This post has been in the making for a while now and is a little different from what I normally write (for one thing because I’ve actually thought about what I want to write before I open my browser instead of my normal stream of consciousness-blurt-it-all-out technique). Or maybe not that different, since I suppose this whole blog is me going off on rants and tangents. [editor’s note after writing this whole thing: I didn’t do too much editing in the end.]
Wieden + Kennedy (of, amongst other things, this Nike ad last summer) posted this question on their blog. Can anything be beautiful? My first reaction yes. And then no. Time for a cup of tea and a comfy seat to dissect this.
A few years ago, the Dutch broadcaster VPRO aired a documentary series, which I’m dying to get my hands on on DVD, called ‘Van de Schoonheid en de Troost‘ which translates as ‘On Beauty and Consolation’. A well-known Dutch documentary maker interviewed philosophers, writers, musicians and scientists from all over the globe about these two concepts. I watched every episode I could religiously, completely mesmerized. It was fascinating to watch how these two concepts meant so many different things for different people, and it was the first time that I felt TV was more than just entertainment, that it could provide food for thought and that I thought about the more philosophical things in life.
My second reaction was that anything CAN be beautiful, that every image, object and thought has some innate beauty to it. Whether or not someone perceives it that way is another matter. I wrote a whole post following this train of thought and was pretty pleased with myself. That is, until I saw this weekend’s Sunday Times supplement, which featured the best photos of 2006. And as I was looking at these photographs, some of which are of horrific events, I remembered the TV series mentioned above that I watched all that time ago. And I realised that no, not everything is beautiful.
I believe that concepts such as beauty are human constructs, concepts we devise to make the world more manageable. Beauty reassures us that life is not just the reality we see around us. There is something bigger, something beyond ourselves that we can tap into, something to inspire us and console us. That is what beauty is to me. So that means that no, anything cannot be beautiful, what gives me pleasure and consolation will not be the same for someone else since my experiences in life and my moral views are unique to me. As much as I hate to be relativist (blogposts are a lot easily written if you’re going off on a rant, not when you’re trying to look at things from different angles, let alone when your post leads down the relativist path), this is it. Not everything can be beautiful. I’m not an expert on semantics (and a trip to dictionary.com leaves me in limbo), but I feel something can be esthetically pleasing (as in, beautiful in its own right) but not beautiful (as in, beautiful in my definition, which is esthetically pleasing + offer consolation/inspiration). Da** (excuse my french), I wish I had taken some philosophy classes in my undergrad so I could express this a little better.
[image comes courtesy of Imagechef]