Essay of the Month: Beauty

Mice on Sauk Mt., acrylic on panel, 36" X 24", 2010, Mark W. McGinnis


The old saying the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is, of course, quite
literally true. Each individual is going to gauge what they believe to be
beautiful by their own experiences, culture, education, environment, social
standing, mental capacities, and the subtle or not so subtle individual qualities
of their eyes or other senses with which they are experiencing the beauty.

The term aesthetics often comes into play to when discussing the qualities of
beauty and volume after volume has been written on the subject from the
ancients onward. Among the many and varied definitions of an aesthetic
experience my favorite is that which transports the individual from their
everyday experience of life into the world of art, object, or experience. This
definition fits well with what most consider a traditional sense of beauty.
Standing before a Rembrandt painting I can easily become completely absorbed
into the world of the painting, to the point where I may temporarily forget to
breathe. The same may happen for me in a transcendent moment with nature, be it
a single blossom, a panoramic view, or an image of a distant galaxy. These
aesthetic experiences will and must vary with each individual due to reasons
given above. In popular culture most aesthetic experiences have taken the form
of entertainment. Television, movies, computer games, and seemingly countless
and ever-evolving Internet activities play the role of taking the individual
from their immediate experience of life and transporting them into world of the
entertainment. There are instances in all these forms of entertainment that
would fit within many people’s sense of traditional beauty, but there are also
many that would not. The violence and brutality that is found in much popular
media is not a contemporary phenomenon, it has been found in cultures as far
back as we have documentation. Its rise of popularity in a time when some hope
that human beings are becoming more “humane” seems a contradiction, but a more
objective look at the 20th and early 21st centuries seems to refute the assumption of an increase in compassion or empathy for others

The visual arts have often been an aesthetic experience for primarily a privileged
class. The primary exception to his has been the use of visual art by religions
that have most skillfully used art to create the many forms of
“other-worldliness” in associations with the belief systems they evolved. There
have also been many “primitive” cultures that have used art to enhance their
everyday lives rather than to transport one to another world. Utilitarian
objects were designed and decorated to not only fulfill their function but also
to tie the user to their environments and beliefs. This has carried through to
some extent in the craft world of contemporary life and in high craft with
amazing artistry, but for the common person our everyday environment seems
focused on function, comfort and status rather than any true aesthetic
connection partially due to the lack of emphasis on artistry and craftsmanship
in all areas of our lives.

The environmental movement is a bright point when discussing beauty in our times.
They have brought many people back to a deep appreciation of the beauty of our
natural world and true aesthetic experience. While this is certainly not the
only reason to preserve what is left of the incredible beauty of this world, it
is a very important one, as this beauty is diminished, we are truly diminished
in a proportionate degree.

copyright 2011 Mark W. McGinnis


Author: markwmcginnis


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