Saturday, September 15, 2012

What means, what is - Beauty?

In our times, „...the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence...“  Walter Benjamin wrote in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The title already tells us how art gets its power today: By mass-reproduction. The question “What is beauty?” has been democratised by the possibilities of the industry. Today, the charts of the consumers decide on the real effects of art on society. The media are ruled by the taste of the masses. Neither artists nor critics decide what beauty is but the market. Independent of the intentions of the artist or a cohesive theory of aesthetics, the decision is made by the senses, not by sense. The merging-together of arts and technology is turning the question of beauty and horror into something that every person has to think about in daily life. The personal decision for one of the aesthetic norms and concepts on the market has become part of our individual existence. Now the question is: Do we have a choice in what we think is beautiful?

Some interesting aspects of what beauty means to us can be learned from scientific Face Research: By systematically showing especially prepared photographs of different faces to hundred thousands of people all over the world, connected to the question “Which face is more attractive to you?”, the researcher found out that people all over the world think the same: The most average and symmetrical faces are the most attractive ones! The rule of human beauty, no matter in which place and for what kind of person, seems to be: The more average and the more symmetrical something seems to us, the more we call it beautiful. What we can learn from this is: Beauty is not always a question of individual taste and education. Beauty to us seems to lie in the right measure. Some aspects of what we call beautiful are obviously biological. There is a human instinct for beauty. 

The question of beauty is of course more than a visual one - it touches our basic thoughts about the world and our existence. In the ancient philosophies, in the Jewish, Christian, Islamic and other old and new religions, the beauty of the world and our astonishment watching the greatness and diversity of the universe is taken as a proof for the existence of (a) loving creator/s: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (New Testament, Rom 1,20) . Also Islamic theology teaches: “God shows himself to us trough the beauty of the universe. His beauty, his qualities and his laws are everlasting, no man can ever change it.” - Allah as the invisible, but eternal god of beauty. The elegant verses in the Holy Quran and the astonishingly symmetrical mathematical structure of its text count as a clear proof for every Muslim that the origin of this book must be divine (and could not have been created by any human).  Every human religion is connected to the aspect of beauty, and so is our whole culture today (as a follower of religious rites = cultus). There is something in the world that impresses us and makes us adore it. Everybody is looking for it. It is not about wellbeing, because even when we are cold, hungry or tired, we are able to appreciate the beauty of a sudden flashlight, a surprising colour or a well-made poem. Maybe beauty is no outside-fact but an inside-aspect of our cognition, something planted into our brains. Maybe beauty is a state of mind.

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