Reflections on Beauty

Reflections on Beauty

Miklos Nicolaus Legrady


Beauty is a blessing and curse, at times superficial yet bred in the bone. Beauty has an especially bad reputation right now, so merely to mention the subject might cost the writer some credibility in the art community; “ What is the matter with you? Get with the program, stuckist; beauty is out!” And yet, and yet…

Paul Dirac said that when he finds beauty in his equations he knows he’s on the right path to progress; Einstein agreed. A feeling of beauty is found in images of a verdant landscape under a blue sky with fluffy clouds. Over a million years we learned in the bone that such sights mean it will be warm today, and there’s good hunting in this valley. Our notion of beauty often leads to passing on of the perceiver’s DNA; the late Denis Dutton’s youtube video “A Darwinian theory of beauty” says that art is not a social construct, instead we must look to biology for art’s meaning and function.

In that scenario, beauty is an instinct, as Dutton suggests. It functions as an attractor to the conscious mind, which doesn’t realize why but finds itself drawn to this experience. Being an instinct, we recognize the doubled edged nature of attraction, how it can lead to a Nobel prize or to a prison cell, depending on the nature and character of the subject, so we know of instincts’ power. Instincts rule animal behavior; their instructions were developed in an evolutionary race to the survival of the fittest. Consciousness was a latecomer, most evident in humans, although crows have been measured at the intelligence of a seven year old. We also know that dolphins and whales have bigger brains than we ourselves, we may speculate on what level of complexity, consciousness, or communication they achieved underwater.

Instincts direct our mind as it experience those inner prompts to think and act, be it to smile for the first time at someone who later becomes your friend, or decide to take one path and not the other, based on an intuition. Thus instincts command consciousness without our being conscious of the fact, following ancestral lines of least resistance, groves of emotional codes and behavior patterns. We see these patterns in the universal yet banal language of love, that conveys such wonderful feelings to the lovers but not those outside the magic. Love as instinct has befuddled many and it serves as a good example of the dark side of brightness; we hall had our fingers burned by love while reaching for the morsel in the fire.

But love is also an instinct that can bind people into relationships, just as beauty is also an instinct leading to scientific discoveries on one hand, beautiful works of art on the other, poems in a non-verbal language. And poems come from the depths of the unconscious, as much shaped by instincts hiding within us. Dutton’s linking beauty to biology suggests the meaning of art is that it develops an subtlety and complexity, creates a a higher consciousness. The great physicist Hermann Weyl once said: "My work always tried to unite the true with the beautiful, but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful." But is this actually good advice for doing physics?  Most physicists believe you don’t need to chose between the two, that beauty is a powerful guiding force towards truth.

A devolution may explain the postmodern desire to discard beauty. Perhaps our minds are now too complex, a intricacy which we have not matured enough to control, so the mind turns delusional from confusion like MAGA who believe Trump was sent by God to clear the swamp. Perhaps the average citizen needs to mature to in logic and reason before we further expand our mind’s complexity.

Discarding beauty as a postmodern strategy comes with warnings, a caveat. It is an idea rooted in Duchamp, an assumption that art should be conceptual, intellectual, rather than ruled by non-verbal languages expressed in feelings and sensory value judgments. Recent science proved the nopn-verbal languages are vital. The only art where intellect dominates is literate, the written language. Science has demonstrated that in the sphere of sound we have created an acoustics language, and that movements encode body language, in the making of images we made visual language. And aesthetics shall rule them all, for aesthetics is the syntax and grammar of non-verbal speech, just as aesthetics shapes the clarity in Paul Dirac’s equations.


Miklos Nikolaus Legrady

Visual artist and Toronto editor at the New Art Examiner

Published on August 28, 2022.

Cite this article: Miklos N. Legrady, “Reflections on Beauty,” Contemporary Aesthetics Volume (2022), accessed date.