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Monday, 14 February 2011

Old Post #3 'Seeing Beauty'

[I thought this was quite interesting just to see how much I changed my views since writing this and it appears that 'not a great deal' is the answer. If anything has changed then all I can do now is give a more nuanced answer. So, although this is somewhat clumsy (due to its brevity) there is a kernel that still seems correct. And it is Valentine's day afterall...]

The rose is traditionally seen as a symbol of beauty

[The rose as the symbol of beauty prompts the question...]

Is there something ‘in’ the rose which prompts our reaction?

I find this idea objectionable, that aesthetic qualities might be inherent in an object seems wrong. We come to understand something as beautiful (for example) in that we learn to attach a certain meaning (in this case beauty) to the thing. It is in how we first apprehend the thing (that is, the context and how others describe it) and in how we ourselves relate to the thing (an object, situation, or other condition).

Mathematicians describe complex equations as beautiful, or simply the operation of mathematics itself. For many the idea that maths can be seen as beautiful can be as bewildering as those who find cars things of beauty. What is it for the car-fancier or the mathematician to finds beauty in something so mundane to others? The beauty resides ‘in’ their interaction, the activity becomes more meaningful and they appreciate the better functions of the operation now with an aesthetic judgement. The mathematician finds the unity that mathematics provides beautiful in that it simplifies, complicates and explains life. The mechanic finds the smooth fast engine and sleek body of a design of car beautiful in a similar manner, i.e. it is part of an understandable practice (whether it be mathematics or automotive design).

The rose is the most recognisable symbol of beauty (originating from the Greeks most likely) in that it is culturally imbued with this meaning. Cross cultural identification of beauty can be difficult; the first step tends to be a mythologizing exoticism before we can identify with the art of another culture (even with their idea of beauty) as being understandable as a beautiful object, e.g. consider how African art was first introduced by Victorian ‘explorers’ or how the ‘Far East’ has been portrayed.

We only ‘see’ beauty (or hear it, or…) we do not find it already there. Does this mean then that I am saying that beauty is solely in the eye of the beholder? Well, mostly, but remember that this is a human activity and it is from our cultures that we get the idea of beauty from.

Sep 08