September 7, 2012

Beauty...In Case You Weren't Sure What It Was

Okay, so normally I would never post a paper I have written for a class on my blog, but it was quite thought provoking as I had to think about beauty and what it is to me as compared to early philosophers.  Just thought I would share? I don't know. Maybe that's weird, but alas, I'm posting it. The first paragraph is super boring, but it helps the second make sense. It's not highly profound, just a series of requirements.  Maybe this teacher won't tell me that I need to dumb my papers down and say "In this paper I will write...", because yes, my last professor took off points for me writing a thesis statement... sorry I don't write like a first grader. Small rant, my apologies. 

According to early philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas, all beauty in art forms is relative or subjective.  Our minds cannot fully grasp the fact that any one thing is beautiful or not beautiful.  Aquinas believed that any form of art must encompass four things to be deemed beautiful.  The first component something lovely must possess is integrity.  If something is lacking a part of its’ whole, it is incomplete to the eyes and the mind.  For example, a butterfly that is missing a wing might be curious to the viewer, but it is not beautiful because it is not whole—it lacks integrity.  The second factor of beauty is called due proportion.  Something that is beautiful has a sort of flow that makes the onlooker feel a sense of harmony.  There is no chaos or disarray within the work of art, there is only what Aquinas calls aesthetic unity.  When art is viewed there is no conflict of the mind as to how they should feel about the piece, because all the parts should relate if it is to be worthy of beauty. The third standard of beauty is simple enough: clarity.  Clarity results from having both integrity and due proportion in one work of art.  If these are both achieved, clarity may also be attained.  Under the umbrella of clarity are luminosity, intelligibility, intrinsic meaningfulness, and sensibility.  Luminosity allows people to feel coherent about the art form, while intelligibility provides an understanding of the piece as well as intellectual pleasure.  Intrinsic meaningfulness provokes an emotional response from the onlooker, as sensibility conjures the mind to be aware of the surroundings that help create the piece of art.  Lastly, order must occur in a work of art for it to receive the title of beautiful.  Order does not necessarily mean organized like a desk drawer, but instead means that it reflects the order that is involved in the universe itself.  These are the wonders that are established by God. If something lacks order it is unpleasant to look at, or ugly.  It invites chaos and change.  On the other hand, something with order is kosmos.   Kosmos is the definition of beauty and orderly arrangement.  Anything that is beautiful is said to have a peaceful, calming, or pacifying effect.   Beauty to Aquinas and the early philosophers was only thought of in works of art and must involve these four standards of beauty, or was otherwise deemed ugly and disturbing. 

My definition of beauty is highly different from Thomas Aquinas.  When I look at a piece of artwork, I am not looking at it to feel a harmonious aura, but instead what the painting or drawing speaks directly to me.  The experiences I have had in life highly shape what I believe is beautiful.  Beauty to me is the things that happen in one’s journey that make your soul flourish with wonder; that stop you in your tracks because you are in such awe of the things you have seen but, yet, cannot utter the words to explain what it is about a piece that draws you to it.  A prime example of this is when the summer turns to autumn and all the leaves begin to fall.  As the wind swirls the leaves right in front of my eyes, I feel a sense of peace and my spirits are immediately lifted, but inexplicably so.  I guess I could agree with Aquinas in the fact that this type of beauty does possess order, even though it is not a work of art, it has a pacifying effect on me for a moment.  Another example of such beauty can be found in the movie American Beauty, ironically, when a character’s favorite video he has recorded is the humble plastic bag, being tossed around by the wind.  That simplicity is beautiful to him.
On the other hand, music is an integral part of my life and I often find certain compositions incredibly beautiful, but they are not necessarily calming and peaceful.  Instead, they are loud, misunderstood, and chaotic.  The sounds that might disturb another speak volumes to me and I find it most beautiful.  Certain melodies are incomplete, and are often are sung with imperfections, but those blemishes are where I find the beauty—in the limitations and the flaws of humans.  Artworks that are different and provoke a defining feeling or emotion that draws me out of my comfort zone are often beautiful to me.  I do not feel as though a piece must be complete and whole, retaining integrity to accomplish beauty.  Some of the most misunderstood, unclear, and unintelligible pieces are the most incredible to me, because it rouses my mind to thinking about what it is that draws me in and captivates me about its’ unpretentious beauty.