The Basis of Beauty: Is it in the eye of the beholder?
Beauty, like supreme dominion
Is but supported by opinion
Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1741
A friend of mine talks about a time when he was on holiday, and the coach stopped off at a scenic spot on the side of a mountain road, overlooking a plain. Everybody filed out and gathered to watch the sunset. At first, they stood in silent awe at the beautiful ever changing panorama of oranges and reds. Then, as the sun sank down below the horizon and the sky began to dim, the audience broke into spontaneous applause in appreciation of the awesome beauty on display. But why is something so common place so breathtakingly beautiful?
Our world is full of beauty. We are constantly snapping it up on our mobile phones, capturing the moment of wonder at the sight of a flower, a forest, or a face.
But why is a sunset so beautiful? Or a mountain lake, or Rembrandt painting or Mozart concerto? Or the glorious images of distant galaxies and nebula beamed back from the Hubble telescope? What is it about the particular blend of chaos and order that resonates so much with our soul?
Of course, much of what we call beautiful is subjective and cultural. Fashions change but is there, nevertheless, something underneath all that that is objective? One physicist suggests that the objective beauty of flowers is used in nature to attract bees. Whether or not that is true, is it not puzzling that the sun shining through the clouds is so glorious? And what are we to make of the breath-taking sights we see as we peer further and further out into space?
Is it an anomaly of our brains trying to understand the world? Or is the way it draws out our appreciation and awe, and even worship, intentional? I think the beauty in nature and mathematics and the arts, point to a God who created the universe to express his own beauty and excellence. If that were the case, it would be a shame to clap the sun and not its creator.
- What is one of the most awesomely beautiful sights you have ever seen?
- Do you think art is fundamentally subjective or are we discovering a beauty that is already there?
- Could the beauty of this world be shining out the glory of its creator?
- When watching a film “we don’t cry when something is sad… we cry when something is more beautiful than we expected it to be” – Alain De Botton
- We are attracted to beauty because there is an evolutionary advantage in perceiving certain types of order in the world.
- Perception of beauty change over time and are different in difference cultures.