“awakening to beauty” a search for the meaning, relevance, and realisation of beauty in the environment.

beauty will usually refer to the visual
art refers to 'the creative arts' : fine art, design, architecture, music, theatre, literature
object refers to the artistic creation

some questions:

what is beauty?
why is it important?
is there a universal beauty?
how do we decide something is beautiful?
is beauty of the object or a physical property of the object?
in the process of creating art how do we judge the point of aesthetic success?
western philosophy- object? additive?
japanese philosophy- subtractive?

reaching a universal by abstraction, minimalism
an incomplete definition
defining a methodology for the creation of beauty 

Beauty and its importance

Beauty is a quality familiar to us all; a…. notoriously difficult/impossible to define; a sensation evoked in us, which catches the breath, lifts the spirit, freezing reality momentarily. Beauty possesses the incongruous capacity to captivate the imagination, but “not necessarily engender a desire to possess or consume” [ Eco, 2004]; an immersive and addictive desire, but one unable to be satisfied. In a similar way to ideas of ‘love’ or ‘truth’, the familiar yet elusive nature of beauty is precisely what has made it so fascinating.

However, in contemporary culture, the intrigue with such concepts appears to be fading/have faded. It seems that society is turning its back on these things, dismissing beauty as mere taste, non essential, indefinable, and therefore unworthy of consideration.

"We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it mere appearance in order to the more easily dispose of it. We can no longer be sure that whoever sneers at [beauty] as if she were an ornament of a bourgeois past can no longer pray and will soon no longer be able to love." hans urs von balthasar

Does not it seem rather implausible that the appreciation of beauty, which has held such strong significance throughout history, is not grounded in something more steadfast than subjectivity?

On a very basic level, the contemplation of the beautiful evokes pleasure, pleasure brings happiness which ultimately leads to a more fulfilled existence. I wonder if, in this age of consumerism, society has misplaced its values, and forgotten what it is that makes us human, what we truly need to live a fulfilled life and operate a successful society.  Believing that we might reach a truely objective definition of 'beauty' is perhaps naive, but if beauty is to find it's place again in the world, the ambition to challenge existing perception and re-examine the place aesthetics within our value system, is critical.  

In many instances the problem lies in the use of the term. In his Critique of Judgement, Immanuel Kant makes a definition between different types of satisfaction/pleasure found in an object: 

“The agreeable is what gratifies a man; the beautiful what simply pleases him; the good what is esteemed (approved), i.e., that on which he sets an objective worth.” 
This position suggests a 'disinterested interest' in that which appears to be beautiful: that which pleases and inspires, but does not evoke a desire to possess or consume for any purpose other than contemplation. [eco 2004]

The arts, as expressions of human culture, have always existed in society. [evidence found of painting pre homo sapiens : http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/733747.stm]  Although many artistic expressions have had practical significance or religious symbolism, there also exists within the human mind an enduring desire to simply contemplate the beautiful: that which exists for no other purpose than beauty; one might call this, 'the aspect beyond function'. That is not to say that  the useful cannot be beautiful, but I suggest that the quality of beauty might be separate/or separable from this.  I argue that the contemplation of beauty is an entirely selfless act, “taste in the beautiful may be said to be the one and only disinterested and free delight”[scruton], and participation in this not only brings joy, but it is humbling, reminding us of our position in the world, our relationship to others, and the transience of our existence.

the problem of aesthetic judgment

The question of whether beauty is of the object or a property of the object.
Judgment of aesthetics differs from other judgment "because it does not describe the beauty of the object by ascribing properties independently of the judge's affective state of mind". [Gorodeisky, K., A New Look at Kant's View of Aesthetic Testimony] By this Gorodeisky suggests that there is a relationship between the physicality of the object and the emotional response of the viewer, requiring that "we take pleasure in its beauty" [Gorodeisky, K.] and therefore a judgment of beauty may only be made through direct experience.

"There is an unbridgeable gap between empirical properties such as certain colours, certain shapes, their arrangement and their hues, and aesthetic properties such as beauty, elegance, and gracefulness." [Gorodeisky, K.]  because aesthetic properties are less quantifiable than those on which we generally agree i.e. " the post box is red".

"In aesthetic judgement, the demand is not just to agree about facts, but to come to share a sensibility: not to assent to another judge's verdict, but to share the judge's feelings. What is at stake here is not simply truth and a community of knowers, but beauty and a community of sense." [Gorodeisky, K.] 

Aspect of truth- how important is truth to the judgement and creation of beauty?
“Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.”[Ralph Waldo Emerson, U.S. Poet, essayist and transcendentalist (1803-1882)]

“those paintings were finished both on the front and the back, which reads through from the small hand-held objects and maybe from my exposure to zen pottery ware- the basic idea being that any gesture or act that you’re involved in, if you’re involved in it as more than a gesture or idea, should read all the way through… I just had this conviction that in the sense of tactile awareness, if all those things were consistent, that then the sum total would be greater, even though that might not be definable in any casual, connected way.” seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees pg 90

This distinction is important not just in the perception of the existing, but in the creative process: as the makers of 'art' how do we judge the beautiful? Intuition plays an important role:

"lets say at a particular point the scientist gets what he set out to get, he arrives at what he projected might happen if he mixed the particular right combination of chemicals in the right way. But the same thing is true of the artist: when he finally gets the right combination, he stops, he knows he's finished." [irwin][Weschler, L. 1982]

I am uncomfortable with intuition. What does it mean? how does one reason?


A notion of beauty has been discussed since the dawn of modern philosophy and has been written about by many ancient thinkers. Plato was certainly instrumental in the formation of modern conceptions of beauty which were to be shaped by later figures such as Kant and Hegel. In his writings Plato positions beauty, or ‘kalon‘, also relating to nobility and the good [Plato and the Question of Beauty,Drew A. Hyland], in direct relation to love, stating that the contemplation of the beautiful would lead to higher truths, and ultimately to enlightenment:

“And the true order of going or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair practices and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is. This, my dear Socrates […] is that life above all others which man should live in the contemplation of beauty absolute; […] beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities.” [ The Symposium]

The discussion of ‘fair forms’ suggests that beauty is regarded as an objective quality, the object of contemplation possesses the quality of beauty. Hume shifted this idea somewhat, suggesting that beauty lies not in the object but in the subject that perceives it: “Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.” [Hume, D.]

The philosophy of aesthetics in ancient greece held to the belief that the creation of the beautiful should always related to an ideal view of the natural world; a desire to rationalize the apparent disorder in nature. Proportioning systems were developed from those observed in nature. While highlighting the importance of aesthetics and developing a quasi definition, these theories also analysed the process of making; how one might begin in the creation of the beautiful. The adoption of these systems proved successful in creating what are perceived to be some of the most beautiful creations of western history, however, despite aesthetic success, formulaic systems of design perhaps neglect a more challenging area regarding the beauty of the inconstant. 

“delight in the beautiful must depend upon the reflection on an object precursory to some (not definitely determined) concept.” [Kant, I. The Critique of Judgement]


Much of the literature available discusses the notion of beauty from a purely western perspective, however, while definitions may vary from one culture to the next, beauty, it would seem, is a universally acknowledged phenomenon. Previous study into relationships between notions of perfection and beauty [in pursuit of perfection] led me to the aesthetic theories of Japan, and the “Japanese Aesthetics of Imperfection and Insufficiency” [yuriko saito].

While the west has historically invented systems of proportions etc to strictly regulate a pure aesthetic, the Japanese belief is that it is in the imperfections, asymmetry, the transience and venerability of nature that true beauty resides: the wabi aesthetic “finds a deeper beauty in the blemished than in the unblemished” 

"Beauty demands, perhaps, the slavish imitation of what is indeterminable in things." [aesthetic theory, Adorno, G.; Tiedemann, R.; Hullot-Kentor, R.]

The seven aspects of wabi are described as irregularity, simplicity, austerity, naturalness, mystery, ethereality, tranquillity.[Hisamatsu Shin’ichi]
[the wabi aesthetic through the ages, koshiro, haga. In Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu, Paul Varley, Isao Kumakura]

These ideas have developed from the aesthetics of the tea ceremony, and it is in the ritual, tea house and utensils of the tea ceremony that wabi can be best observed. The handmade tea bowls, chawan, may at first sight appear as primitive clay pots, but there is a certain sophistication to these pieces. Usually with subdued colouration, often unevenly glazed, the finish is intended to compliment and enhance the deep green tone of the ocha, tea. It is said that the patina of the tea bowl will go through seven stages of change through its use, and this change is part of its beauty.

Although the human mind persists in forming definitions, however loose, this approach allows for a much wider, less formal [and perhaps less contrived?] view of beauty. 


"Reasoning appears to be more confused, more haphazard, partly because of the scale it tries to deal with. The logical, in a sense, seems more successful because it cuts the scale down. In fact, that's what makes it logical: it takes a very concise cut in the world and simply defines or refines by deduction the properties of that cut, but it never deals with the overall complexities of the situation. The artist, however, deals with the overall complexity of which all the logical subsystems are merely segments, and he deals with them through the intuitive side of his human potential- and here inconsistencies are as meaningful as consistencies." [irwin, r.][Weschler, L. 1982]

Perhaps we might suggest that classical thinking follows a logical, additive train of thought, while eastern culture embraces the inconsistencies, subtraction, and deals in reason.

i believe that there may be many strata to the perception of beauty, but we may speak of two main divisions: one of intuition, an innate knowledge, a universal?; and that which is of societal/cultural preconditioning. 

It would seem that in uncovering a universal beauty, a balance, an 'even ground', should be found. 

"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks in his cavern."
[a memorable fancy: The complete poetry and prose of William Blake By William Blake, David V. Erdman, Harold Bloom]

Turning to science as another system of organising observations of our environment, one can see similar ideas begin to form a more comprehensive view of the universe. Chaos theory, explains that although systems and pattern exist in nature, complete disorder also plays an important role, and ultimately everything is unpredictable. Historically, scientists believed that the complex nature of the world must have been created by systems of incomprehensible complexity, that the universe was in fact a huge machine, operating by complex sets of rules, and if these could be understood then we could predict every event. Recent discoveries have shown that the complex systems are actually based on very simple concepts or equations.

Particularly in the west, there is a tendency to place higher value on things of a complex nature, while simplicity is deemed uninteresting.  

Reduction . Suggestion . minimal 

“the more you limit yourself, the more fertile you become in your invention” robert Irwin

Reduction in form is not necessarily reduction in content. By distilling something to its simplest form, we can get closer to capturing the essence of the thing. In this sense beauty might be described as the simplest expression of complex thought [within context] Reaching a moment of perfection, where everything is in harmony. Discarding all non essential elements to reach the perfect end-  as described by the Japanese term taru o shiru: the knowledge of what is enough. [this of course relates also to a moral aspect of living a humble life.]

By a process of reduction, a whole range of possibilities can be opened up: the suggestion of what might be, the potential of anything. 
“the Taoist notion of the uncarved block […] wiser than the stone inscribed. […] the tablet before anything was inscribed on it, contained much more wisdom- the potentiality of all wisdom- whereas once one had cut into it […] one would eliminate all other possibilities.”  Whitechapel Art Gallery (London), Carl Andre : sculpture 1959-78 Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1978.

Some of the most beautiful things are often the least explicit; possessing a certain ambiguity: mysterious, illusive; like seeing something through the mist. It might be suggested that in creating a work of this kind, it is at it’s most successful when it ’suggests’ precisely the author’s intention: “The poet of the vague can only be the poet of precision” [zumthor, p. thinking architecture]

I began producing and reworking drawings to reduce the work to a more suggestive imagery- reducing the lines and marks to the minimum? And attempting to distil the essence of the piece. However, these were still representational. Whether explicit or not, these were trying to capture the essence of the subject.

“it must be understood that by not doing something one can instead make a fully affirmative gesture, that Minimal artist is engaged in an appraisal of past and present, and that he frequently finds present aesthetic and sociological behaviour both hypocritical and empty.” Minimal art: a critical anthology by Gregory Battcock

Minimal artists “ force the audience to an awareness of existence that goes beyond the presence of any particular art object” p32 Minimal art: a critical anthology by Gregory Battcock

malevich white on white

"the minimalists were thinking expansively about the entire phenomenal effect of the visual experience, and the entire space of the container within which it is perceived."[minimal? michael govan, in, feldman, p. and schubert, k. it is what it is- writings on dan flavin, thames and hudson 2004, london]

taking sculpture of pedestal implicates/involves ground plane 

"a related group of artists [...] dispense entirely with object in favour of pure perceptual experience." [minimal? michael govan]

Who is to say that ‘minimal’ forms are not more real than something that might widely be perceived as ‘realism’. In absolute minimalism everything is ‘real’, a distilled aesthetic experience, as opposed to an abstracted representation of something else. 

“Reality[…] as colourless, shapeless, and intangible is not decisive on this point, for […] the essence even of material things is supposed to be something quite apart from their material qualities.” [Plato, The Symposium]

By a process of reduction one reduces imagery, therefore reducing potential references that the work might suggest: “you cease reading[…]and you fall into a state where nothing else is going on but the tactile experiential process” [Irwin, R.] If we assume Plato’s position then the essence of something can not be captured in literal, objective representation, but must be captured in a more complex process of abstraction. And if we agree that the essence lies not in the material properties of an object, then perhaps the ’essence of beauty’ is also formless. 

"In science it seems necessary that your facts be concrete, repeatable and predictable, which means that there has to be a reliable form of measure. And the only reliable forms of measure, as far as science is concerned, are pure abstractions, that is, abstract systems which can be overlaid onto the world of experience." [irwin p135][Weschler, L. 1982]

abstraction accepted in science but not in art?

“small things are small by partaking in smallness” [the symposium?]

Uniting subject and object?

Honing the senses?

‘The way of beauty’

After studying many other definitions of beauty, it became clear that I would have to create my own set of values which I thought explained this elusive quality. This ’manifesto’ , of sorts, must be in made form, not just words.

Wa-balance harmony
Ma- space depth
En- spaces between

These were to be a series of sculptural pieces examining potential ‘components’ of beauty.
By avoiding the “architecture” terminology the association to “must build” is removed 


The next stage was to consider not just the objects in isolation, but to ground them in a context, to curate the work.

In many ways, architecture is the curation of public space.

By removing the work from the protective environment of the studio, there is then an added pressure for the pieces to carry their value/meaning. The positioning of the work on the site must relate and hopefully reinforce the pieces while also considering relationships between the individual pieces and the group as a whole.   


Melville street perth
Intervention in urban setting- the incomplete, the everyday 

Cottage Guthrie
Derelict shell in rural context
capture and interpret beauty of a manmade rural landscape

Making beauty- process

How can we design a methodology to ensure a beautiful end?/place beauty at the centre of the process?

To produce a ‘pure’ aesthetic experience, or an experience of ‘true beauty’, the aspects of function and representation must be removed, therefore a work can focus on beauty/aesthetics as its central concern. The work can then exist in its own right with less reference to outside factors. The question then is how we integrate function and beauty without compromising the end result. [raises other questions on the definitions of art and design. Does the pursuit of/concern with beauty distinguish between the disciplines of fine art and design? Art has permission to focus on beauty, while design must consider function, usually as its primary focus. 

“When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”     Richard Buckminster Fuller
Process of creating a successful aesthetic becomes a delicate balance between intuitive and analytical/reasoned activity- intention/control vs. intuition/accidental/inclination

aspect of the learning experienced through the process of making. learning 'by accident'
does the making matter? can new knowledge be found in simply having the 'idea'?

Work intuitively then reflect/critique?

putting oneself into the work 

"the practice flavin developed of dedicating works [in parenthesis], rather than titling them, became a way of grounding his art in a specific context of place, time, or reference- in parallel to its 'untitled' state of pure abstraction. The dedications leave a trail of the artist's ideas, influences, and personal relationships." [minimal? michael govan]

title with dedications

title with critique- what annoys me about the work

non contrived imperfections- what creates these?

one way would be to always make by hand.

Beauty as the starting point / central concern 

Can an intervention, with aesthetics as its central focus, negating programme and brief, lead into a successful architectural project?


Process as important as definition- 
question as important as answer 

“it’s really fairly clear to me that once the question is raised, the performance is somewhat inevitable […] I find it very precarious for a culture only to be able to measure performance and never to be able to credit the questions themselves.” pg86 [Weschler, L. 1982]robert irwin

????? Allowing accident? Embracing imperfection? Human aspect?

"He is perception's gadfly, annoyingly prodding the taken for granted, relentlessly combing the ordinary and uncovering hidden wonders. ("All i try to do for people is to reinvoke the sheer wonder that they perceive anything at all!") [Weschler, L. 1982]

Fletcher, A The art of looking sideways / London : Phaidon Press, 2001
"in greek techne meant 'skill'. The ancient Greeks didn't separate art from techne, but called all artists and craftsmen technitai (makers)."
"Robert pirsig writes: [...] If you have to choose among an infinite number of ways to put it together then the relation of the machine to you, and the relation of the machine and you to the rest of the world, has to be considered. [...] This divorce of art from technology is completely unnatural. Its just that its gone on so long you have to be an archaeologist to find out where the two separated.'

'The japanese don't have a word for art, they use a word synonymous with function, purpose and aesthetics- geijutsu.'
diagram by Arthur Koestler

The argument of subjectivity in terms of beauty comes down to whether someone likes beautiful things or is prepared to question its meaning and significance.
duchamp- "Taste presupposes a domineering onlooker who dictates what he likes and dislikes, and translates it into beautiful and ugly." 312

Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist by Michael Bierut and Peter Hall (Hardcover - Nov 1, 1998 "I'm not against beauty, it just sounds boring to me."

The analysis of beauty: written with a view of fixing the fluctuating ideas ...By William Hogarth

talks of the more fundemental aspects of beauty being 'simplicity, convenience and neatness of workmanship'
beauty as "variety without confusion,simplicity without nakedness, richness without taudriness, distinctness without hardness, and quantity without excess"

The Philosophy of the Beautiful. William Knight    michelangelo- "beauty is the purgation of superfluities"

C.F.A. Voysey: architect and designer, 1857-1941 By Charles F. A. Voysey, John Brandon-Jones, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

"Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."