The problem: As a society today our collective understanding of beauty is…diminished. There are multiple reasons for this - relativism towards aesthetics over the past century, engaging less in physically creating things with our hands, and frequently disregarding beauty as superfluous. These are just a few of the reasons. What’s more, when it comes to the study of beauty, we don’t have a common structured system for learning.
It's important here to distinguish skills from beauty. We do have many programs and schools which teach skills.
Skills = study, discipline, practice, technique, excellence
Beauty = skills plus inspiration, creative vision, judgement, execution (in other words, skills + art)
It's also important to recognize art (fine art) as an ideal lens through which to examine beauty. Art is a response to inspiration. Its purpose is to capture beauty. Simply put, art exists solely for the sake of beauty. (note: Here beauty must be attributed it's full scope of meaning.)
The “Language of Beauty” is a structured system for learning beauty in visual art. It is a visual language. It entails the awareness and ability to recognize relationships of elements, involving visual factors (ie: color, size, shape, location, etc) and associated character and dominance of the elements, as well as secondary factors and conditions arising from their combination. It also encompasses knowledge of the 3 desired qualities of an image, their derivation from human visual experience and the related systems in art practice - examples include: perspective, light and shadow, and color mixing theory.
In outlining the Language of Beauty, we first need to answer some key questions: What is beauty? What is art? Is beauty objective or subjective?
To begin, Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?
If you like a painting and I don’t…or a song, an architectural style, a fashion, a car model, a person, or a food? Is one of us wrong… or can we have different tastes? Certainly we can have different tastes...right?
Yet, the existence of some things attests to their objective beauty: superstars, supermodels, great masters of art, the top end of most things (real-estate, precious goods, resorts, vacation spots, cars, fashion, etc)
People agree on and desire the beauty of these things. That’s how they command such attention and price.
The bottom line is that there is a false dichotomy; both subjective and objective beauty exist.
Human perception is subjective.
We perceive beauty with our senses. Individual perception is limited, relative, often dull, uninformed, can be corrupted, and is influenced by more factors than we know. As individuals, we don’t give all ‘beauties’, or aspects of beauty, equal weight. Because perception is relative, we can and do have different tastes.
While perception is subjective, Beauty exists objectively.
Objective beauty exists outside of our perception, as do other realities. At the transcendent level, Beauty is the reflection, or presence even, of the Creator in creation. It’s nothing short of the physical manifestation of God.
It reveals and points to God, and this is why it is so potent…and powerful.
- the sensible manifestation of God
- akin to Goodness and truth, transcendental desires of the heart
- The particular vocation of artists
“Beauty will save the world.” - Dostoevsky
St. Thomas Aquinas gives us a key to understanding the language of objective beauty: three conditions - integrity, clarity, and consonance.
Integrity: unified, complete, whole, united, stable, sound, solid, coherent, healthy, robust, cohesive, consistent
Clarity: clear, pure, unique, revealing special character or individuality, honest; not forced or contrived, original
Consonance: harmonizing, complementary, balanced, proportioned
In addition to St. Thomas' three conditions, there is another concept which is key to understanding the Language of Beauty:
Visual perception runs aside of conscious thought. They are independent.
We can already see and experience beauty. Our learning objective is to equip ourselves to filter and transfer this to conscious awareness.
Conscious Awareness Requires:
- framework/ anatomy of subject - systematic dissection of substance, parts, or components
- standard terminology - clear verbalization so we can think about and process verbally
Framework/Anatomy of Art:
Art is both Process and Result - two distinct things.
Art (both process and result) consists of three parts: mind, body, and soul, so to speak.
Below are tables which show how the conditions, integrity, clarity, and consonance, can begin to be applied to a visual artwork and to the artistic process. The tables serve as a general and brief outline to illustrate the overall idea of how the three conditions apply to each component of artwork and art process. Examples and full elaboration will be incorporated in the course.