Monday, September 26, 2005

The definition of "beautiful"

What makes something beautiful? What does an object, idea, person, place have to have to make it beautiful?

Lemme give you a for instance: It's generally agreed upon that roses are beautiful (this having no scientific merit based on stats or polls or whatever, just something that we as a collective species tend to regard as true). But what makes them so? Why is it that a person will stop or slow down on a walk to look at a rose? Why is it that when a guy gives a girl roses, she gushes about how beautiful they are? What makes them so? From a not-very-thorough spur-of-the-moment analysis of this question, I would say that it must have something to do with the color combined with the fragility of the petals and the intricate detail the bloom of the flower shows as it opens. Because, it occurs to me that there comes a time in a rose's life that it is no longer considered "beautiful." When I first mentioned the word "rose," you saw a fully bloomed, partially opened flower, probably red, on a long green stem with a few thorns and a couple of well-formed leaves. But what happens after about a week in a vase? The rose flower blooms completely, opens up, and the yellow stuff (I don't remember my plant anatomy anymore) in the center shows through wilted, partially dried up petals. The leaves are dead, the stem is withered, the rose is near the end of its life. It's no longer "beautiful." It's not necessarily "ugly" (and that's a term for a different discussion...), but it's not "beautiful" anymore.

Or is it? I mean, this post is designed to ponder the definition of the term "beautiful," right? So, maybe that wilted, withered, on-its-last-legs-of-life rose is indeed beautiful in its own right. Perhaps not by the commonly accepted view of "beauty," but in a completely distinct definition of the word.

Is something beautiful merely because it's not "ugly"? That's hardly a satisfying definition. The next question is obviously, "Well, what is ugly then?" Okay. Scratch that out. Begin again.

Is something beautiful if it gives you some sort of emotional reaction? That thought sits better than the first, surely. But it's far from complete. What type of reaction makes something beautiful? (I could also ask why that reaction happens when one is confronted with beauty, but then I feel I'd be leading this question a little astray from its target.) One generally gets a sense of happiness when confronted wtih something beautiful, yes? Okay. And that doesn't necessarily mean the "something" considered beautiful has to be peaceful or in the safest place or in a utopic surrounding. (American Beauty: the plastic bag. That was beautiful, in its random trajectory through the wind that controled its movement. And it was a piece of trash.) But it's more than simply the feeling of happiness. I want to say that there's a certain feeling of peace and/or tranquility in something that is beautiful. When I see something I consider beautiful, it allows me to slow down and observe it, allows me to shut out the craziness of life to consider and take in and experience its beauty. A song, a person, a picture, a part of scenery, an idea, a moment in time. But, is that slowing down and experience of beauty a result of the beauty or a necessary element in what makes that something "beautiful"?

This is where I will set down this thought for today. I will pick up the topic later and continue to try and find an answer...perhaps there isn't a real, true answer...but it's fun to think about, yeah? I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this subject. What makes something beautiful? How is "beauty" defined?

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