Reflections on Beauty
Miklos Nicolaus Legrady
Beauty is a blessing and curse, at times superficial yet also bred in the bone. Beauty has a particularly bad reputation right now so merely to mention the subject might cost the writer some credibility in the art community: “What is the matter with you? Get with the program, stuckist; beauty is out!” And yet, and yet…
Paul Dirac said that when he finds beauty in his equations he knows he is on the right path to progress. Einstein agreed. A feeling of beauty is often found in viewing a verdant landscape under a blue sky with some fluffy clouds. Over a million years, such sights have bred in us as an instinct that this means it will be warm today and perhaps there will be good hunting in this valley. Our notion of beauty often leads to the passing on of the perceiver’s DNA. The late Denis Dutton states in the YouTube video, “A Darwinian theory of beauty,” that art is not a social construct; instead, we must look to biology to understand the meaning and function of art.
In scenario above, beauty is an instinct. It functions as an attractor to the conscious mind, which doesn’t realize why but finds itself drawn to this experience of beauty. We recognize the double-edged nature of attraction as an instinct. It can lead to a Nobel prize or to a prison cell, depending on the nature of that instinct and the character of the subject. We know instincts are powerful. They rule animal behavior and their instructions were developed in an evolutionary race of the survival of the fittest. Consciousness was a latecomer and most evident in humans, although crows have been measured at the intelligence of a seven-year-old. We also know that dolphins and whales have bigger brains than humans, although we cannot know what level of complexity, consciousness, or communication they achieve underwater.
Instincts direct people by making it seem natural to think and act, whether to smile for the first time at someone who later becomes your friend, or decide to take one path and not the other. Thus, instincts command consciousness without our being conscious of the fact, making us follow age-old codes and behavior patterns. We hear the patterns of instinct in the universally banal language of love, that conveys such wonderful feelings to the lovers themselves. Love as an instinct has befuddled many and it serves as a good example of the dark side of brightness. We have all had our fingers burned by love while reaching for a morsel in the fire.
But love is an instinct that can find specific personalities and draw them together. Beauty is also an instinct that can lead to scientific discoveries or beautiful works of art, which are, in fact, poems in a non-verbal language. Poems come from the depths of the unconscious, shaped by the instincts that hide within us. Here it seems that the meaning of art is to develop complexity, both intellectual and cultural, which in turn also promote science. Following Dutton’s linking beauty to biology, we suspect its purpose is to generate subtlety and complexity. Beauty may exist to make minds more complex.
That may explain the postmodern desire to discard beauty. Perhaps our minds are now too complex, the intricacies of which we have not yet evolved enough to handle. This may explain the postmodern desire to discard beauty and accept ugly political landscapes. It may be that we humans need to catch up to the logic and reason before we make civilization even more complex.
Discarding beauty as a postmodern strategy comes with a warning, a caveat. It is an idea found in Duchamp that erroneously holds that art should be conceptual and intellectual, rather than ruled by non-verbal languages expressed in feelings and sensory value judgments. Recent science, however, indicates that non-verbal languages are vital. The only art where intellect dominates is literature, the written word. Science has demonstrated that in the sphere of sound there exists something called ‘acoustics language,’ in the sphere of movement there are encoded statements that we now call ‘body language,’ and in the method of making images we discover a system of visual language. Aesthetics shall rule them all, for aesthetics is the syntax and grammar of non-verbal languages, just as aesthetics shapes the beauty in Paul Dirac’s equations.
Miklos Nikolaus Legrady
Visual artist and Toronto editor at the New Art Examiner
Published on August 28, 2022.
Cite this article: Miklos N. Legrady, “Reflections on Beauty,” Contemporary Aesthetics Volume (2022), accessed date.