Beau·ty: a combination of qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses…
Beauty: noun (plural beauties)
[MASS NOUN] A combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight: ‘I was struck by her beauty’ or ‘an area of outstanding natural beauty’
But why does beauty exist? What’s the point of marveling at a Gogh masterpiece or a orchestration by Beethoven?
To paraphrase Auden, beauty makes nothing happen. Unlike our more primal indulgences, the pleasure of witnessing beauty doesn’t ensure that we consume calories or procreate. Rather, the only thing beauty guarantees is that we’ll stare for too long at something aesthetically pleasing. I tend to view beauty as a branch of curiosity that exists only in response to sensation, not just input information. It’s the click that happens when we glance at something and, even though we can’t explain why, want to see more. But here’s something I learnt in my time researching today: the hook of beauty, like the hook of curiosity, is a response to an incompleteness within us. It’s what happens when we can’t help but feel something missing, when there’s a unresolved gap. Like when a puzzle is almost complete, but you can’t find the last piece. In relevance to this sense I’d like to quote Edgar Allen Poe: “Beauty of whatever kind, in it’s supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”
Although the aesthetic emotion might have begun as a cognitive signal telling us to keep on looking, because there is a pattern here that we can figure it out; it’s a sort of a hunch, a response to complexity that isn’t incomprehensible. Although we can’t quite decipher the purpose behind this sensation – and it doesn’t matter if the sensation is a painting or a symphony – the beauty keeps us from looking away, tickling the parts of our brains that give us pleasure. Like curiosity, beauty is a motivational force, an emotional reaction not to the perfect or the complete, but to the imperfect and incomplete. We know just enough to know that we want to know more; there is something here, we just don’t what. That’s why we use the word: beautiful.