Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Photograph Compliments of Evgeniya Litovchenko
Are you looking for something beautiful? Why is it our spirit seeks beauty?
Table of contents
The Human Desire For Beauty
There is a vacuum in each one of our souls. For some, it is a small hole. Other people have emptiness as immense as a canyon or vast as the heavens. The existence of this void explains our constant craving for things we don’t have.
There is an immense amount of reflected beauty everywhere. If you live in the developed world, implied beauty attacks us. Whatever we seem to attain, we still want more.
Is our instinct for beauty older than we are? Did it exist tens of thousands of years before we even had language, or is it a God-given component of our created being? That’s up to you to decide. What is indisputable is that we appreciate beauty regardless of where the source of that preference originates, and we want it.
The Definition Of Beauty
What is beauty? Beauty exists in people, experiences, and our planet’s mountains, oceans, and deserts. It is about perception and how our senses are affected. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch are the identifiers of attractiveness. Whether the cello solo in Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor, the glass of red wine’s glow of garnet, or the attraction we feel toward another human, these examples are all aspects of beauty.
The human species desires the beautiful. There are hints of spiritualism invoked by admiration and adoration. We also exhibit covetousness and jealousy by longing for those things that seem personally unobtainable.
Marketers use our hunger for the beautiful to their advantage. Since we constantly long for what we don’t have, the consumer is at a disadvantage and susceptible to the ploys of modern advertising.
The media uses our desire and yearning to participate in travel, tourist destinations, art, performances, and culinary delights. Take, for example, the billions of dollars generated yearly by the fashion and beauty industry. Those enterprises exploit our desire to be recognized as attractive and desirable.
Photograph Courtesy of Manu Carmago
Beauty In Our Spirit
Whatever your beliefs on the subject, we have evolved, or were created, to pursue and appreciate the beautiful. As difficult as life has been in humanities past, there was solace found in the world’s natural beauty.
Animals seek those things that are good for them, and part of that search is beauty.
According to human wisdom, sentience and consciousness are requisites to appreciate beauty.
A sentient being can experience feelings and is adept at experiencing things through the physical senses.
An insect has limited intelligence, yet its actions have a purpose. It must sense some fulfillment in flying towards the light, likewise, with eating and procreation. These are basic urges for which the critter must feel completion. However, it appears the bug doesn’t preplan its course of action.
Discussing the emotions experienced by bug consciousness becomes philosophical, leading to a fruitless conversation.
How About Your Dog?
How does Fido feel if consciousness and sentience are requirements for identifying beauty? If being sentient requires the ability to evaluate the behavior of itself and those around it, recognizing the consequences of its actions, how large does the list of conscious animals grow?
It’s safe to say that grasshopper consciousness is limited, but not your pet hound. Dogs show extraordinary abilities in empathy, love, fidelity, and the defense of their loved ones. It is a safe bet that dogs find the humans they love beautiful. Cats perceive themselves as beautiful, but we love them; we envy feline arrogance and their ability to wield superiority carte-blanche. Yet cats must have some sense of what is beautiful.
How about other mammals? Octopi? Cray Fish? What is beautiful to these other animals that can feel pleasure and pain? The planet’s fauna has many diverse components with no evident functionality, at least from the human perspective. It is left to the animals to acknowledge the elements they perceive as beautiful. Hence, the perpetuation of their species.
Humans aren’t the only varmint with a central nervous system capable of generating consciousness. The exception to humans is this: we have a much larger part of the brain dedicated to recognizing emotional responses, decision-making, and processing memory.
Get To The Point!
We humans have an innate desire to seek out beauty. Darwin pressed this point in his theory of evolutionary aesthetics.
A beautiful landscape appeals to our deepest nature. We find dangerous animals repulsive such as lions, tigers, bears, and snakes. The things we desire contribute to our survival and the propagation of the species, such as the perfect mate. We have an ingrained disposition to make spur-of-the-moment evaluations for crucial decision-making. Often, we make snap decisions on our perspective of beauty.
Prehistory And The Pursuit of Beauty
Modern humans understand art differently than our ancestors from 40,000 years ago. There were social codes based on family and tribal connections of which we have a limited understanding. The thing of most significant importance was survival. For the following generations to succeed, they had to prioritize vital things, communicate knowledge, and pass along their myths.
When did beauty become essential to our ancestors’ culture? At what point did art and music become important? What led people to decorate their habitat and sculpt their environment? Why did people decide to adorn and paint themselves? The answer is a desire for and the pursuit of beauty. They were trying to find a balance between expressing values that were important to their lives and survival.
Music has been present in every culture from the foundation of human existence. We all have experienced the cacophony and melody of massed birds in the early hours of the morning. The human voice was undoubtedly our first musical instrument. With the beauty of nature everywhere, one can speculate that our ancestors must have sought to emulate the song of birds they heard.
The oldest musical instruments discovered are flutes, dated around 40,000 years old. The earliest known examples of percussion instruments are idiophones, made from Mammoth bones. Idiophones produce sound via the vibration of the entire device.
Cave Art And Beauty
Photograph Courtesy of Tim Oun
There is no better way to discuss beauty and art than to visit their interrelation. I learned about cave art in junior high school. I remember the specific reference to the art form from Steely Dan’s ‘Caves Of Altamira.’ When I heard ‘Caves Of Altamira,’ the song piqued my interest; that’s when I wanted to know the song’s subject. As a side note, the album, The Royal Scam, is, in my opinion, Steely Dan’s pinnacle release.
Marcelino and Maria de Sautuola discovered the cave’s art in 1879. The art itself was considered fraudulent. The question arose – how could early homo sapiens have the ability to create such realistic and beautiful artwork? This question stemmed from the ethnocentric thought of modern man’s superiority to our ancestors. A French study in 1902 confirmed the paintings as authentic. The confirmation that the galleries of Altamira were utilized from 10,000 to 25,000 B.C. came later.
The oldest cave art discovered to date originated in Indonesia as early as 40,000 years ago. Seeking and acknowledging beauty is part of the human tradition.
The incredible thing is that excellent care and execution have been demonstrated, especially in Chauvet and Lascaux’s cave art. Not only did these artists prep the walls they painted on, they considered what pigments would work best. There is incredible foresight in their work and a foreshadowing of modern techniques.
Seeking and creating beauty is an essential part of our nature.
Why was it important for our ancestors to paint their art in caves? There is a great amount of conjecture regarding this question. Is it possible that the people asking these questions aren’t artists?
Fortunate were those creators to have a platform for their medium. The desire to devise and concoct is foremost in our lives; it drives us, and it would seem we have no choice. What options would I have if I were a paleolithic human looking to reveal myself? Regardless of the motivations, painting in the perfect environment of those caves would perpetuate my voice. There would have been limited alternatives; anything I create in the 21st century isn’t going to last 15,000 years.
Does it matter that you are anonymous? Your creation stands. What you have created stands the test of time. Is it any wonder that Picasso purportedly said after visiting Altamira, “In 15,000 years, we have invented nothing!” Picasso was right in his approbation of humanity’s genius.
Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Photograph Courtesy of Marcus Winkler
With Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart, they have created memorable melodies. There is no argument that Chopin was a technical genius. I enjoy Chopin; I listen to his work a lot. Maybe it’s me, but I do not remember his individual compositions very well, except ‘The Minute Waltz.’ That tune has a hook that is quit memorable. Most of the time, whenever I listen to his music, I do not say, “Oh Yeah, I remember this piece.”
Perhaps that is Chopin’s genius; he wrote so amazingly that whenever a person hears one of his compositions, they always sound fresh. Maybe I’m obtuse. I’m sure someone will argue against my opinion; beauty lies in the ears of the beholder.
One of my friends is a Metal Head. It certainly isn’t my thing, but I know he feels that same fire of inspiration and that shiver of ecstasy I feel when listening to Johannes Brahms. Different strokes for different folks.
What is art? Is all art beautiful? What is beauty? In all the facets of life, one person’s perspective can considerably vary from another’s. Are both beauty and art more of an opinion, or not?
Taste In Beauty
People have a lot in common. Each observer of art, each listener of music, their response isn’t random. Behind the spectator’s reaction and appreciation is a library of experiences influencing their taste.
What is good taste?
Do you have good taste? I’m betting you believe so. You can acknowledge and approximate the factors which excite and inspire you. There is an ability to articulate the analogous aspects of flavor, smell, and form of your appreciation for the art form. You can enlighten others about the qualities of your approbations. It is still an opinion, regardless of the depth of your arguments.
Beauty And Faith
The biggest question regarding beauty and faith is: is beauty objective?
Most of us understand beauty as evocative of serenity, satisfaction, elevation, and joy. Beauty is associated with these experiences. For those of us who have spiritual propensities, these emotions relate to our religious background.
It is compelling that each faith considers its definition objective in various religious teachings on beauty. Each maintains their definition of beauty as an absolute. It’s pointless to point out the characterizations and discrepancies separately, which we will not discuss.
If beauty is objective, the severest interpretation is extreme: absolute purity, precision, and perfection.
Is Art Objective Beauty?
Yes, and no. Upon Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans exhibition, many critics considered him a fool and a fake. The Campbell Soup brand litigated against his composition; the company was offended by his work. The reason his art is objectively beautiful is because of the execution. Likewise, the soup cans are subjectively beautiful because of the execution.
If beauty is subjective, it becomes a preference that sings to your soul and intellect. The debate can continue until the cows come home. Social commentary aside, I still want to have Andy Warhol’s impact, making me a neophyte.
Warhol was a Master of his craft, and that is beautiful.
Capturing Beauty With Emotion
Be honest: how many emotional states do you experience every day? Do you pay attention when flying off the handle for an imagined transgression? The next moment you may have inexpressible joy. These are extreme examples, but the average human has an ever-changing mixture of emotions.
Photograph Compliments of Efe Kirmaz
Our feelings of confidence, worry, anxiety, love, hate, happiness, anger, elation, and apathy continuously fluctuate. Art is a tremendous medium for tapping into these daily states of mind.
The artist’s goal is to excite the senses.
There are universal elements in art. Textures are key. In music, it is sound and silence. Photography and cinematography use light and shadow. For developing contrast, the painter uses the opposite sides of a color wheel. An author creates plot, action, and dialogue. The abstract is that the creator uses these contrasts to play upon our emotions.
These are tools we use in our pursuit of beauty.
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