Thursday, January 08, 2009

In the Eye of the Beholder.

Not the D&D beholder, mind you. If for no other reason than they have a whole load of eyes. I don't play D&D, but any self respecting geek knows a lot about it. And is that an oxymoron? Is it even possible to have a self-respecting geek? Huh. I dunno.

Regardless, what lies in the eye of the beholder? Beauty, of course. I'm semi-obsessed with beauty. The very concept of aesthetics is infinitely interesting. What is beauty? How is something beautiful? I don't think this sort of stuff is idle conjecture.

Humans have a nasty habit of understanding and basing their world around abstract concepts. Some of the most important things in the average life are love, beauty, religion, and identity. There's no way to define those things. Yet, definition or not, they are of critical importance and should be understood to whatever degree they can be.

I love the idea of beauty because I think, at its core, it is more about appreciation. Something is beautiful if we can appreciate what it is. Most people would not find the average fangtooth fish beautiful, but I do. I find the very nature of its being remarkable. So perfect. It is exactly what it needs to be. I don't think we can call something not beautiful just because we are repulsed by it.

Beauty is a human construct. It is something that stems from the frontal lobe. Whether we are attracted to something likely has its roots deep in the more primal areas of our noggin, but beauty is a more advanced concept. It's something that can be analyzed and dissected. The fangtooth fish may be repulsive, but that's a primal response to something that could be dangerous. Many people are repulsed by spiders, but if pressed, I think most would admit some obvious beauty to their existence. Their delicate features. Their skill in creating some of nature's most amazing artwork. The way they dance, fly, and move elegantly through the air on invisible threads.

Perhaps humans associate beauty with creation. A painting can be beautiful, or a building, because it is a creation. An expression of humanity that can be easily understood by other humans. But a craggy rock face? Humans may even associate the world with a creator because so much of the world seems so beautiful, that it must have a creator. An artist expressing something. Funny how that's pretty much the entire Intelligent Design argument.

We can grasp things that seem created, or things so vast that they are beyond comprehension. We see only uniformity and none of the chaotic details. A mountain is beautiful, but not a craggy rock face, or a slide of dirt. Where does the beauty come from if every part is not beautiful? I think beauty as appreciation is something more people should contemplate.

I always felt this was important in the past few years, as the boom times of home equity, easy credit, and jaw-dropping growth in Asia fueled the luxury goods market into a roaring inferno. Sales at niche stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Sak's, and Nordstrom were well above historical average, and the sheer number of designers names out there would leave you dumbfounded. I mean, seriously, how many fucking people are actually out there who want, and can afford, a $1,500 bag designed by a gay man who doesn't shower?

The term beautiful gets thrown around so bloody often in the fashion world because, I think, it's the best word people can come up with to rationalize and defend their obscene purchase. "Oh, I had to have the bag because it was so beautiful." Oh yes, your artistic appreciation was obviously the primary driver behind your purchase. The fact that it was simply the "it" bag had nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

If people gave more thought to beauty, would the sales have been any less atmospheric? I imagine not. Buying the "it" product for the fact that it is the "it" product is a totally viable reason for the purchase. But I'd hope people would recognize the purchase for what it is, and maybe even find themselves a bit more discerning in which "it" products to buy.

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