“The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me” Immanuel Kant – Critique of Practical Reason
What is beauty?
This is how Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines “beauty”: 1) a quality that people, places, or things have that makes them very attractive to look at 2) a woman who is very beautiful 3) a quality that something such as a poem, song, emotion etc has that gives you pleasure or joy 4) a particularly good quality that makes something especially suitable or useful 5) a very good, large etc example of something 6) beauty is in the eye of the beholder: used to say that different people have different opinions about what is beautiful 7) beauty is only skin-deep: used to say that how someone looks is not as important as a good character.
Beauty attracts and seduces us and it somehow gives us pleasant feelings like joy, but it’s also virtuous and it adds value to our world. What if something achieves the purpose it was created for but it’s not aesthetically pleasing? Well, we can’t separate the function from the form so i would say that both sides are required to reach the full definition of beauty. Admitting the opposite would mean giving credit to a functional imperative, just working is not enough.
When i see something beautiful my usually sharp senses fade to focus on that single thing. I feel paralyzed at first, caught between shock and disbelief, then a sense of happiness and excitement arises, quickly followed by curiosity, i want to explore it, touch it, use it, ask about the people behind it. And no, it’s not going to fade because real beauty never dies. Actually it is the opposite of death, it makes me think that something good still exists in this world. In the darkest days it’s a flash of light that slashes a black canvas. It gives you the strength to think that there’s still something to fight for, to the point you may think it will save you and it can save us all. Beauty experienced in the prime time of life is about happiness and peace, beauty experienced in the most painful days is about relief and melancholy for a lost golden age . A radically different experience that casts a light on how most of the things happen inside of us rather than outside of us. Ultimately beauty resides in the affective domain, it’s the emotional response to things we perceive. For the traditional theory of the five senses we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste. Neurologists argued that there are four more senses: propioception (body awareness), equilibrioception (balance and acceleration), thermoception (temperature) and nociception (pain). This last quartet is crucial for humans and therefore sometimes relevant to reach the aesthetic judgment. But there’s one more. It’s absolutely necessary for my aesthetic equation to define what I believe to be the “sixth sense”: the perception of care. We can approach an object not remotely close to our area of expertise and tell how much care was put into designing and crafting it. This is true for products as it is for immaterial goods and services. I believe in taking care of the things we do way beyond what we are asked, what we are required to do. Total care is the difference between what is lousy and what is beautiful, caring is time and energy consuming and that’s why caring is ultimately loving. The pleasure given by the attention to details is an heartwarming one, it’s deep and it’s reassuring, it’s the victory of love we all need. What is life without love? It’s total coldness and utter despair.
The postulate is that there are some principles inside of us. Some of them are born with us and will remain forever, they are the a priori principles, shapes of our mind that collect the informations and organize them in a certain fashion. Others may evolve and change with the maturation of our convictions. All of these moral rules and beliefs are like colored lenses we always wear, different people approach the same phenomenon from different angles and they see what their lenses allow them to. We are admitting that an intellectual activity is necessary and reflections have a big role because we can’t recognize as beautiful something that is against our values; something evil can have a good appearance but it won’t provoke a positive emotional response.
The elements of the aesthetic experience can be summarized in the following order: a set of values, perception trough senses, emotional response, reflections, updated emotional response.
I have yet to answer to the main question. In the last seven years i’ve thought about it from many perspectives and i’ve recently arrived to a point where i am aware of something that i have felt all my life, the answer has always been deep inside but the transitioning age from a teenager to a young adult has been decisive to explore my inner world and come up with something i can communicate.
Beauty is what gives me peace.
Beauty is what gives me peace. It’s as simple as that. Peace is something correlated with happiness, but it lays on a much deeper level, and peace remains when the fleeting happiness subsides. It can be described as a simple delight mixed with some relief, accompanied by the absence of perturbation. On the contrary when something is not beautiful enough I feel tensed, I feel unsatisfied, I feel there’s still work to do; beauty makes you feel vulnerable because it strikes directly into your deepest self and you have no more questions, no more doubts, it’s not the time to struggle for answers, it’s not the time to be inquisitive; it’s just the time to celebrate this victory. Given a defined set of principles, beauty in the proposed form of peace can be the ultimate principle to discern what is right and fair.
What is beauty for you? Leave a comment below and stay tuned for more in depth articles!