Beauty Is In the Eyes of the Beholder Essays


Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder essays

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Sample Essay

What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

It’s a false but popular truism that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, de gustibus non est disputandum, chacun à son goût, you can’t dispute a person’s taste. All is relative in a world of conformist individualism. Hence ‘anything goes’, with the result that we live in an ever more ugly world where to complain of another’s lack of taste is to be branded an elitist. This chapter refutes this pernicious pseudo-democratic doctrine by appealing to history and sweet reason.

But our society purports to reject any possibility of learning from the past. ‘That’s history’, we say of a past event, as if the past had no influence on present or future behaviour. Such phrases symbolize the profound ignorance that prevails in our culture, and it is on the basis of this ignorance that we attempt to build a myth of the eternal now. But as T.S. Eliot tells us, the future contains both past and present, and is embedded in the past. On a personal level, one’s behaviour is based on one’s character, and this in turn derives from patterns formed before we can even remember forming them. Similarly, one’s individual aesthetic appreciation is strongly influenced by one’s cultural background, which one cannot help but absorb unconsciously as one grows up.

In aesthetics, then, social consciousness takes precedence over individual consciousness, and thus ‘such hopelessly subjective formulas as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” simply will not do’.

This chapter therefore begins by outlining the qualitative humanist approach to the understanding of nature, landscape and scenery. It then uncovers the history of environmental aesthetics in the Western world since medieval times, pausing where necessary to relate historic aesthetic concepts to current aesthetic beliefs. This historical outline is given spatial depth by complementary discussions of our changing tastes for landscape types such as mountains, wilderness, gardens and cities, and of national contrasts in current landscape taste. I conclude that the quantitative and applied pursuits of experimentalists, activists, and planners are inextricably grounded in the ideas generated by humanists.

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