Friday, June 27, 2008

Everything is beautiful

Suppose that beauty is objective. Nonetheless when we talk of an entity's being beautiful, we are talking of it under a certain aspect. Thus a performance of an aria may be auditorily but not visually beautiful. A Rembrandt may well be ugly in respect of ultraviolet observation. We typically call a work of art beautiful if it is beautiful under some aspect. A part of the task of learning to appreciate a work is learning how to observe under that aspect (the aspect may include historically contingent artistic conventions). But, plausibly, every physical object is beautiful under some aspect. If it is not visibly or auditorily or tactilely beautiful, maybe it is x-ray or gravitationally beautiful, but we just do not observve by x-ray, and observe poorly by gravitation. It seems likely that given the infinite variety of objects, each object is quite beautiful under some aspect. An item is beautiful if it is beautiful under some aspect. Is an item ugly if it is ugly under some aspect? I think not. We would not say a face is ugly if it is ugly under x-rays.

4 comments:

linty_pupik said...

If you put on rose-colored glasses, everything is red.

David said...

Would we typically call a painting beautiful if it looked ugly under ordinary observation but turned out to be beautiful when viewed under an electron microscope, even though the artist hadn't intended the painting to be viewed in this way?

casey981 said...

Some rock and rap pieces probably sound better, or are more beautiful, played backward rather than forward. But here what is being listened to is no longer strictly the same piece. Similarly, some modern paintings might be more beautiful if only the back of the canvas is viewed; but again, this would not count as the same painting. Thus: every work of art has a central aspect or group of central aspects, and these central aspects determine the range under which the same work of art is being viewed. These central aspects are usually the conditions under which the artist believed the work of art should be perceived; seeing the work "from the left" and "from the right" or hearing it with bass and treble fiddled with would count as perceiving central aspects. A work of art is ugly if it appears more beautiful under any of its non-central aspects than any of its central aspects. If a 50 Cent rap sounds more beautiful (=more pleasant?) in any of the ways 50 had no intention of the rap being experienced -- it sounds better with a jackhammer going off nearby, it sounds better while one is asleep, etc. -- then the rap never appears more beautiful under its central as opposed to its non-central aspects, and thus cannot be beautiful.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But we do not require a non-artifact to be beautiful under some preferred aspect (e.g., one intended by the artist) for us to call it "beautiful". It is only in the case of artifacts that we make this restriction. But a human artifact is also a production of the natural world--human artists are a part of the natural world (except insofar as grace raises them above it). We can thus consider these artifacts as natural objects, and seen as such, we can judge them in the less restrictive way which attributes beauty to them even if they are beautiful under an aspect not intended by the human artist.

And of course any work of human art is also a work of divine art, who cooperates in all positive activity. But the divine artist need not intend the same aspects as the human artist. :-)