Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Science of Beauty, Part I

There’s no accounting for taste. ~ Folk saying

Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern. ~ Alfred North Whitehead (1943)

A photographer friend of mine told me years ago that the “world just looks better through a camera lens.” Indeed it does—to most of us. The camera viewfinder adds a frame to a part of the world and allows the photographer to focus her attention. In short, the camera’s frame allows a photographer to create art.

But what the heck is art? What is beauty? Do these questions matter to anyone beyond the photographer, art lover, art historian, or philosopher of art?

I’ll attempt to show in this two-part essay why these questions—and their answers—should be important to practically every field of human thought.Art has been around for as long as humans have been around and it seems that thinking about art—the philosophy of art—has been too.

Plato, as with practically every topic in philosophy or science, had some relevant insights. Though the topic was discussed in many different Platonic dialogues, Plato’s idea of art was never clearly spelled out by the master.The simplest summary of Plato’s feelings on the matter is that he viewed beauty as the perception of eternal Forms that exist as a substrate to reality. Actual (physical) forms are imperfect reflections of the deeper Forms; the artist enjoys most the art that most fully reveal the Forms. These ideas are strange to us today and this kind of thinking (sometimes known as “essentialism”) has been dispelled in most areas of thought over the course of the last couple of centuries.Read the rest here.

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