Measuring beauty

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fi said:
Just to clarify, do you think there are aesthetic universals, and if so, on what basis do you think so? What is your definition of art, or music in particular, how would you measure its value, more specifically? For example,
http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/mm/articles/kaiserslautern.txt
do have any thoughts on this?

I don't think there are aesthetic universals. I think it's all in our minds. I discuss music below, which has a system based on mathematics, ie the proportions between notes. I think that our brains are designed to recognize order so that we may survive, that's why we like it, it's very ordered and we can grasp it. We enjoy things that make sense to us. Whether or not order is universally beautiful is the question in that case. For human's it might as well be.

I find it hard to untangle physical attractiveness, pleasure-inducing behavior, recognition of order and symmetry, and this intangible concept of "beauty." When I talk about music, for example, I am differentiating between the mental pleasure one experiences upon grasping resolutions of tensions in something like Palestrina and the unknown reasons for why people like other kinds of music. This seems to be what that link of yours is discussing. I definitely think that the dynamics created by the arrangement can be analyzed. However, trying to do a paint by numbers thing seems to still be missing something - the human part. That link talks about auditory scenes, I think this is what I am referring to.

There is also the question of synesthetes who have crossed senses. I have a friend who can taste names. She hates the sounds of machines, eg vacuum cleaners. They taste and sound bad to her. Some famous composers have been synesthetes who see colors and shapes dancing and morphing when they hear music. They see actual ordered patterns. This seems like a good argument for the idea that symphonic music appeals to the mind. The more one studies music and is aware of what to be listening for, the more pleasure one derives. I think this is analogous to Maimonides' golden apple in his intro to Guide for the Perplexed:

...It refers to the image of a golden apple covered by a silver filigree that is itself punctured with small openings. [A] saying uttered with a view to two meanings is like an apple of gold overlaid with silver-filigree work having very small holes,” writes the 12th Century Jewish Rabbi, physician and philosopher, quoting a Sage from Proverbs 25.11:

Now see how this dictum describes a well-constructed parable. For he says in a saying that has two meanings—he means an external and an internal one—the external meaning ought to be as beautiful as silver, while its internal meaning ought to be more beautiful than the external one […] When looked at from a distance or with imperfect attention, it is deemed to be an apple of silver; but when a keen-sighted observer looks at it with full attention, its interior becomes clear to him and he knows that it is gold[10]


That's how I understand composed music. Music today can be appealing for many reasons. For myself, I tend to like histrionic singers, eg Jeff Buckely, Chris Cornell, Muse. They could be singing anything and it'd still sound wonderful to me (not that I don't appreciate their wonderful lyrics). Perhaps this is related to the composed music because the singers are creating and resolving tensions, instead of just repeating the same 3 chords over and over.

We tried to do this in my music class with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterpoint" [Broken]. We'd have the cantus firmus (the pre-existing melody) set, then we'd create a new line of notes that worked with the cantus firmus to create a theme. To do this successfully, we'd use Fux's rules EG no parallel 5ths or octaves (the consonant chords), use imperfect 3rds and 6ths, always resolve with either unison or octave. We always ended up liking the pieces that followed what Fux set out, but even when everyone used the rules, some pieces were better than others - so it wasn't just using those rules but going beyond in some inexplicable way. I just skimmed over that link btw, so point out whatever parts you want me to look over in particular.

I also brought up the idea of attractiveness and pleasant sights. One example could be of a child's face or someone smiling. We are designed to be attracted to these sights, and to receive pleasure from them. We also get pleasure from smiling back, if it was a genuine smile. So this isn't strictly universal, it's just another part of the human experience.

As for art, what is considered beautiful varies from person to person. But I do think there are universal bases for these estimations - they appeal to our individual minds, our unique perspectives and understadings, and are not simply about perceiving order. For example, my favorite artist is http://www.epilogue.net/cgi/database/art/list.pl?gallery=142". She draws mostly dark fairytale in digital media, but she also has a story behind them. That's what I find appealing, the character that I perceive. It isn't the pretty faces, it's the ideas I find appealing that are communicated through the art. I don't have a solid definition of art, there are too many ideas I've encountered to actually choose. I did find one telling point, tho; in my book Material Culture Reader, one of the articles points out that early anthropologists were pretty much antiquarians who would bring back material objects and call them art. In their original context, they may have had a functional use, EG Native American ceremonial masks were now being called art in it's new context - sitting in a museum to be looked at. Are the cave paintings of Lascaux art, or merely functional? Or both? I don't know. I guess you could say art is whatever fits my original statement - anything that speaks to your mind; we can say it can only be man-made, man-made for that purpose, or unintended natural scenes.

Lastly, you asked about value. I guess value would function a lot like my understanding of art - it varies from individual to individual.
 
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  • #127
fuzzyfelt
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Hi, thanks for your thoughtful response.

I simply gave the link for a few reasons, not because I agree entirely, but because it exemplified some of the issues. As well because I haven’t come across many such theories (I mentioned Kant’s obsolete views earlier in the thread), and would be interested to hear of any more. Also I linked it because he is a Noble Laureate in Physics, which suggests a good grasp of the physical world, and which of this might be most analogous, as well as maybe more readable for the users of this forum. I do agree however with ideas that art is symbolic language that is capable of touching all people.

I enjoyed the points you made and am interested to learn more about synesthetes.

I appreciate that you don’t have a solid definition of art, nor do I, but I am interested in some of the ideas you suggested. You said art could be anything that speaks your mind, that this could be man-made, man-made with intent, or an unintended natural scene. Googling around, I have found some other broad interpretations, too. I like your idea, that sounds rather like Tolstoy’s ‘emotional response’. Where you mention an unintended natural scene, I would call that nature, but, more in line with your words, would say art includes the mind’s selection of some natural scene to perceive and its response to that. This would not be a far step from a photograph of a natural scene, which is widely considered art. Choosing and responding to a natural scene could in fact be the simplest form of art, unencumbered by another human artist and various communication channels.

To quickly link this with the thread, beauty is a pleasing emotional response to something, and falls within this definition of art.

You did seem to draw a line yourself, to some distinction between art and function, rather like a different definition I found – ‘Art refers to all creative human endeavours, excluding actions related to survival and reproduction. I agree that if you look for boundaries are difficult to distinguish. As an example, clothing, food, shelter, sex, themselves are needed for survival, but become artistic symbols themselves, of wealth, status, style… and these symbols in turn are used as functions for survival advantage. I think your example of ancient artefacts, or another example, Duchamp’s finding a urinal and placing it in an exhibition back in 1917, are more obviously delineated, for function becomes secondary in this context. But the lack of boundaries between function and art makes it difficult to decipher how much of human nature is bound by utility and how much is bound by art. Begging the questions is art necessarily non-functional, is it a different form of survival technique, and if not why does it happen? When emotional meaning other than an identified purpose for survival occurs, is this all that constitutes art? Or, is all human endeavour artisitic on a level? Is basically everything that distinguishes us from animals our ability to symbolise artistically and that is basis of what it is to be human and our more complex abilities that may have evolved for the purpose of survival? This is a further quote about art- ‘From a wide perspective, art is simply a generic term for any product of the creative impulse, out of which sprang all other human pursuits — such as science via alchemy, and religion via shamanism.’ If this is the case, is art that is more obviously functional (such as science) a lesser art than something that is more non-functional? Is something that has more layers of meaning a measure of greater art? Are these measures of art? I don’t know.

I see I touched on symbolism a bit in the last paragraph, I think symbolism allows creativity/art/conceptual thought, again, everything that distinguishes us mainly as humans. I don’t think I’m the only one, but I’m getting a bit bogged down now.

Although you say you don’t think there are aesthetic universals, you do say that ‘what is considered beauty varies from person to person’, but that you do think there are universal bases for these estimations, and in your first paragraph, you said that these were based on order, that our brains are wired like that for survival, ‘and that’s why we like it’. If I have understood you correctly, I agree entirely. I think all easily identifiable art involves a sense of order based on, ( there are different words for these) the inclusion of pattern, symmetry, emphasis, counterpoint, harmony, balance, movement, rhythm and unity. Possibly, jointly and severally these aspects relate to the human condition, and probably to its survival, as you say. This is going to sound generalised and obvious, but I think these are symbolic of life, finding an appropriate mate, sex, living a social animals, basic needs and death and renewal, the human condition. I think there is something here that can move the whole species, and that is how I see it as universally human.

And I do think that there are different ways of combining these that can be more understood by those who are more familiar with a certain way of combining these, that is culturally, and further there can be more differences in this combination that speak to us on a personal, individual basis.

At the beginning I mentioned appraising nature was art, and I think that anything artistic involves also some amount of human judgement, whether it be selecting the natural scene, idly choosing what to wear, or selecting the combination of elements for a composition, an amount of skill is involved.

As far as using this idea for measurement at all, or more precisely for one of the components of this, beauty, things start to get pretty hard. It must, as you say, vary from individual to individual, though have cultural and human criteria as well. And as beauty is something that is pleasing, something we find attractive, it probably involves the apprehension of something important to survival. Perhaps measuring beauty can be done in two ways, by evaluating our individual response, or by evalutating what is beneficial to our survival, on different levels, perhaps evaluating too its lack of obvious benefit or function, and also evaluating the skill involved, or the notion of our own skill in choosing to enjoy it.
 
  • #128
Gale said:
Can beauty be measured? in any way shape or form? even if its subjective to one person's ideas... can it still be measured? Or is beauty an abstract sort of thing that one cannot put a value on?

I don't care what anybody says, Adriana Lima is HOT!!
 
  • #129
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My roommate said the same thing last night. We were talking about what race has the most beautiful people (not seriously of course), and he said Brazilians - an example being Adriana. I really don't get it tho...She'd snap like a twig if you tried to do anything with her! Men like this?
 
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  • #130
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Guess she does get maximum exposure;)
 
  • #131
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reinvesting in beauty.

That stars should form and produce the elements of life and that a life form should arise with the ability to be the eyes and mind of the universe and allow the universe to have awareness, knowledge, understanding and appreciation for its existence is where beauty is created, blossoms and grows.
The human ability to do this is at the core of beauty for without the ability to appreciate beauty it is meaningless. Using this standard go forth and measure beauty for as long as you maintain a body and a mind to do so.
 

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