Sunday, February 5, 2012

AHA! The Evolution of Aesthetics
What makes something beautiful to you? To me? To the guy sitting next to you on the subway, or at the grocery store, or in yoga class? Aesthetics is a big branch of philosophy, focusing on the nature of beauty, art and taste, and how these things affect our appreciation of life, our emotions and sense of well-being. So what might be the most beautiful thing in the world to someone might repulse somebody else. According to Pierre Bourdou, two components affect our interpretations of beauty: "aesthetics, which is the philosophical notion of beauty; and taste, a result of an education process and awareness of elite cultural values learned through exposure to mass culture." So from a young age, our surroundings shape both our perceptions AND our aesthetic/taste preferences.

Considering the "nature vs nurture" argument in terms of human personality and psychological development, human aesthetic development can be broken down to the biological, evolutionary level. Dr. Denis Dutton, a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, proposes that art appreciation (and therefore aesthetics) is less culturally learned, and stems more from evolutionary adaptations made during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Lookin' good in the Bean
I see things and can reflect on that thing's raw beauty, the way it looks to me at face value. But when I start thinking about this object/thing more deeply, I might be able to find connections to apply to my life and the people/important things in it. For example, whenever I see "The Bean" in Chicago, I can tell you how I perceive the overall aesthetic of the structure itself- it is a large, metallic silver blob that appears to be sagging yet arched over an invisible source underneath. That's what I see. But what I SEE, with my mind's eye, and why I love the Bean so much, is my face reflected in the shining mirrored surface of the sculpture, my friends Mandy and Tyler on either side, and I can hear us laughing. It takes me back to my spring break trip to Chicago last year, and I am flooded with nostalgia. I find the Bean beautiful because of my beautiful friends. I know that we all apply beauty to things for similar reasons, too.

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