Aesthetics and Character

Being an artist and philosopher, I have a compounded interest in beauty and its nature. To me, beauty is a very complex perception that seems to only arise in the confines of a subjective mind. What seems to be beautiful to one person may look like ugliness, even trash, to another. I’ve thought at times that even though people might disagree about the beauty of specific things, perhaps on a more general level individuals are judging beauty from objective standpoints that are similar. How can a subject be objective in their judgments (regarding beauty or any other thing)? To be a subject, and to have objectivity seems like a contradiction to me (even though I perceive this contradiction objectively?).

As an artist, this puzzle is one that brings me despair at times. As an artist, I want the things I make to be beautiful (though not all artists may want this). I want the things I make to be beautiful in their own right, to people now and in the future. I want things I make to be beautiful not simply because I think they are beautiful. If only I think they are beautiful, then perhaps they are not. As an artist I need positive feedback from my audience, partly because I am making art for an audience and I want them to enjoy it. I feel this especially hard as an individual who does not easily call anything beautiful. I have very high standards and I very easily call things trash, though I will never deny that something is art — I will simply call it “bad art.” I imagine someone with equally high standards, looking at my work with disgust.

I read Edmond Burk’s Beauty and the Sublime, which helped me understand the human condition and the dreads that come with being a subject, but beauty still seems fickle and even illogical. In order to continue making art I needed to find a purpose other than what is beautiful to me. Simultaneously, I started thinking about the kind of people who make one form of art or another, or the type of character that is needed to make one thing or another. It takes one kind of person to make art about the glories of war, another to make art about chaos, or romance, cuteness, despair, or anger. In addition, it takes a certain kind of character to work in a factory, a laboratory, hospital, corporate headquarters, a mall or to work as a truck driver. I have started to look at making (be it making art or sandwiches, cars or weapons, computer programs or TV advertising) as action representative of our character. It seemed entirely possible that beauty does not really exist (as anything other than an illusion) in a objective sense, but our personal character (a response to the dreads of life, the core of what makes us choose to do or be one thing or another) will give us a sense about beauty because character is what helps us to choose what kind of art to make or what I might do or be in my life, what I will value, and what I will call beautiful. People with different kinds of character will see beauty in different kinds of things. Even the most disturbing things can be beautiful to people who have disturbing character.

Aesthetics and character are linked together just as severely as food and flavor. A selfish fool will see beauty in what can serve him. A brutal man will see beauty in violence, while a gentle man will be made sick by it. A careless man will laugh at negligence, while a careful man will despise it. A kind man will see beauty in gratitude, while an unkind man will find gratitude meaningless. Beauty is therefore not necessarily something that resides in things themselves but is a response derived from the character of the perceiver or subject.

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