Locating beauty in human experience and creativity is an immemorial conversation in the world’s history of thought and one perhaps that only becomes relevant when an individual or society succeeds to a level of independence and maturity; otherwise its consideration is mere speciousness. Or is it?
Is beauty the same from generation to generation? Is it the same for all individuals in a society at the same instant in time? Is it even the same in an individual from the time his or her mind begins to recognize and generate concepts of beauty?
Is beauty based on our experience of nature only or does it occur solely in what we as artificers create from those experiences? Is beauty intrinsic in objects outside us or does the mind create it from templates the organism inherits from culture and modifies through experience and contemplation.
Is beauty what makes us like or love an object or is it nothing more than a fable we consume because authorities tell us something is beautiful or not? Is it the same quality in an object of the physical senses as in a psychic experience, in a sunset that everyone experiences or a gesture from a friend or lover or a thought that elevates us momentarily to noble action or inaction?
Is beauty of the intellect or of emotion, of both or neither, of affect and conation and a simple statement unadulterated by an impulse to act or desist from acting?
Whole libraries can be founded on works devoted to these questions and more questions about this strange puissance we call beauty. The subject is compelling as I grow older. Is this because beauty is something that like wine mellows and grows complexity and subtlety with age and experience?
Or because we realize that beauty and happiness are conjoined like Siamese twins, happiness consisting of finding beauty in tiny moments of each day as we navigate with growing awareness the temporality of lives, of endings and beginnings and the exquisite plurality of thought that must cease if we are to know what we are?
Tonight, as I write these words down, I want to run recklessly with Plato and Aristotle, with Baruch Spinoza and Kant and Hume, ponder points from the Buddhist Abhidhamma and Islam and join the swirling flood into profane words about the unspeakable, the indefinable, the mysterious.
But seriously, a dialectic on beauty is too formidable an undertaking with morning just hours away. All I can do is locate a bench on my private island where I can sit down again to see into sunset or this wilting flower, a bit of unrhymed poetry, this piece of stolen pie.
Maybe beauty becomes a natural object of meditation when we begin to lose our way from the way of the madding crowd. We can think, feel and act for ourselves, and life is too precious now to live it without awareness, without beauty, without joy.