Leave a comment

Beauty and Order

The woods are not beautiful because of the way they make us feel. Nor the sunset, nor the stars.

They are beautiful, in part, because of the mystery that perfect science has created them. There has been no artifice, no test tubes; only the purest workings of molecules subjected to their circumstances over time have created in this order these items.

The Romantic prefers to ignore reason, referring to rationality as an inhibition, something binding us and blindfolding the eyes of our souls. But this is not so. Reason is the eyes of our souls. Order, meaning, logic, structure, science, objectivity are what make beauty beautiful. A sentence without meaning can hold no beauty: a grammarless concatenation of letters/words could not create a poem, a novel, a classic. It could not change the world. It is grammar that makes the sentence, science—the grammar of the world—that makes ordered organisms grow according to some written standard, according to its law, that makes the tree beautiful.

Order is the alchemist.

So when we purvey the beauty thus created, we cannot then shirk order as an inhibition. We cannot imagine that beauty frees us from order. How can something so necessary for beauty be the very thing that beauty disallows? It cannot.

Even an abstract painting is the beauty of order. Take Jackson Pollock. It is our eyes that refuse to be dizzied and confused by his paintings that subsume the whole into a unit that causes the painting to be beautiful. And more so its place in the history of art, its grammatical response, its logical rebuttal to what preceded it, adds to its value.

It is not when our so-called inhibitions are eliminated that we discover the truest beauty. It is when the overwhelming power of order in the universe is reunited with semantics, with life, and with human creatures capable of beholding that power, when beauty is at its height. Beauty is the reunion of the disparate realms.


Beauty and the Existence of God

Arguments for the existence of God are abundant and largely inconclusive. Their coherence is encouraging to theists, but their apologetic value is limited. In my post the problem of the a priori I discussed what I see as the futility of philosophy, and many of the arguments for the existence of God (or the nonexistence, for that matter) are subject to this same futility.

This is not, I believe, reason for despair.

When I think of my own belief in the existence of God, I am not overwhelmed with my inability to prove it. On the contrary, all my efforts to shirk my belief in God have failed due to an inability on my part not to believe in God.

My inability has struck me as strange on several occasions. But during recent reading about the nature of art, I was struck by an analogy that gave me some clarity.

I believe that beauty exists. I cannot prove it. There are no arguments for its existence that indicate that belief in it is rational, necessary, practical or moral. And yet I believe that beauty exists. When I see it, I cannot deny it. I recognize it in art, in nature, in people, and though I cannot prove it I continue to seek it, to long for it, to devote my energies toward it.

My belief in the existence of God is the same. I am not worried by my inability to prove He exists. But when I see Him, I recognize it (though far less often than I could). At times I long for him, to seek him and devote my energies toward him. And when I hear arguments against the existence of God, it is like hearing arguments against the existence of beauty; How could any logic outweigh my experience of beauty?

So why doesn’t everyone see God where I do? I don’t know. And belief in God necessitates nothing about his relationship to humans, nor his character or nature.

Can we prove the existence of beauty? Is non-rational belief in beauty a hindrance to rationality?

Let me know what you think.

Leave a comment

The Noumenal and Phenomenal: How to make Art.

In Celtic lore, the phrase ‘thin place’ refers to a location where the barrier between heaven and earth is thinner than other places, meaning the glory of the heavenly realm is more easily accessed at those locations.

I’m about to steal the term for my own purposes.

I believe that true Art creates thin places between the phenomenal and noumenal realms. In my previous post on the matter I mentioned four beautiful things (sunsets, Porsches, the Taj Mahal and The Raft of The Medusa) saying that The Raft of The Medusa is the only one I would consider art. Unlike the Porsche, its purpose does not lie in the phenomenal realm. It exists to cause it’s viewers to ponder noumenal elements.  It thus reunites the observer, and the phenomenal elements used to create the painting, with the noumenal.

So here is my definition of Art (as distinguished from my first category, beautiful things): created from phenomenal items (paint, words, sounds, etc) in order to reunite the observer (and the phenomenal elements themselves) with the noumenal realm.

(I say reunite, because the proper relationship between phenomenal and noumenal is unity; the world was created with no ‘thick places’. I assert they have been improperly separated, but that is for another post.)


The Noumenal and Phenomenal: How to make something beautiful

In my post Art and Metaphysics I talked about the noumenal and phenomenal realms, mentioning that the discussion was a precursor to duscussing three categories defining art and beauty.

Beauty, among many other things, originates in the noumenal realm. But of all the elements originating there, I think beauty is likely the one most evident in the phenomenal realm. This is great news for empirical creatures like us who are obsessed with our phenomenal realm, but whose thirst is for the noumenal. Being experienced seekers of beauty, we also know that Art is a place we often find it.

But the question remains: is everything containing Beauty, Art?

I answer no.

There are many beautiful things in the world: sunsetsPorsche’s, the Taj Mahal and The Raft of The Medusa. But I would only consider the last of these Art. Why?

The answer has to do with whether their ultimate purpose is found in the noumenal or phenomenal realm (taking for granted here that art is man-made). Take the Porsche, for instance. It is a well made car, highly functional for its purpose, and pleasing to the eye (and ear, I’m guessing). But its purpose is to drive, to get from here to there. Its primary function belongs in the phenomenal realm, and therefore is not Art. But it is beautiful, because excellence and beauty, characteristics of the car, are noumenal elements integrated into the form of the phenomenal item.

This is my first category. The beautiful item, created from phenomenal elements for phenomenal ends, but done so according to standards and qualities found in the noumenal realm.


Art and Metaphysics

During a discussion on Friday, I was asked to define art. Ah, yes, an impossible task; my favorite kind! In order for me to define art, I found myself describing metaphysics. So, before I get into any discussion of art, and the three categories I concluded exist to describe artistic endeavors, I first must give a sketch of metaphysics.

I am but an armchair philosopher. I accept this title gladly; I’m sure there are many professional philosophers who can’t afford arm chairs. So please, feel free to disagree with me. I welcome intelligent disagreement, for it is one of the best ways to learn. I also welcome correction: if my facts are incorrect, surely that affects the conclusions I draw from them.

Much of my metaphysics is stolen from Kant. But I don’t agree with him 100%, so I’m going to posit this all as my own. I believe there exists a phenomenal realm and a noumenal realm. These two realms are somehow, mysteriously simultaneously existent in the same place at the same time.

I define the phenomenal realm as the material world: all that we see, touch, smell, hear and taste. Anything made out of matter (and I would likely include anti-matter), whether by humans, the laws of nature, or the Causation of the universe, makes up the phenomenal realm.

The noumenal realm, by nature, is more difficult to define. It is, roughly, that which can only be accessed by intellect, instinct, or intuition. But such elements, not limited to the precision of empirical processes, appear wildly subjective and inconsistent. Because of this inconsistency, many have been led to believe that the noumenal realm is either non-existent (materialsts), entirely subjective (post-moderns), or unimportant (the religiously scientific). I agree that the noumenal realm is terribly difficult to access, and that the human ability to do so is inadequate and fragmented. But undermining the existence of such a realm based on its problems is a kind of ad hominem rejection, and therefore insufficient.

I am willing to argue that its veiled nature is what makes the noumenal realm so exciting. Religion, metaphysics, ideals, morals, spirituality are all members of the noumenal realm. The fact that they are difficult to access prods humans to discover them more fully.

Even in the phenomenal realm, humans cannot help but discover the unknown. What is off the edge of the map? What is inside an atom? How big is space, and what is it made of? What consistent patterns can be defined by equation? Why is the sky blue? All of these questions have prodded humans to discover.

We want to know what we don’t already know. Thus, the noumenal realm is endlessly fascinating. This is where Art comes into the picture.


Too Much

The above image is likely recognizable from my banner. As I discussed in my last post, the image is a product of my synesthesia. This will help me divulge more about what my music-image synesthesia does.

The image is a painting of the opening of the song Too Much by Sufjan Stevens, off his new album Age of Adz.  Each element of the image is a specific part of the song. When I listen to music, the whole orchestration creates a whole orchestration of images. It would be impossible for me to paint a whole song, because music is never stationary. If I could create a shape/color movie it would be closer to my synesthetic experience.

The opening synth creates a low bubbling noise, which is the yellow circles at the bottom left. The red burst shape is the scraping sound behind it. This crescendos into the basic track of the song, at which point it turns to blue/black. The black ribbon reaching diagonally to the right represents the hand claps, with the lined white sections representing the actual claps.  The black right angles represent the hi-hat clicking in the background and the yellow orange patch is the lower bass sounds.

It is far from an accurate representation of what I see. The details of the image in my mind are as complex and varied as the piece of music itself. If you listen to the song over and over (as with many songs) you’ll hear sounds you never noticed before, and with each new sound is an image I never noticed before. I truncated the image in order to create something compositionally cohesive, and my painting skills are no match for my synesthesia. But alas, I try.