Just re-read an essay i wrote quite a while back in Philosophy. Has some good points in it.
By practicing “the aesthetic attitude” it is possible to train oneself to be able to see “free beauty” in potentially everything and this would be a good skill to have.
“Aestheticism is a search after the signs of the beautiful. It is the science of the beautiful through which men seek the correlation of the arts. It is, to speak more exactly, the search after the secret of life…” (Wilde, p. 159)
Wilde seems to be hinting at what John Keats termed Negative Capability. A state of “intentional openness, mystery, waiting and watching.” (Miller, Lec#9) He believed that to truly appreciate the aesthetic beauties of life that surround us in our everyday living we must surrender ourselves to the mystery of those things. Appreciate and accept them for what they are instead of grasping for what they mean.
In the practicality of life “the normal person really only reads the labels as it were on the objects around him and troubles no further.” (Hospers, p. 19) However, if we were to dissociate our understanding of particular objects and the references they incur we may very well experience the external world in a whole new light; with a heightened sensory experience for all things that will enable a greater appreciation for our world and therefore our life. In essence, as David Hume put it, a man with “a more lively feeling of beauties… is delighted with a copious, rich, and harmonious expression.” (Hume, p. 97)
It is from Hume’s discussions on the world of aesthetics that Immanuel Kant first drew the theory of Dependent Beauty. Hume claimed “it is impossible to continue in the practice of contemplating any order of beauty, without being frequently obliged to form comparisons between the several species and degrees of excellence, and estimating their proportion to each other.” (Hume, p. 92)
In his Critique of Judgment published in 1790, Kant defined Dependent Beauty as presupposing a concept upon the perfection of the object. In other words, whenever we perceive an object we automatically bring with the experience a set or criteria of preconceptions that informs our understanding of it. We either compare an object to another or undergo a sensation we have experienced in the past, therefore prompting a concept relating to that which we perceive.
With every new situation we encounter we have been conditioned to deduce our perception by that which we have already been exposed to. “The world of man is not only a world of things; it is a world of symbols where the distinction between reality and make-believe is itself unreal.” (Gombrich, p. 72) With this statement Gombrich is highlighting that we all independently understand the world around us subjectively, albeit sharing a universal understanding of particular symbols within our culture.
The film Amélie (2001, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet) tells the story of a unique young lady (Audrey Tautou) who has grown up using her imagination for her own sense of entertainment due to having strict, misunderstanding parents.
When her mother gives Amélie an Instamatic Camera at a young age, she is immediately smitten with taking pictures, capturing the wonder of the world around her with each picture she takes. One day she encounters a car accident after having had taken a picture. A neighbor tells her she had caused the accident by taking that picture. The young Amélie is instantly traumatized by this connection; especially when she turns on the television and watches the multiple news reports of disasters around the world. She cannot help but think she is responsible for them all, recollecting the fact that she had been taking pictures all afternoon.
Like the innocent Amélie, we all automatically form connections with what we perceive in any given moment with what we have experienced in the past. This is the basic building block for how we as humans understand the world around us. It is precisely this fact that advertising agencies capitalize upon, creating associations for their market demographic by conditioning a products appearance with a positive sensation. “Advertising is the ‘wonder’ in Wonder Bread.” (Richards, University of Texas)
It is however possible to break out of this mold of Dependent Beauty by practicing what Kant coined Free Beauty: perceiving the world around us free of any past experiences or prejudice. In Kant’s words, Free Beauty ”cannot be a concept, but is rather the feeling (of the internal sense) of the concert in the play of the mental powers as a thing only capable of being felt.” (Kant, p. 37)
To reach this state Jerome Stolnitz explains that one must adopt “a disinterested and sympathetic attention to and contemplation of any object of awareness, whatever, for its own sake alone.” (Stolnitz, p. 19) For example, “when an artist looks at objects (the contents of a room, for instance) he perceives them as pure forms in certain relations to each other, and feels emotion for them as such… He (does) not feel emotion for a chair as a means to physical well-being, nor as an object associated with the intimate life of a family, (etc.) by a hundred subtle ties… (It is) through pure form that he feels inspired emotion.” (Bell, p. 59)
To view the world as Free Beauty we rediscover our “ring of enchantment” (Miller, Lec#12). We return to “a childlike wonder to question everything in order to truly comprehend and explore the truth in the external world. To return to the source in order to dispel the power it holds on one’s beliefs.” (Miller, Lec#1) To separate our prior beliefs in objects from our present perception of them we become Negatively Capable as both Wilde and Keats were, and Socrates before them. “It makes life more vivid, animated, living, worth living” (Scarry, p. 24-25) when we let go of the compulsion to explain and answer everything we perceive.
Amélie and Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) are a good match for each other for they both view the world with a similar childlike wonder. As each character within the narrative is introduced by their likes and dislikes, thus their perception and attitude defining who they are, it is clear that Amélie and Nino share a similar aesthetic attitude.
Amélie also shares an affinity with the character of Raymond Dufayel (Serge Merlin), “the glass man”, communicating with him by passing sequences of recorded television moments to inspire and revel in the beauty of unique life incidents; A horse joining the tour de France, a dog walking on a cartwheeling man, babies swimming under water, and a one-legged man dancing. Both Amélie and Raymond appreciate the mysteries of life and are enriched from such experiences.
The increasing negative associations that we are exposed to in our contemporary society consistently initiate a sense of consternation within me. We are constantly under siege from the media and public at large – use energy efficient globes! Save water! Finish everything on your plate! Loose weight! – to conform to what is “accepted” in society. We look at a shower and no longer marvel at it’s aesthetic beauty let alone it’s capacity to cleanse us but worry about whether it has been switched off correctly and whether it has a water-saver head on it. I by no means am opposed to the idea of decreasing my carbon footprint, but I am annoyed at the fear tactics that advertising and the public at large endorse in order to communicate a message. Many simple beauties have been tainted with troublesome associations that create a sense of angst that is detrimental to our health.
We no longer appreciate what is in front of us for itself. We sit down in front of the television to scoff down our dinner instead of truly appreciating the sensation that every ingredient stirs in our taste buds. We no longer allow ourselves the chance to appreciate life. We are in too much of a hurry to realize the future that we do not appreciate the present.
Most times it takes a significant incident to stop us in order to reassess our perspective of our lives. For myself, it took a serious internal infection that I developed whilst traveling overseas to stop me in my tracks. As I continue to recover my full health I have been forced to limit my physical activities and become more mindful to what and how I consume my food. By experiencing such an incident I have started practicing meditation and become conscious of the simple magnificence of life around me.
Becoming mindful to the present moment in my experience is the best remedy to end the anxieties and pains of life. To negate our need for a goal or will when we perceive external stimuli by practicing meditation or other mind-focusing techniques “it is then all the same whether we see the setting of the sun from a prison or from a palace.” (Schopenhauer, p. 220, para. 232) We are able to appreciate beauty purely with a sense of wonder and euphoria.
- Wilde, Oscar. Oscar Wilde. Ellman, Richard. p. 159, pub. Alfred A. Knopf, INC 1988
- Miller, Robert. Understanding Philosophy: Themes from Popular Culture. RMIT University. Melbourne, Australia.
- Lecture #9. 21 September 2011
- Lecture #12, 12 October 2011
- Lecture #1, 20 July 2011
- Hospers, John (ed.). Introductory Readings in Aesthetics, p. 19. London: Collier MacMillan, 1969.
- Stolnitz, Jerome (ed). Aesthetics. Printed by The MacMillian Company, 866 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10022. Copyright Jerome Stolnitz, 1965.
- Hume, David. Of Standard of Taste. p. 97, 92
- Gombrich, E. H. Artisitc Representation. p. 72
- Bell, Clive. Artistic Representation and Form. P. 59
- Jeunet, Jean-Pierre (dir). Amelie (2001). 122 mins. Miramax Films, UFD, UGC and Canal+.
- Richards, Jef I. Professor of Advertising, University of Texas, Austin. – http://thinkexist.com/quotation/advertising_is_the-wonder-in_wonder_bread/209943.html
- Kant, Immanuel. Translated by John Miller Dow MeikleJohn. The Critique of Judgment. Book I. First published, 1790. p. 37
- Stolnitz, Jerome. Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art Criticism. Published by Houghton Mifflin, 1960. P. 19
- Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Just. Copyright Princeton University Press, 1999. P. 24-25
- Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World As Will And Representation. Norman, Judith; Welchman, Alistair; Janaway, Christopher. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2010. p. 220, para. 232