Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Beauty Is Truth

The things in the world that interest me are the things that have no "useful" purpose like big ideas, and imagining a future that could be, or fantasizing about technology that will clean my house, go grocery shopping and cook for me. Some "useless" things sit right in front of me. Take flowers for example. James Lileks says:

I think we’re just lucky that flowers are beautiful; it would be a strange world if flowers and most plants revolted the hell out of people the way most large insects do. Well, you can say, our aesthetic preference to flowers is simply the result of millennia of acclimation. There is no inherent beauty there; we mistake our inbred subjective reaction for an object truth. If flowers looked “hideous” in the same sense as big insects – a revulsion that’s also grounded in subjective reactions, not AGGGH THERE’S A COCKROACH ON THE DESK GET IT OFF GET IT OFF

Sorry; it was just a shadow. Anyway: we would have thought “ugly” flowers were beautiful if our species’ consciousness had evolved alongside “ugly” flowers, or perhaps we would have regarded them as neutral, the way we regard most small ordinary rocks. It’s possible another species might land on Earth on a mission
from Voltarus IV, examine our great botanical gardens, throw up en masse and leave, never to come again.

Possible.

So why are the heavens so beautiful? Why, when we look deep into space with the eyes of Hubble and other machines, does everything seem so gorgeous? It’s not as if we evolved looking at that.

It would be interesting if it turned out Keats was right: beauty is truth. Imagine that: an aesthetic standard that exists whether we do or not. The tree that blossoms in the forest with no one around to see it.

Why do flowers exist? Why do manatees exist? I have to admit to a strange fascination with those creatures. They are benign, not very beautiful but seem to be utterly peaceful and gentle. They don't have "usefulness" though--not like a cow or even a dog. Although my dog is completely useless, unless you consider cute and pooping in my office useful, which I don't.

Anyway, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Why is it that we all find the same things beautiful? We tend to all love Halle Berry's physical attributes for example and agree that she has a beautiful face and body. We all look at Denzel Washington and think--wow, he's handsome. And I don't know why I came up with those two examples except they are the first actors to pop into my head. That, and I saw part of that movie American Gangster and boy can Denzel act. He scared me and made me feel sympathetic for him at the same time. That was a weird digression.

Lileks concludes and I agree:
But I suppose if you believe that, you think flowers have inherent beauty, and we’re more than chemicals and subconscious commands from the instinct gland in the bottom of your brain. You do? Me too.
I believe in inherent beauty, transcendent beauty, that is just there for our pleasure. And the pleasure is the purpose.

2 comments:

theysaywordscanbleed said...

it is odd that most of the times people can agree on what falls as beautiful or ugly.

Arlene,
Puyallup florist

sandy said...

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