Column is a monthly feature that explores the world
of creativity and aesthetics.
A thing of beauty Mike
de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
an object, music, words,
or a person, beautiful?
Can a taste or smell be beautiful?
we touch 'beauty'? Here are my thoughts on how
we know that most
difficult to contemplate, yet easily experienced
quality we call beauty.
can sense nothing, the senses can
think nothing; only through their
union can knowledge arise.' Kant
'Everything is beautiful - assuming
that everything has the ability to
make at least one person experience
'beauty'. How beautiful something
is, is simply a measure of how potent
the experience is for the beholder.' Anon
'Beauty is the combination
of all the qualities
of a person or thing
that delight the senses
and please the mind.' The Collins English Dictionary
each one of us our experience of what is beautiful
Many have attempted
to define beauty through the arbitrary perspective
of their own sense of taste. Others
have sought to present beauty as an external ideal.
The truth seems more that beauty brings
together many disparate elements from within us, and presents them in the context
of a single unified experience.
Our sense of what is beautiful is inextricably linked
with our feelings
our attention, and feelings are produced from the
complex interaction of our physical makeup, past
experience, knowledge, social and cultural context,
and our need
for personal advantage (our need to survive, and
our ego). Ouch!
This is going to take some thinking about. Beauty
is far from straight forward.
My mate: beauty
It seems beauty plays an important part in our survival,
why else would we have developed a sense of beauty?
Perhaps the appreciation of form
and structure serves us in our ability to recognize
a suitable mate, and furthers
our chances of our continuing lineage. Our sense
of beauty in this context gives us a kind
of intuitive recognition of what for each of us
is an example of perfection. This 'perfection'
isn't necessarily without asymmetry or 'fault'.
If we choose
an 'attractive' partner, our sons and daughters
might be stronger and more likely to continue the
family line. If you view this as a reasonable supposition,
you might also consider the perception of beauty
is not confined to our own species. Might not animals
something or someone
from being attractive to being
beautiful? Isn't beauty
simply the zenith of attraction?
We like to
think of beauty being the exclusive experience of
'higher animals'. But beauty is not an experience
born of thought. We don't 'come to an understanding'
of beauty, although our understanding can develop
our sense of what is beautiful. We feel an immediate
sense of beauty. We see and say almost without delay
'what a beautiful flower'.
Where people are concerned, we often add a behavioural
or moral element to the equation. That 'person' is
beautiful. I wonder whether what's actually being
said is 'that person would make a great mate or clan
The history of beauty
The experience of beauty has been with
us as a species for a long time.
appreciation of beauty in the colour and
form of animals and plants is perhaps our
oldest and most instinctive aesthetic. There's
no doubt however, that despite the tendency
to assume sight and hearing as the most
significant senses in the apprehension of
beauty, other senses are also attuned to
the experience of beauty.
for example are not only beautiful because
of their visual appearance, but also because
of their texture and scent. We apprehend
their beauty in their entirety...
on the western edges of the Massif Central
and the northern slopes of the Pyrenees,
Lascaux is a prehistoric site containing
Paleolithic cave paintings that date to
around 32,000 years old. The paintings are substantial
and powerful representations of animals,
and it seems very clear to anyone viewing
them that a strong sense of aesthetic is
earthenware urn dating back to the Neolithic
period of around 4,500 years ago
originated from a culture known as Machang,
situated in Northwest China. Objects such
as these are not only utilitarian, but also
highly desirable for their intrinsic beauty.
Our home culture also plays a significant role
in our apprehension of beauty. I have grown up
with the assertion of my home culture at every
turn. As an infant learning the rhythm and tone
of my home language, through the years of my
upbringing, to my daily exposure as an adult to
people and media
that surround me.
examples in which my home culture influences
my understanding and experience of the world have
a profound impact on my experience of what beauty
is to me. That's not to say I don't have independence
of thought and feeling, but it is to accept we
are both natured and nurtured.
When ugly is not
I wondered whether I might understand
beauty more if I pondered on what its opposite, ugliness
is. I found the more I thought, the more difficult
it was to judge when a thing is beautiful or ugly.
is an instinctive experience, and one undermined
by the clutter of thought.
ugly duckling is an interesting example
of how difficult ugliness
is to convey.
of my abiding thoughts as a child was
how all the ugly ducklings I came across
really weren't that ugly. Hey, even if
I was an ugly duckling, things didn't
seem that bad.
As far as I could tell, ugly simply meant
different, and one thing I've never been
about is being different.
Golden Mean (or Golden Section),
represented by the Greek letter phi,
is for some, a mathematical expression
of beauty, like e or pi. The greek philosopher and
in his 'Elements'
was the first to present phi.
Unlike the abstract
numbers e or pi, phi appears clearly and
regularly in the realm of things that grow and
unfold in steps, and that includes
living things. The decimal representation
of phi is 1.6180339887499...
Each spiral below is generated using recursive attachments
of the same geometric shape. In this example, polygons
of sides 3, 4, and 5 have been used.
the 'next' button above to view each
spiral version. Right click, 'Zoom
in' to reveal the infinite nature
I've spent some considerable time on this subject
because I feel beauty is a major unseen motivation
that informs our need to create. Beauty is something
I more than like, it is something to love.
a conclusion about the nature of beauty appears
tantalisingly close, yet continues to evade
the final grasp of my reach. Beauty is
not something that can be caged, or simply
articulated. Beauty is like a full stop. It is
there to make sense of all that precedes
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de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®.
Mike has been commissioned as an artist,
composer, photographer, print and web site
designer, and author. Mike
is also a Director of 2BrightSparks, a software
company producing award winning backup solutions.
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