Beauty is Truth…

… Truth Beauty” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
-John Keats. Ode on a Grecian Urn

In August at my group blog Connect Shore we’re exploring the concept of Beauty.  This is the editorial I wrote for the month over there that gives an introduction to some of our thoughts.

What is Beauty?

What images come to your mind? Do you think in images at all when it comes to Beauty – or do you imagine tastes, sounds, or physical sensations? As I thought about this topic I tried to remember my first introductions to some different aspects of beauty.

I remember being ten and going on road trips with my family where we would leave at 4:30 in the morning. My dad was utterly obsessed with missing rush hour traffic anywhere and everywhere we might be driving (think New York City or the Bourne Bridge on the way to Cape). We would sleepily pile into the packed-the-night-before van and leave. But, as soon as the seatbelt clicked I would find myself wide awake and blearily watching streaks of sunlight paint the sky, and slate would become peach would become tangerine would become baby blue and then the sun was risen. Those early sunrises and the stillness of the roads were beautiful to me.

I remember entering high school and suddenly female beauty was on my radar. This is when Britney Spears burst on the teen scene and she was really my first introduction to female beauty and stardom. I saw her everywhere in magazines like Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and Tiger Beat. But I soon thought I was too mature for those and began reading Vogue and trying to memorize supermodel names. I began talking about Twiggy, Iman, and thought of Natalia Vodianova as my “favorite” model.

I remember my first in depth introduction to Renaissance Art as a freshman in college during a History class. I had had a pretty scanty art upbringing prior to this, my last art class had been in fourth grade, and it was barely possible that I could have picked out a Monet from or a Jackson Pollock. (I exaggerate a little) I knew nothing about the development of art either pre-or post- 1400. Suddenly I was being told about the perspective, chiascuro and Flemish painters. I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with classmates and, really looked at the paintings and studied the details, soaking in the architecture of the building as well as the artwork.

So this is how I remember my awareness of beauty unfolding – first natural beauty, then human beauty and then finally through pictorial art. In short, it seemed like I knew it when I saw it and I didn’t think too much about what Beauty was for a long time.

But the question “What is Beauty?” delves into the topic of aesthetics, ethics, and mathematics even and has been around at least since Plato and Aristotle first began engaging in their dialectics. It’s in asking this question that shades of uncertainty start to emerge in between the surety that I can recognize beauty when I see it.

For example, What makes a person beautiful? Is it facial symmetry or the right body proportions? Do instincts or hormones have anything to do with who we find attractive? Why is the beauty industry a multi-million dollar business and should beauty be something that can be tweezed, plucked, weighed, or photoshopped? And how much photoshopping is too much? Is it possible to measure how beautiful someone really is? And what happens as they grow older, do they “lose” their beauty? Why do all mothers think their children are the most beautiful? Does inner beauty count for anything?

If we turn to artwork – paintings, music, or dance – how much of that beauty is the finished product, and how much is the knowledge of the artists mastery of their topic – the unseen work of practice and theory? Is the music still beautiful if the piece is butchered under inexpert fingers?  What makes some paintings become famous, and other similar paintings be forgotten? Is it right to call food a work of art – even something so homely as mac and cheese if prepared by skilled artisans?

At Connect Shore we’ll be exploring lots of aspects of beauty, visiting salons, maybe posting “What I wore posts” as well as getting all philosophical.  That’s how we roll over there after all. 

But over here, I think Beauty will likely spill over into my “Live Sustainably” goal, particularly in regards to my clothing.  Not that it’s been over a year since Ethan was born it’s time to seriously clean closet and find out what fits, what doesn’t, and why I bothered to keep some of those stained office clothes anyway.  Keep checking Connect Shore to find out more about Beauty this month!

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Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

3 thoughts on “Beauty is Truth…”

  1. After reading your blog I was inspired to try to articulate something I’ve been thinking lately about beauty. I want to eventually post it on my blog, but I’d love to hear your thoughts first and hopefully refine my ideas. Here we go:

    I am fascinated by the interplay between two concepts of beauty:
    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” and “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I have to agree with Dr. Gordon, the brilliant researcher of music learning theory, who interlinks music comprehension with musical aesthetic experience. I think his observation implies that there is something innately beautiful about things, but that the nature of beauty also somehow involves perception.

    Although I haven’t figured out exactly how to articulate this, I think comprehension/understanding is indeed the root of beauty, and that this somehow correlates with Piaget’s theory of assimilation/accommodation. I wonder if it helps to say “Beauty is understood by the beholder”–assuming that “understanding” demands that the thing that is to be understood existed outside of the mind prior to understanding, then came into the mind at the point of understanding. The main point being that if someone can sense some type of order (as opposed to chaos), that order is appreciated. I think the more someone can psychologically appreciate something, the more they physiologically appreciate it, thus the aesthetic experience.

    1. I am still thinking about this, and working through it. I think it raises a lot of other questions, such as –
      Is appreciation the same as enjoyment? or “liking” something. What do those words mean? I certainly find beauty in things that I have to contemplate and understand (mathematics comes to mind). But I have a gut reaction to other things that are beautiful like sunsets.

      Also, there are things like being loved and known which take this distinction into account too.

      Mostly, I think there are a lot of nuances in these thoughts, and it would be interesting to set up some kind of flowchart, or rubric for understanding them.

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