Sunday, May 09, 2004

Aesthetics

It is a much-repeated phrase that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Most people take this statement at face value. The idea is that one person likes one thing and another person likes something different. And there are a lot of differences in taste of what people like. But people’s preferences are not necessarily related to the idea of beauty. In fact, people often prefer the edgy, dramatic and ugly over the beautiful. Few people would argue that a rose is not beautiful. I might like Albert Durer’s woodprints, but they are provocative and edgy, not beautiful in the same sense that a rose is beautiful. Beauty is something that is easily recognized but is best not defined. Rather than define what is beautiful, we describe what beautiful. The difference between someone who recognizes true beauty and someone who does not is often a training issue, not merely a preference. As discussed in the Wikipedia article on Beauty, a person who has mastered a discipline has a greater sense of what is beautiful than others. For instance a carpenter easily sees a building that is out-of-true. In fact they can discern a half a degree off, which is not the usual for the rest of us. If you want to know what the ideal dog looks like, go to a dog show and talk to those who spend each weekend there. As them about their about the best dogs at the show and be prepared for more information than you can handle. I can’t prove beauty is real, nor is there a single objective standard. But that is not the route to take in talking about aesthetics. Since we can’t talk about a single objective standard, aesthetics is an oft-neglected field of endeavor by Christian theologians. The failure to talk about this issue is to fail to connect where people live.
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