these things! Thanks for bringing them to the surface so clearly. Not an easy task!

    Less is more, sure we’ve all heard that before, but the analogies you use really break it down nicely in a way that makes an impact.

  2. Jan ∣ March 18th / 2008 at 9:48 am

    Whether words, or just “stuff” pushed into closet boxes, the art of elegant simplicity is at first, difficult to reach. As you give things to others, the static distortion of moreness dissipates.
    Then, you breathe free and deep. Ah, it feels good.

Leave a Comment