Essays & Posts

Beauty is Not in the Eye of the Beholder

Is aesthetics mainly a way to recognize and communicate desire and a shared identity? We may not share the same sense of aesthetics with other people or things in nature but does everything share a need for aesthetics? If I'm thinking about birds, they have some markings or movements or dances or sounds that maybe don't register as aesthetic to me but are beautiful within their group. We may not share the same aesthetics as these birds, but is the need for aesthetics, in all its varieties, a constant in all "things"?

Can something be beautiful without being observed? If no humans were left on earth, would the earth and it’s inhabitants no longer be beautiful? Or is there a more fundamental aspect that all things/systems/relationships (all things human and nonhuman) share the need to express an aesthetic? Meaning, is there an aesthetic component to everything's survival or it's longevity?

Lately I've been thinking of aesthetics as a way for two more "things" to connect. Those things need not necessarily be sentient, there just needs to be a relationship, like between people, or people and artwork, or paint and canvas, or rock and stream, or thought and idea. I think each object (or process or thought or performance) has an innate need to express an aesthetic that has the potential to be collectively accessed.

Whereas when most of us think of aesthetics we think "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," ie. a purely subjective experience, I think of it as an intrinsic expression emanating from "any" object that only certain other entities will be attracted to or can access. That expression is always in flux as is the relationship with it. This is quite different from how I've always thought of aesthetics, as a judgement that a human has on another person or work of art or performance, which is quite anthropocentric and unidirectional (the basis of a lot of the problems we're saddled with today). What I'm thinking now is that aesthetics is based more on a flat relationship, an affective rapport where each "thing" is as important as the next, not centered on human judgement but consisting of a multidirectional, collaborative relationship.