238: The Mechanics of Beauty

I was walking along the foothills of my neighborhood and reflecting on how a large tract of untouched land at the eastern edge of our community has recently been marked for development. I mourned the future loss of such beauty that I have often painted and which has added so much enjoyment to my daily walks.

Morning Solitude, 9″ x 10″, eight block woodcut

Musing on the futility of preserving such beauty my mind turned to how I could deal with such a loss. I was reminded and encouraged that everyone responds to beauty. Not everyone responds equally, of course, but response to the beauty of nature is innate and will not disappear. Science fiction of the 50s predicted that we would live in communities of steel and glass and eat pills for dinner. Neither of which has happened because the aesthetics of such experiences are out of harmony with human nature.

Even the developers who bulldoze the land will likely build their own homes on land in an isolated and beautiful spot and grace them with paintings of nature much like the land they developed. So how does an artist make peace with such a process? One notion to keep in mind is that beauty is a function of rarity. As more and more people have a variety of cosmetic surgeries to look beautiful more pressure is placed on professional models to transcend that ideal of beauty. The commonality of beauty erodes beauty; the rarity of beauty promotes it. In like manner as beauty is relegated away from our communities more people will cherish natural beauty.

There will be tragic and irrecoverable losses along the way (imagine Central Park being developed for condominiums, or Arches National Park strip-mined for landscaping boulders). But artists must protect our sensitive natures by embracing strategies that will allow us to live peacefully in a world we can’t control.

Focusing on the transience of nature helps. Like the feeling of nostalgia we subconsciously know that the arrow of time speeds in one direction only. The ephemeral aspect of nature is why an amazing sunset is so heartbreaking–its beauty will never be repeated. The theories of Nietzsche aside, every beautiful moment is a unique event. If it could be repeated and beauty were a common experience there would be no need for artists.

Brad Teare–June 2015

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Updated: 20th September 2020
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