“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 we’re exploring the concept of Beauty.
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?
So, What is Beauty? And how do we recognize it, make it, or cultivate an appreciation for it? Join us this month as we search for answers to some of these questions and come up with plenty more. We’ll be presenting our own perspectives on beauty in our everyday lives, on the North Shore and beyond; and as always, looking for the Connections.