Huxsterly?

Aldous Huxley (1990) asked whether we are not compelled by the very nature of our being to conform to the natural forms and rhythms within and about us? In our appreciation and creation of beauty, we resonate with and borrow from the forms of nature. The natural world is the template with which we resonate. In discussing the discovery within the last two hundred years of new forms of art which have revitalized Western art, the cave paintings of paleolithic artists and the so-called primitive art of non-literate peoples, Huxley attributed the extraordinary power of this art to the fact that language had not been much developed yet in these cultures. These people were able to think in non-conceptual terms and call forth from their primary experience with form the power to move the soul. With the development of conceptual language, we became capable of thinking about what we experience in nature, instead of feeling it.

But, it is through feeling the beauty of form, the beauty of appearance, that the soul is most easily moved. When you find yourself drawn to a piece of music, a sculpture or a landscape in a primary way, without thinking about i t , and in such a way that you could say your very soul was resonating with it, you are experiencing the beauty of form. Experience of the Order With the development of written language five thousand years ago, Huxley (1990) pointed out that we get a new kind of beauty and art which is so completely conceptualized that it looks like the product of man reveling 10 language. The arts then began to carry the wonderful new ideas created by concepts of order created through complex language development The origin of our word cosmos is in a similar Greek word meaning fitting order. This order, as far as we know, was first articulated by Pythagoros, the Greek philosopher of geometry and music theory, in the 6th century B.C. There appears to have been an intellectual continuum at that time stretching from Greece, through Egypt and Mesopotamia, to possibly as far as China. Pythagoros was known to have traveled widely, so it is likely that his sense of cosmic order borrows from a number of traditions. The laws of the cosmos were first set down by him as laws of music. He distinguished between three sorts of music • first the music made by instruments such as harps; second, the unheard inner music made by each human organism, especially the harmonious resonances between the soul and the body; and third, the music of the cosmos itself. All three concepts of musical order and beauty are still with us. It was the Greeks who first ascribed to music the power to soothe the savage breast, to heal and to bring peace to the human psyche. The unheard music resonating between body and soul of the human organism is what we would call the music of psychology. The musical order of the cosmos continues to provide the aesthetic base line of cosmic thinkers from symphonic composers to physicists (James, 1993). As soon as Pythagoras discovered the arithmetical relationships between the harmonic intervals of the major scale in music, he applied them to the relationships of the then known spheres of the universe: the sun, the moon and the known planets.

The music of the spheres continues to be the most enduring metaphor of order and beauty (James, 1993). When you contemplate with rapture the exploration of space, the unfolding of the Big Bang Theory, or the structure of an atom you are experiencing beauty on the level of fitting order. Experience of Beauty Inherent in the World To the ancient Greeks, beauty was inherent in the world; it was simply there. It is not hard to imagine the Greeks of Athen’s Golden Age appreciating the beauty of their world directly through the senses, through resonance with natural forms or through appreciation of order. Their approach to beauty would depend on the way beauty presented itself in any given situation. The ability and versatility to be deeply in touch with beauty on all of these three levels may account for the remarkable accomplishments of that age. The third century philosopher of love and beauty, Plotinus (1952), amplifying on the Greek tradition, asserted that people and objects possess beauty when they are true to their own being. Something that is not beautiful is that which is not following its natural form, its fitting order. It is out of alignment with its own being at that moment in time, yet its true beauty remains inherent within it. Likewisew, we often take the beauty around us for granted or miss its presence entirely because we do not examine the things around us carefully enough. It is from the Greek tradition that James Hillman (1992) suggested that we “imagine that beauty is permanently given, inherent to the world in its data, there on display always” (p. 20). In his eloquent essay, The Practice of Beauty , Hillman asserted that beauty is repressed in our culture precisely because we do not know that it is inherent and do not see it. He said we cannot talk about beauty because we cannot define it and consequently do not know what we are talking about. He presented current perversions of the traditional Greek definitions of beauty, the experience of the senses, of form.

In the perception of the world directly through the senses, Hillman argued that, in an age of narcissism, desire no longer reaches into the world, but instead flows inward. The experience of asthetic arrest described by Campbell is not available to a society preoccupied with itself. The experience of form, or “beauty in the eye of the beholder”, becomes culturally distorted today when we immediately want to know who the experts are and what they say. These expert roles we assign to art critics, museum directors and ultimately the auction houses where beauty degenerates to commercialism and price determines taste. Regarding our cultural distortions of order, Hillman noted how often we get lost in the formal properties of art, its composition, rhythm, color, and texture. When this happens, beauty gets reduced to conceptual formalisms. I agree with Hillman that these distortions exist in our culture. The topic of beauty has been taken over by philosophers and sentimentalists. The philosophers often reduce the feeling of beauty to conceptual formalisms while the sentimentalists turn elegant order and form into sweet platitudes, trends this paper hopes to reverse. I still consider the original Greek sense of the definitions of beauty valid and useful to us in unveiling our perceptions of the cosmos. How do we open our eyes to see the beauty that surrounds us?


April 11, 2018

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