Tag Archive: Kant

Love and Beauty

In Bed: The Kiss, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

In Bed: The Kiss, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

As the greeting card, chocolate, and flower industries refused to let anyone forget, Valentine’s Day was last week. Actually having an enjoyable Valentine’s Day for the first time in probably ever got me thinking about the effects love might have on beauty and our perception of it. Love itself is an interesting concept since it’s a fairly fundamental aspect of human life, yet no one can really explain it well. What it means, and the varying types and degrees of love seem to vary widely from person to person. But I won’t be tackling love itself too much, just the effect it might have on aesthetics.
I suppose I’ll start with the obvious, which is that Kant would be having none of this. Something can’t be beautiful if love is involved because that would mean interest. And for there to be beauty there must be disinterest. Once interest is involved the best it can be is pleasant or good, not beautiful. Yet, and I think Kant may agree, love itself can be beautiful. If the beautiful is really more about a moment than an object then it seems to follow that a moment of love can be beautiful. Or maybe it’s just different. Actually, come to think of it, Kant probably wouldn’t agree, because in a moment of love there’s still interest, so it wouldn’t count. Kant seemed to be a bit of a stickler about that. I have the feeling he’d be outnumbered on this though. I think a lot of people would argue that love can be beautiful, and that things you love can be beautiful.
What about artwork which take on love as its subject? Do we tend to find these pieces more beautiful than others? Certainly I think some people are drawn more towards images of love, but I don’t think that necessarily makes those works more beautiful than others. There are plenty of pieces depicting hateful moments that are just as beautiful. Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina is definitely not about love, the subject itself isn’t beautiful, but the way he was able to work the marble and make it look squishy like human flesh…that is beautiful. So maybe love doesn’t have that big of an impact on what art we find beautiful.

The Rape of Proserpina, Bernini, 1621-22, marble

detail of The Rape of Proserpina, Bernini, 1621-22, marble

Though there is another way love can affect the viewer. If someone is in love, are they more likely to find things beautiful? Obviously that’s an incredibly subjective question that I can’t reasonable find a real answer to. But I think it could. Generally when people are in love they’re happier and it’s easier to see the beauty in things when feeling good, as opposed to when sad (obviously you don’t have to be in love to be happy and you can be sad when in love, but you know what I mean). So while the beauty of a work may remain the same, people may be more likely to appreciate it when they’re in love.
Lastly there’s the effect of love on the artists themselves to take into consideration. Are artists who are in love more likely to create beautiful works? This is pretty much along eh same lines as the viewer in love question. If an artist is in love with his or her subject, what kind of impact does that have on the final piece? Is it more likely to be beautiful? Bringing Kant back into it, I wonder if pieces are more beautiful when the artist is disinterested in the subject than when in love with it. It’d be interesting to find out, though I’m not entirely sure how to go about doing so. There’s also the idea that an artist might be more inspired to create in general when in love, and especially to create beautiful things. Love can be a powerful inspiration. Of course you don’t have to be in love to create beautiful things; many beautiful pieces have been born from misery.
It seems the best I can do is barely scratch the surface of this topic. I welcome any other thoughts on the subject though, and perhaps I’ll revisit it at a later date.
Venus and Adonis, Rubens, early 1600s, oil on panel

Venus and Adonis, Rubens, early 1600s, oil on panel


Colorful Contemplations

            Standing in front of a wall of paint chips was the inspiration for this post.  It got me thinking about colors.  I love colors.  It’s hard for me to pick a favorite or least favorite color.  I tend to gravitate towards the cooler colors, but I’m a sucker for a retro print full of reds, oranges and yellows as well.  There’s no denying that colors can be beautiful.  Black and white works can be beautiful too though.  So what is color’s role in beauty?

            I believe it was Kant who said that color has no place in beauty, or something to that effect (I’m too lazy to look it up, but it’d be somewhere in the 3rd Critique).  I think Kant’s view is a little bit extreme, but it does make you think.  I think color does have a place in beauty, since colors themselves can be beautiful.  But color is not needed for beauty.  I think it really varies piece by piece.  You can’t just slather color on something and expect it to be beautiful.  But neither can you expect something to be beautiful just because it’s black and white.  It makes me think of sculpture.  A lot of the old statues and monuments were originally painted and very colorful.  Through the centuries the paint has chipped away or faded so we can only see them as whatever the color of their medium.  We find them beautiful as they are now, but were they more beautiful then with all their color?  Or did the color take away from the beauty of the sculpture?  It’s hard to say.  Maybe a test of beauty is if it can be beautiful in color and in black and white (or I guess just without color).  But I’m not sure even that works, since bright, colorful sunsets are beautiful, but they wouldn’t be nearly as impressive without the color.

            I’m sure I’d feel differently if I were colorblind and couldn’t see some or any colors.  I’m sure if it’s something you were born with colorblindness isn’t that bad.  But personally I think it’d be very depressing to not see the world in all its colorful glory.  I feel so torn.  I want to say that it’s not color that makes things beautiful, but the colors themselves are beautiful, so I don’t know.  Color definitely has a place in beauty; it’s just a bit tricky figuring out the degree of its importance.

color vs. black and white:

color flowers by me, 2010

black and white flowers by me, 2010

The Cute Conundrum

          As I sit here playing fetch with an almost frustratingly eager to please Labrador I am once again confronted with cute.  I’ve been thinking a lot about cute lately, after starting my new job, and trying to figure out its place in aesthetics.  I’m not sure any philosophers have tackled cute, but I will try.  Certainly cute is pleasing.  Most people would rather look at cute than ugly.  But it’s not the same as beauty – just ask someone who’s been called cute instead of beautiful.  They seem very similar, but yet somehow worlds apart.  I feel certain that Kant would dismiss cute as part of the pleasant and not the beautiful.  And maybe he’s right.  Or maybe cute is kind of a subset of the beautiful.  The cute has a way of getting to you, sometimes in a way similar to beauty.  Maybe it’s a biological thing.  Beauty may inspire art, but cute inspires nurturing.  Both can invoke a sense of wanting to capture and preserve.  When you see beauty, you want to have it. When you see cute you want to cuddle it.  Cute can melt your heart while beauty can set it aflutter. 

            But why does beauty get so much more attention than cute?  I think cute is getting more attention these days than it did previously, with websites like http://cuteoverload.com and http://icanhascheezburger.com.  But beauty still seems to be above cute in the hierarchy of things.  I suppose at its core it really could be a biological thing.  Beauty gets more attention because it’s more closely related to reproduction.  Or going the more romantic route, beauty gets more attention because it’s more closely associated with love. Not that you can’t love cute things, but it tends to be a different, less romantic, more nurturing love. 

In the end, maybe it all comes down to awe-inspiring versus aww-inspiring.  I think cute does have a place in aesthetics though, even if it’s not as highly regarded as beauty.  There is room for both of them and I think it’s time that cute claim its place. 

(photo borrowed from cuteoverload)