Writer, blogger and essayist James Lileks has an interesting riff on the idea of beauty. Lileks writes for the Minneapolis Tribune, and also maintains his own web site at Lileks.com. He grew up Lutheran in Fargo ND, and is the same age as my loving wife. I always appreciate his view, so I check his site for his daily updates. Since he always has something interesting to say, I recommend his blog. Consider these paragraphs, which are his meditation on beauty:
I went down to the Macy’s Flower Show to see if I could get something, but the video muse did not whisper in my ear. Mostly I saw a bunch of stupid flowers…
As for the “stupid flowers” – sorry. I like flowers. I miss flowers. I look forward to seeing more flowers. But I had expected a room full of flowers, awash with the perfume of faraway lands, and instead they moved the show to the main floor from the 8th, and stuck the flowers in the aisle. It was less than impressive. Also, some flowers are creepy. They’d eat you if they could figure out how. They don’t have to, so they don’t.
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.
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.
Truth is beautiful in itself. Truth in words, the rational expression of the knowledge of created and uncreated reality, is necessary to man, who is endowed with intellect. But truth can also find other complementary forms of human expression, above all when it is a matter of evoking what is beyond words: the depths of the human heart, the exaltations of the soul, the mystery of God. Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos – which both the child and the scientist discover – “from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” “for the author of beauty created them.”
“An aesthetic standard that exists whether we do or not.” James – I think you’re on to something.