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The Sustainability of Beauty

Source: Brian Holdsworth via YouTube

Music written and generously provided by Paul Jernberg. Find out more about his work as a composer here:

Spanish translations by Vélez Translations,

I recently had an interesting conversation with an architect who defined himself as a classicist with respect to aesthetics, art, and design. And he explained what he understood that to be in an interesting way.

He said that a classicist is someone who believes that there is an ideal form to be realized in design. Whether that be in car, a building, a smartphone, or whatever. And this is consistent with Classical and medieval thought up until the modern age and until the influence of philosophies like modernism took over in the art and design establishment which was a rejection of those earlier philosophies.

Now, I expect that when most people hear a definition like that, they scoff at it. Because we’ve been so conditioned by modernist catch phrases like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

By that they mean that beauty is not objective, but is defined by those who judge a thing to be either beautiful or not beautiful based on their subjective tastes — it’s nothing more than convention and preference.
And the evidence for this argument is an appeal to the fact that everyone has different tastes. If you show a panel of people a piece of artwork, you’ll get different reactions from everyone, so how can we say that beauty is objective.

Well, like I’ve argued in the past, you could use that same argument against truth itself. You could show an order of operations math question to that same panel and get as diverse an array of responses as you would to the artwork. That doesn’t prove that there is no right answer to the math question any more than it proves that there is no objective beauty. It just proves that we’re not very good at getting the right answer.
And this evidence for relativism in beauty really only gained momentum after artists and designers stopped trying to produce work with an ideal form. Once they began embracing modernism, which is the philosophy that informs this idea and rejects classical thought, they stopped trying to portray the ideal form.

So no wonder our appreciation for their work grew mixed. They weren’t trying to make beautiful work anymore.

And here’s the evidence of that fact. If you took that same panel of people and showed them a building from the 19th century when classical thought in art and design still had some influence among artists, and asked them if they thought it was well designed, you’d get an almost universal affirmation to that question.

If you did the same thing with a building designed in 1975, you’d get a much more mixed to negative response.

And if that’s not convincing, do the same thing with a car. Take a typical commuter car designed in 1950 and ask the question and you’ll get a favorable response. Then show them a typical car designed in 1990 and it will probably get laughed at.

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