Beauty is a universal existential experience. No matter who we are, where we live, or the life we have had, we have all experienced beauty. Beauty transcends all outward identity, be it sex, age, or race because it appeals to the soul, to our common humanity: to the universal witness within us all.
Beauty is beyond thought. The recognition of beauty is not intellectual, it is our soul that in the midst of life is called, and responds “Yes, Yes, O Yes!”, that is the experience of beauty. Apriori to conceptual thought, to the ego, it is the eternal and timeless recognition of life and of being alive.
Be it a beautiful woman, or a beautiful man, or a beautiful scene: whatever the form of the experience of beauty, the essence of Beauty is that it draws and holds our attention. It is what we want to be aware of: it is what we want to experience. It is the existential pull of reality on the point of our attention: the pull of reality on the detached observer, seducing us into the world of the senses: into life. Beauty is the will live.
It takes a conscious mind to appreciate beauty. We must be in the moment, in our bodies, to see, to touch, and to feel it. If we are in our heads, distracted by inner emotions, or troubled thoughts of something in some other place or time we will miss the experience of beauty because our attention is not sufficiently here and now. Who can possibly enjoy the beauty of a mountain hike while simultaneously planning their next conference? No one. Perhaps this is why the Zen inspired Wabi – Sabi movement has produced such wonderful art and craft. The intense sensitivity of an awareness that is totally now can fully feel and appreciate beauty, and so must also be able to produce it.
The lack of emotion in the aesthetic of modern design and architecture; its cool rational modernism, it minimalism, and its smooth finishes are an intuition of beauty’s need for an undistracted mind. If form excites too much emotion, it can no longer be appreciated. If form draws the attention away from itself: it draws our mind into its own emotion rather than allowing it to settle in the three physical dimensions of the moment now.
At this point however it is important to make a distinction between beauty and emotional fascination. What fears and excites us emotionally also attracts our attention in a similar way that true beauty does. However the principle that drives our attention towards objects of emotional fascination is associative and psychological rather than existential and universal. In may even be argued that beauty is objective, and that which draws our attention towards subjective beauty is in fact only our own individual emotional fascinations based on our unique associations.
The distinction is important because attention drawn by emotional fascination soon wanders because fascination is only ever temporary. What drew attention yesterday, no longer holds it today because the fascination has dissipated and the spell is broken. This explains fashions seemingly endless pursuit of new ‘beauty’, moving from fashion to fashion, in search of a new fascination.
As Designers, we must by Zen; we must be Now, to truly be sensitive to beauty. The fact that Beauty is always sudden: that Beauty is never gradually recognized is because where there is the experience of beauty there is no time. These days however, who has time for beauty? Do you have time to appreciate beauty while commuting from your home to your work? The question is poignant because it shows how little time for life there is in our sad urban lives. We have domesticated infinite space and time with our architecture, but in the process we have domesticated our own infinite and omniscient consciousness. Losing touch with the fundamental ground of our existential being we have cut ourselves off from our own humanity and the organic reality of life.
As Designers we must use beauty as a weapon against the conceptual mind and the artificial reality of globalization that it pollutes the living world with. Something exquisitely beautiful pulls us out of our heads, out of our busy schedule, and brings us to Now, bring us back to life. We’ve all had that experience of being suddenly overcome by beauty. Our senses buzz, we feel alive: light becomes vivid, and sounds become crisp. This sense of life, of being drawn into the present moment, is the gift of beauty. The humanism in design is that it values human life, every second, and every point of material contact. And the highest expression of that humanism is the creation of beauty that re-awakens us to life, to our own humanity, to our senses, and to this moment Now.
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