about Beauty...

Extracts from the following book: MAUER, Armand 1983: About Beauty, Houston, Texas.

The notion of Beauty is complex. Everyone is touched in front of the beautiful.
Beauty is an intrinsic and inseparable property of beings, so that everything can be said to be beautiful insofar as it exists. The measure of its beauty is the RADIANCE of its FORM, its PROPORTION and its INTEGRITY. It is these that make a thing delightful to the senses and mind when they apprehend it.

What does Beauty have to see with existence?

Beauty in some way is connected with actuality, with actual existence. Whatever actuality a being has over and above its existence, it owes to its existence. For without existence there is no being, there is simply nothing. So the actuality of existence is the source and origin of the whole being, including its beauty.
A being has a second meaning for actuality: form. As each kind of thing has its own form, so it has its own distinctive beauty. For instance a flower and a painting have the distinctive characteristics of being a flower and a painting, and not, for example, a tree or sculpture. In technical language they have a form in virtue of which they are the kind of thing they are.
The third meaning of actuality is action or act. Action completes the actuality of existence and form. For instance a dancer asleep is still a dancer, but he is most completely a dancer when he actually dances. The fullness of beauty will be found in action.

Together, then a thing’s existence, form and action are the ground of its beauty. The mystery of beauty is somehow tied up with the mystery of these components of a thing’s being.

In nature for instance the form of an animal gives symmetry and proportion to its various members, which serve not only utilitarian functions but impart beauty to the animal. So the ground of beauty in things is to be found in their form. But because form depends on existence for its perfection, the ultimate origin of a thing’s beauty is its act of being or existence. Beauty, like the being with which it is really identical, is primarily existential.

How do we perceive a beautiful thing?

The perception of the beautiful is primarily the work of the intelligence, but using the senses as its instruments. The senses enjoy a direct intuition of their objects, as sight immediately perceives coloured things and hearing sounding things. The radiance of the forms of these objects, their proportion and wholeness, are obscurely grasped by the senses and presented to the intellect, which more clearly perceives them in and through the intuition of the sense. The senses and intellect function together in this perception, which results in pleasure in the sense appetite and joy in the rational appetite or will.

What in an aesthetic experience?

Because the human mind has its own way of knowing, it enjoys its own mode of experiencing the beautiful. The beauty that is connatural or proportioned to the human person is the beauty of the sensible world, whether it is the beauty of nature or the beauty created by artists. The external senses perceive this world and the internal senses, like the imagination and the sensus communis, bring together the data furnished by them and offer objects to the penetrating gaze of the intellect. When an object is presented that floods the senses and mind with the splendour of its form, and which they find well proportioned and whole in itself and also well suited to their own capacities, the person responds to the apprehension of the object with pleasure and delight. We call this peculiar human mode of experiencing beauty an aesthetic experience.
Hence the aesthetic experience is not a purely passive and non-creative contemplation of something real. On the contrary, it is a phase of a very active , intensive and creative life of an observer. The aesthetic object, in distinction to the real object , is a joint creation of the reality and the observer.

Are animals capable of aesthetic experience?

Birds and animals, lacking human intelligence, fall short of our aesthetic experience. We can only conjuncture what their perceptions and feelings might be on the analogy of our own. They seem to take pleasure in their surroundings and in the normal functioning of their power, e.g. birds in singing and flying, horses in running. But because their senses, unlike ours, are not intellectualized by being caught up so to speak in the life of an intelligence, they are not capable of our aesthetic experience.

Does Beauty have its source in ourselves or in the external world?

The real object itself is the object of our experiment even if aesthetic object can be purely fictitious e.g a literary work, a poem. 
And what pleases us in a work of art is not what pleases us in nature. Each has its own mode of existence, form, radiance, proportion and wholeness.
Emotion undoubtedly plays an essential role in the aesthetic experience, as it does in all our psychic acts. In the case of the perception of beauty our feelings and emotions can be projected outward and merge, so to speak, with the beautiful object, thus enhancing our enchantment with it.

It is not the emotion, however, but the radiance of the form, and deeper still, the actuality of existence, that gives the work of art its essential beauty.
As Coleridge says “The Apollo Belvedere is not beautiful because it pleases, but it pleases us because it is beautiful.” (On the Principles of General Criticism in Bibliographia Literaria, Vol II, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907, p.224)
So perception does not create beauty of its object but reveals it. By perception we do not enrich the world with its beauty, but rather we are enriched by it. Beauty is the shining forth of being, with its fullness, radiance and harmony, and perception is the means by which we open ourselves to its splendour.

Is beauty just a subjective value?

Beauty is a quality or property of the real object/world. We do perceive and enjoy things as beautiful.
For example, “if I suddenly come across a garden of flowers flooded with light, I am struck by their beauty and I say to my myself or my companion, how lovely these flowers are! If I enter an art gallery and enjoy the sight of masterpieces, I have no doubt of their beauty, and I call them beautiful. I am clearly referring to a quality of the masterpieces and not just to my emotion or feeling about them.”
If the value of a work of art would be relative to the pleasure it evokes in the observer, and since this varies from person to person, and indeed with the same person under different circumstances, there would be no reason to expect people to agree on what is beautiful. Moreover because pleasure is something personal and relative, this theory offers no basis for universal judgments of beauty. And yet, as Kant wisely says, when I call something beautiful I do not mean that it is simply beautiful for me; I expect others to have the same pleasure in it and to agree with my judgment. (see I. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. J.H. Bernard, New York Publication, 1951, p.47)
Beauty then would seem to have a certain objectivity: it cannot be identified with the pleasure we feel in seeing something.

But cannot beauty also be the cause of disagreement and dispute?

When Debussy’s music was first played in Paris, it caused rioting in the streets. But this does not disprove the unitive power of beauty; it only shows that artistic and natural beauty are never perfect: they are always partial and limited and mingled with defects. This leaves it open to divergent judgments. It is not the beauty as such that gives rise to the disagreement, but the falling away from beauty. If the object were absolutely and totally beautiful – beautiful in every respect and all times and in all places- there would be no dispute about its beauty.

Can we find beautiful an ugly thing?

As beauty is the rich and abundant actuality of existence, form and action, so ugliness is the defect of any of these in a being. Ugliness is the lack of beauty, as error is the lack of truth and evil the lack of goodness. Hence it is nothing positive, but the privation of perfection in a thing. What is ugly is less than it should be; it falls short of the actuality due to it. it may be wanting in wholeness, like a person without arm or leg, or in order or proportion, like the discordant notes in a musical composition or a badly balanced mathematical equation. The feeling of displeasure, revulsion, or even fright that accompanies our perception of an ugly thing is owing to our awareness that something has gone wrong in it: it is not all it should be.
A painting can be beautiful even though the subject is ugly but the beauty of a work of art, like the beauty of nature depends on its radiance or clarity, proportion and wholeness, which are given to it by its form. The form of the artwork is always a sensuous form, one attracts the senses, and so too the clarity, proportion and wholeness of the artwork.

Does beauty depends on the perception and enjoyment of a spectator?

A work of art has its being not only in itself and for itself, but more importantly the being it has for us; in other words, as it is essentially related to a spectator. In this perspective the aesthetic object depends upon perception and it is realized by perception; painting stored in an attic, in this view, are works of art, but are complete as aesthetic object only when they are perceived and enjoyed by spectators. Beauty is essentially relative to the perception and enjoyment  of a spectator: it is that which pleases on being seen.

Why do persons feel the urge to created works of art?

Making is one of the most characteristic and primitive human activities. The cave painting of Altamira (Spain) and Lascaux (France), made some 15,000 years ago, are works of master artists. These ancestors were well advanced in the production of beautiful things. We today have inherited from our ancient forebears the artistic impulse. Children love to make things and the urge to create becomes a passion in some adults. There are artists who cannot see an empty sheet of paper or canevas without feeling an overwhelming urge to fill it with lines and colors. Man needs time and effort to produce anything. He cannot create out of nothing; he can only take wood or stone or some material and give it a new shape or form to fulfil some human need. But it is no mean accomplishment for it takes intelligence. It is true that some animals and birds make things – the beaver his dam and the birds its nest- but they are programmed by nature to do this. They build by instinct, not as we do, freely and creatively by intelligence. The art of man was meant to serve nature, to make up what was lacking in it, and to continue its creative activity.

Is the work of art an expression of the artist?

Artists sometimes describe their work as expressions of their feelings or ideas. The artwork can be view also as an expression, not just of the artist’s emotion, but of his whole subjective self. In this view the artwork is a revelation of the artist’s subjectivity and also of the reality that poetic knowledge has caused him to perceive. A work of fine art is the external manifestation in beauty of something the intellect has grasped within itself in creative intuition.
The artist, in producing his work, puts something of himself into it. Every cause gives something  to its effect. A person reveals himself in all that does and makes, and we should expect the artist to manifest himself to some degree in his work. He puts his stamp upon it, so that we do not confuse, say, the music of Mozart with that of Beethoven. It is far from clear, however,  just what the artwork reveals about the artist, especially since, as an artist, the emotions and ideas he put into his work, may not be his own. We can say, however, that the world of art in general is a revelation of the powers, insights, the feelings of mankind.
Everything beautiful has the mark of God upon it, whether it is beauty in nature or in art. It calls us, beckons us, to a higher beauty in which our beauty only shares. In a word, it is holy. Picasso was once groping for a word to express his deeply felt view of art: “Something holy, that’s it. It’s a word something like that we should be able to use, but people would take it in a wrong way. You ought to be able to say that a painting is as it is, with its capacity to move us, because it is as though it were touched by God. But people would think it a sham. And yet that is what’s nearest of the truth.”

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