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On Beauty

Seeking Definition
O.G. Rose

What do we talk about when we talk about beauty? If Wittgenstein is correct that ‘the limits
of my language mean the limits of my world’, then it would seem to follow that ‘the expressions of
my language are the expressions of my world’. Hence, if we can pin down a clear way a word is used
and separate it from how other words are used, we might also be able to isolate a distinct experience
and/or ‘use’, and thus arrive at a ‘distinct meaning’ (assuming there is one). From Wittgenstein we
can then move into phenomenology: the effort to define a word becomes the effort to define an
experience – to achieve meaning.
If when I say ‘that is beautiful’ I mean ‘that stands out’, there is little difference between the
words ‘beauty’ and ‘uniqueness’, and furthermore everything that is ‘one of one’ is beautiful, when
something like a dead cow, even though the only dead cow in the world that will ever be that dead
cow, isn’t necessarily beautiful (though that isn’t to say it couldn’t be used in an art piece). As love
often entails acknowledging uniqueness but isn’t uniqueness itself, so the same can be said of beauty.
If I were to see the same rock a hundred times, though I might have found it beautiful the first time,
after a while, it can become boring. Hence, when I say ‘that is beautiful’, I must mean to some
degree ‘that is rare’ and/or ‘that is un-repetitive’, but it doesn’t follow that everything that is rare is
necessarily beautiful or that the goal of beauty is to be unique. Beauty entails uniqueness, but isn’t
merely uniqueness.
Beauty surprises. When I step out of my house and see a sunset I didn’t know was there, I
am more taken by the beauty: the surprise enhances the experience. This isn’t to say that everything
that is surprising is beautiful, and if when I say ‘that is beautiful’ I mean ‘that is surprising’, there is
no difference between the words ‘beauty’ and ‘surprising’. Yet beauty does seem to be surprising or
at least enhanced when it is surprising, for it seems to better ‘get past’ our preset ideas, expectations,
thoughts, and the like – we experience it before we have an idea of it. Yes, our ideas then quickly
race in and ‘cover’ it, but initially what is beautiful strikes us more so ‘as itself’, more free of our
concepts than just moments later. Considering this, because there is a connection between
‘unexpected’ and ‘beauty’, ‘originality’ is often an element of beautiful artwork, because for
something to be original is to be precisely something that the observer has not experienced before.
Originality surprises.
To borrow from Walker Percy, imagine that you had never heard of the Grand Canyon –
never seen a picture of it, never heard the phrase ‘Grand Canyon’, etc. – and imagine that you
walked out of a forest –
And there it was.
The surprise, the uniqueness, the sublimity – it is likely impossible for people like us in a
photo-filled-world to imagine what this experience would be like. For Percy, a world full of
photographs and images is a world where ‘original experiences’ are increasingly hard to come by,
and in that respect, so is beauty. For Percy, we now more so visit the Grand Canyon to confirm
pictures we’ve seen of it, and now it’s seemingly impossible for us to experience the Eifel Tower
without already having some ideas and images of it. It is increasingly difficult to be ‘entirely open’ to
things and to ‘let them speak to us as themselves’. This isn’t because we will to ‘color over’ things
with our thoughts, preset ideas, and the like, but because the mind naturally does so (especially when
trained by technology). Despite these obstacles, when we experience something beautiful, the thing
still manages to ‘get past’ our thoughts, and in this way, it is surprising; by extension, it is also
unique, for that which isn’t unique is that which we’ve already experienced formulated
preconceptions about, stuffed into mental categories, and so on.
I

When I say ‘that is beautiful’, I must mean ‘that is surprising and unique’, but if the word
‘beauty’ is to have distinct meaning, it must mean something else than ‘surprising’ and/or ‘unique’.
Additionally, if when I say ‘that is beautiful’ I mean ‘that is pretty’, there is no difference between
‘beautiful’ and ‘pretty’: the word ‘beauty’ lacks distinction. Clearly what is beautiful entails aesthetic
pleasure, but not everything that is aesthetically pleasing is necessarily beautiful. Yes, as people may
use the words ‘like’ and ‘love’ interchangeably though the words don’t mean the same thing (as
discussed in “On Love” by O.G. Rose), so people may use ‘beautiful’ and ‘pretty’ interchangeably
even though they are distinct. The well-made cover of a book might be pleasing to my eyes, but it is
not ‘beautiful’ in the same way as is a well-crafted dance. Yes, both are arguably crafts and art-forms,
but a well-made book cover, table, or house almost feel to be in an entirely different category from
the Grand Canyon or a masterful performance of Swan Lake. Perhaps ‘beauty’ means ‘a great
aesthetic pleasure’ while ‘pretty’ refers to a lesser one? Perhaps, but then ‘beauty’ and ‘pleasure’ are
both points on the same scale of ‘aesthetic pleasure’, and the two words lack truly distinct meaning,
as using the word ‘love’ to refer to something I ‘really like’ ultimately renders ‘love’ a mere simile for
‘like’, different only in (relative) intensity.
When it comes to aesthetic pleasure, there are lots of words that can be used – ‘lovely’,
‘picturesque’, ‘scenic’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘stunning’, ‘attractive’ – and ‘beautiful’ is often used as another
word like these, one among the many. And yet ‘beauty’ has a deep, philosophical history of meaning
‘something more’ that these other words just don’t capture (though perhaps these words can ‘point
to’ it). Perhaps the history of philosophy is misguided, but if ‘beauty’ does in fact have some distinct
meaning from ‘aesthetic pleasure’, it mustn’t only mean ‘pretty’. Indeed, beauty can entail a high
level of aesthetic pleasure, but if ‘beauty’ has distinct meaning, it isn’t merely aesthetically pleasing:
there’s something more to it.

II

If when I say ‘that is beautiful’ I mean ‘that is subjective’, the word ‘beautiful’ has no distinct
meaning from ‘subjective’. ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is a common phrase, but does it
mean that beauty is relative in a manner that renders it meaningless? Indeed, what is aesthetically
pleasing is relative: one person may dislike the works of Picasso, while another may find them
gorgeous. What is aesthetically pleasing is subjective, but is it the case that what is subjective lacks
any ‘common core’? Are there no universal characteristics of things that are beautiful that ‘summon
out’ subjective admiration (though that’s not to say all subjectivities respond to the summoning)? If
not, the effort to define beauty might be hopeless, for all definitions will be too easily deconstructed.
‘Subjective’ is a troublesome word, and it should be noted that we often use it as if ‘I alone
think x’. Though I may subjectively believe a given painting is beautiful, that doesn’t necessarily
mean I am the only person in the world who thinks this way: there may be others, if not many
others, who from within their subjectivities, agree that the painting is beautiful. To say ‘that is
subjective’ is to say ‘that is relative’, which is to say ‘that is conditional’ more so than something
solpistic.1 In other words, in order to find x beautiful, there are certain conditions that must be met
by the observer, which not everyone may meet.
In order to find Shakespeare beautiful, I must learn how to read; in order to be amazed by
Mozart, I mustn’t be talking on my cell-phone during a concert; and so on. Professors teach their
classes that if they really want to appreciate a work of art, they must learn to cultivate their capacities
to absorb work (take a book like Ulysses by James Joyce or The Sound and the Fury by William
Faulkner), that there are conditions that must be met if the beauty of a work is to be fully
experienced. This doesn’t mean the work isn’t beautiful, but that experiencing beauty requires
‘something to happen within’ the person experiencing it. This applies to nature just as much as it
does to books: if as a child my best friend drowned in a lake, it will be more difficult for me to find
lakes beautiful than someone who didn’t suffer such a trauma; if as a child I played in the woods, it
might be easier for me to find trees beautiful than those who lived in cities all of their lives (on the
other hand, it might be harder for me, being so used to trees, while the city-dweller might be ‘open’
to the forest, having no preset ideas). In other words, my internal life impacts what strikes me as
beautiful, not because what is beautiful is ‘all in the head’, but because there are conditions that must
be met in order for a person to ‘receive’ (the experience of) beauty. Beauty is conditional, not
illusionary.
To say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is a valid statement if it means ‘there are
conditions the eye must meet if it is to grasp what it beholds as ‘beautiful’ ’, but if the phrase is used
to mean ‘beauty is merely subjective’, the phrase is invalid. Indeed, there is something individual to
beauty: it speaks to me (though that doesn’t mean it speaks to no one else), and perhaps for reasons I
might not even be able to put into words (it perhaps being a matter of the subconscious and/or
‘high order complexity’, to use language from “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose). That said,
that which is ‘beautiful’ as opposed to simply ‘pretty’ is that which actually (more so) transcends
subjectivity, ‘standing over it, calling it up’, per se, even though it is the case that I must cultivate my
subjectivity to be able to hear its calling. Beauty calls something out of us while also asking us to
develop the capacities to hear its summoning, though we paradoxically are often deaf to its calls. We
often simply have to know we need to develop these capacities, but the more we experience beauty,
the more we learn to have faith in what we cannot hear and to work on developing our internal life
until the music reaches us.
Though beauty might be an experience everyone can have, it isn’t the case that everyone will
necessarily experience a given thing as beautiful. Everyone experiences beauty generally (perhaps
some more than others), but not a given thing as beautiful (and why one experiences this as
beautiful and not that is a matter of ‘high order complexity’), similar to how everyone agrees murder
is wrong, but not on what exactly constitutes murder. Beauty is something everyone experiences
either through music, a sunset, a touch of dawn light, or what have you, but not everyone
experiences James Joyce as beautiful (and perhaps they don’t meet the conditions for experiencing
such for reasons in their control or perhaps outside their control – hard to say). And yet this isn’t
because Joyce isn’t beautiful, but because we have to ‘raise ourselves up’ to grasp Joyce, yet the very
experience of Joyce, even in our ignorance, ‘calls us’ to understand it. Arguably, the fact it so ‘calls’ is
a sign of its beauty, even though we might find Ulysses nonsense. Perhaps the book only calls
because experts tell us it is a great book, but the very fact that experts find it a great book means
there is reason to believe there is beauty there that can be experienced if certain conditions are met.2
The question is only whether we will choose to meet them.

III

Does everything in the world ‘call’ like Ulysses? Perhaps: I don’t believe it is possible for
anyone to say for sure that any given thing doesn’t ‘call’ to at least one person in the world, if not all
of us (with most being deaf to the summons). What about a dead rat? This brings us to the question
of if it is possible for something to be so ugly, offensive, rude, etc. that it cannot be beautiful to at
least one person on the planet. Christians find the cross ‘beautiful’, but many early Romans found it
ugly and monstrous, but it should be noted that Christians only find the cross glorious because they
believe Christ rose from the dead; had this not occurred, the cross, like an electronic chair, would
probably be hideous to Christians as well. Considering this, the beauty of the cross to Christians is
tied to what it means to them: it is not the cross itself which they find beautiful, but the cross plus its
symbolism – what it ‘points to’. Hence, if a person finds something like a dead rat ‘beautiful’, it is
probably because the dead rat means something to the person, though I don’t mean to say it is
impossible for someone to exist who finds beautiful the way the dead rat lies on the ground. Yet if
someone finds ‘the lay of the rate’ beautiful, it does follow that the dead rat at least means ‘I am
beautiful’ to the person observing it (and/or ‘I am’). Please note that this claim isn’t circular logic,
because the dead rat isn’t the phrase ‘I am beautiful’, but rather ‘the experience of the dead rat’
means to the person observing it ‘I am beautiful’, as it is not circular logic to say ‘the-thing-of-a-cat
means ‘cat’ (to English speakers).
Beauty means. It is a meaning, and yet not simply a meaning lest saying ‘that is beautiful’ is
no different from saying ‘that is a word’ and/or ‘that is a symbol’. Beauty is ‘pointed to’ by signifiers,
as words are signifiers of their definitions: to see a tree as beautiful is to see it like a word. What
signifies beauty to one person doesn’t necessary signify the same to another person, but it is the case
that whenever someone experiences a thing as beautiful, the person experiences a signifier.
Throughout the day, we experience countless entities, most of which are ‘invisible’ to us (like a
doorknob that works, to allude to Heidegger). What is ‘invisible’ is necessarily not ‘beautiful’ to us;
beauty is necessarily ‘visible’. And as a doorknob that’s unexpectedly broken causes us to stop and
look at it, so what is beautiful stops us in our tracks. We don’t passively say ‘that’s beautiful’ unless
we use the word as a mere simile for ‘pretty’: beauty stops us. We don’t experience most things in
life as signifiers, but what we suddenly experience as ‘beautiful’ is different. In a sense, something
within us ‘breaks the thing’ from being a non-signifier into being a signifier (to us), making it ‘point
to’ something more than itself. As we read meanings onto words from words, we experience beauty
onto things from those things. There would be no beauty without observers, and yet things are
needed for observers to see and for sight to matter.3
Beauty freezes: it is a meaning that suspends us in a moment of life by moving us; beauty is
‘awe-full’. We are walking through a city, caught up in our own thoughts, and suddenly there is a
rose growing out of the concrete. We stop. We look. We see something after hours of watching the
invisible movie inside our heads. And there the external world is in the form of a rose in a city.4
Misplaced. Unexpected. In our eyes. And it means. ‘You are alive.’ We see.
We’re lost on a college campus, having grown up on a farm all our life, trying to find our
class, nervous. We pass the music center, one of the windows is open, and we hear Beethoven’s 9th –
Dad’s favorite song. We stop. The anxiety washes away. We look up. ‘Everything will be alright.’ We
hear.
Beauty hopes. Perhaps not a lot, but beauty creates hope and inspiration. In addition, to
whatever else beauty signifies, it seems to mean ‘there is hope’. Personally, I cannot imagine a
genuine experience of beauty that doesn’t make the observer feel that life isn’t totally a waste
(though that’s not to say the observer can’t forget his or her experiences of beauty amidst ‘the slings
and arrows’ of life and despair moments later). Yet if when I say ‘that is beautiful’ I mean ‘that is
hopeful’, ‘beauty’ and ‘hope’ lack distinct meaning’. Still, what is beautiful is that which is ‘visible’ in
a world of mostly ‘invisible’ things, and in this way it at least creates the hope that things can be
‘visible’ (including yourself). Additionally, to find something beautiful is to find proof that the world
isn’t all bad, that there is the possibility of something that makes life more like living than surviving.
Yes, cynicism can immediately creep in, and I can ‘think away’ the experience of beauty, but at least
in the moment of the experience of beauty itself, there is a suspension of cynicism. Of sorrow. Of
loss. Hope.

IV
To one person, an earlobe could be the stained-glass window in reality through which beauty
shines over them; to another, it is the eyes of their wife.5 Perhaps a dead rat can be the ‘crack in
reality through which beauty shines’ over someone, but this only seems realistically possible if the
person can project onto it a meaning that exists within the observer (perhaps the last thing the
person’s mother did before she died was heroically remove a dead rat from his or her bedroom).
Considering this, beauty entails meaning, and it seems possible because humans are capable of
‘seeing a thing as it is not’ – of understanding symbols and signifiers.
An interesting question arises: is it the case that the more beautiful something is, the more
everyone agrees that it is beautiful, as the more true a thing becomes, the more all agree it is true
(consider 2 + 2 = 4); the more good, the more all agree it is good (consider helping the oppressed)?
If this is the case, it doesn’t mean that everything that is beautiful, good, and true is universally
agreed on as such, but it does mean that the beauty, goodness, and validity of a thing increasing as
does its universal acknowledgment. The more beautiful a thing is, the more the thing speaks to
everyone in their particularity universally (for reasons of ‘high order complexity’ that may transcend
intelligibility): everyone internally meets the conditions necessary for grasping the thing as ‘beautiful’.
Who disagrees that the Grand Canyon is beautiful? A blind man? But this isn’t necessarily because
the Grand Canyon isn’t beautiful, but because the blind man cannot see it: the beauty isn’t lacking,
just the capacity to behold it (a condition isn’t met). Hence, the right question is ‘who doesn’t think
the Grand Canyon is beautiful who can see it?’, and I doubt few would say ‘me’.
If beauty increases as does universality, it would follow that the Grand Canyon is more
beautiful than Ulysses, for less people find Ulysses beautiful. Perhaps this is the case, but I would
argue that we can’t say either is more or less beautiful than the other; we can only say that the beauty
of the Grand Canyon is ‘more apparent’ than the beauty of Ulysses. In other words, it is easier for a
given person to meet the conditions necessary for experiencing the beauty of the Grand Canyon
than for Ulysses. This may mean that the Grand Canyon is less beautiful than Ulysses, because
appreciating Ulysses requires more work and hence is more meaningful to those who love it. On the
other hand, the fact the Grand Canyon is easier to experience as beautiful might be evidence that it
is more beautiful than Ulysses.
Personally, I am of the opinion that we can’t say either way, for we can’t say for sure if the
beauty of a thing increases as does its universal ‘apparentness’ or if it increases relative to ‘the bar of
cultivation’ that must be passed to experience it. What can be said for sure though is that the more
you cultivate your internal life, the more beauty you will be able to experience. Beauty will appear
more often to you, though it cannot be said for sure that ‘better’ beauty will be experienced.
Fortunately, it isn’t the case that the more beauty you experience, the less meaningful it becomes:
beauty always means, and because it is always unique and surprising, it is never redundant and
boring. Unlike food, exercise, and some other goods, you cannot have too much beauty.

If when I said ‘that is beautiful’ I meant ‘that makes me happy’, there would be no
meaningful difference between ‘beautiful’ and ‘enjoyable’. Certainly, beauty is something to be
enjoyed, but it isn’t merely pleasurable, and not everything that is enjoyable is necessarily beautiful
(such as a game of tag or laughing at a joke). Why is beauty pleasurable? Not only because it creates
a sense of hope, but because it is like looking in the mirror and seeing someone you admire. What is
beautiful to a person is something that ‘means’ to that individual, and why it does so is relative to
who that person is in his or her particularity. Considering this, beauty is necessarily ‘reflective’, and
what is beautiful to a person is that which somehow shares in the person’s image and likeness (in
ways that perhaps not even the observer can put into words). This isn’t to say that beauty is
egotistical, but to say that beauty is individual, and as every human is universally an individual, so
every experience of beauty is likewise universally individual.6
Yet as beauty can cause pleasure, it can also cause anxiety, and it is perhaps because of this
risk that beauty can in fact incubate joy.7 As already pointed out, to say ‘beauty is individual’ isn’t to
say ‘beauty is an illusion’ or ‘irrational’: as human emotions aren’t fundamentally irrational but rather
often too complex for human rational to grasp, so it is the case that beauty isn’t beneath human
intellect but above it and complex in ways that transcend what the mind can fully grasp. Yes, the
mind can sometimes grasp it ‘in part’, but often the full reason a thing is beautiful to a person
(‘calling up’ that individual) is beyond what that person can understand. This isn’t because beauty is
‘nonsense’, but because beauty entails ‘sense’ beyond what enables humans to survive. Yet ‘high
order complexity’ is that which causes existential uncertainty, for we experience it as
‘incomprehensible’, the same way we experience a complete lack of complexity. Great genius and
great stupidity are both ‘beyond understanding’, and so when we experience one or the other, we
can wonder if we are experiencing genius or idiocy, substance or only an appearance of substance.
When we experience beauty, we can wonder if what we are experiencing is ‘truly beautiful’ or
only ‘seemingly beautiful’, as we can wonder if a modernist painting is ‘truly art’ or only ‘seemingly
art’.8 This can be existentially challenging, but we can calm ourselves if we recognize that an
experience of beauty is an experience of a (‘meaningful’) reflection, and that regardless if a given
thing is ‘actually beautiful’ (a question the answering of which might transcend intelligibility), the
very fact that it ‘draws out of you’ a reflection means the thing is valuable (to you at least), and
furthermore means ‘the thing itself’ is capable of ‘making you project onto it’ something that you
otherwise wouldn’t project out into the world before your eyes. The very fact it does this, for
whatever reason, is evidence that it is in fact ‘beautiful’, and since everything in the world could
potentially be such a ‘caller’ at least to someone, everything in the world is potentially ‘actually
beautiful’. If it is the case that a jagged rock is a ‘caller’ to just one person in the world, it doesn’t
mean the beauty of the rock is all in that person’s head, but rather that only one person in the world
is ‘conditioned’ and able to experience the ‘(actual) beauty’ of the rock itself. As it isn’t the case that
if I paint an old chair teal its beauty is an illusion, so it isn’t the case that if I project over a jagged
rock a memory that the rock’s beauty is fake.9 Furthermore, it is perhaps by painting the chair that
others will actually stop and look at it versus walk by and ignore it. Because of the paint, there is the
possibility of people actually being ‘open to’ (a thing) in the world that people would otherwise miss,
as because of memory, there is the possibility of people actually being open to the jagged rock itself.
Considering this, it isn’t the case that because things ‘call us’ that we cannot experience them; in fact,
it is only ‘callers’ that have any chance of being truly experienced ‘visibly’ at all.
Lastly, another reason beauty may cause anxiety is because it can make a person wonder
questions like ‘what am I doing with my life?’ or ‘why can’t I experience beauty constantly?’. Beauty
can lead a person to reflecting on the whole of life, it standing in contrast with everything else in the
world that doesn’t shine as bright. Because a thing ‘stands out’ ‘visibly’, it can make us realize that we
live in a world of mostly ‘invisible’ things, causing despair. Beauty can be like a religious experience
that results in a person longing for the next life, disengaged from the world. Does this mean beauty
should be avoided? No, no more that I should avoid things that bring me hope because I might
encounter that which tomorrow makes me wonder if that hope was an illusion all along. As humans
need hope to live, so humans need beauty, and as the possibility of going without food doesn’t make
me need it any less or mean I shouldn’t eat so that I never miss food, so the possibility of beauty
leading to anxiety doesn’t mean I can live without it or should try. Rather, we should simply accept
that we live in an imperfect world, and recognize beauty as glimmers of the truth that not all is lost
and that we all have within us the potential for something more.
VI

Because beauty is individual, there’s something mysterious to beauty, for it is a mystery why
something is beautiful to one person and not to another. Furthermore, the experience of beauty can
be something that cannot be put into words, and why it is ineffable is in itself a mystery. However, if
when I said ‘that is beautiful’ I meant ‘that is mysterious’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘mysterious’ would be
similes. Though beauty entails mystery, it is not the case that all mysteries are beautiful.
Flannery O’Connor noted that mystery is not that which we cannot know, but that which
the more we know, the more there is still to know. Mystery is ever-deepening versus inaccessible,
and this understanding applies to beauty. What is beautiful is not that which we cannot know, but
that which the more we understand, the more that we see that there is more to know, like a
landscape covered in fog that is unveiled a little at a time as we walk forward. Why is beauty an ever-
deepening mystery? Because beauty is an individual projection/reflection unified with an external
phenomenon that, in being aesthetically magnificent and ‘awe-full’, attracts the observer into diving
into it/self, and since humans are infinitely deep (we have met countless people, seen countless
things, entertained countless conscious and subconscious thoughts, etc. – all mixed together into a
unity within), what we experience as beautiful is also infinitely deep, being an extension of ourselves
and yet not a simple reflection. Understanding why we experience as beautiful what we do may take
deep reflection and might ultimately be incomprehensible, not because there isn’t an answer, but
because the answer lies beyond our capacities to grasp within a finite timespan. Because humans are
infinite, so is beauty, but this doesn’t mean we cannot understand anything about beauty; rather, it
means that the more we understand, the more there is still to understand: to access beauty is to
always have something to access.
In its mysterious, ‘awe-full’, hopeful, and attractive nature, beauty inspires, but if by ‘that is
beautiful’ one meant ‘that is inspiring’, ‘beauty’ and ‘inspiration’ would be similes, robing ‘beauty’ of
distinct meaning. Beauty stops you from moving along and at the same time moves you: it suspends
and inspires; it catches you and then you catch it. In being an inspiring mystery, the experience of
beauty is the same experience that makes you want to dive deeper into it, if not in that exact
moment ‘toward’ the phenomenon that is striking you, ‘toward’ life itself. If the experience of a
sunset doesn’t inspire you to grasp the fullness of the sunset more so, it will inspire you to grasp the
fullness of life or something else. To experience beauty is to carry it into the world like a man
carrying a bucket of water who fills the empty wells he encounters. Influential, beauty changes you.
Beauty is an inspiring mystery that summons the observer ever-deeper into its mystery. In a
way, beauty is entertainment, for it ‘calls’ the observer to entertain it.10 However, if beauty is a
mystery that cannot be fully grasped, what is the point of trying? Because the journey changes the
traveler for the better: the individual is deepened in the same way personal reflection leads to person
development, provides hope, shows others why being beautiful is a valuable undertaking, and so on.
Does beauty always positively influence a person? Perhaps it is possible that it doesn’t, and for such
an individual, beauty inspires the individual to dive deeper into a bottomless ocean for no good
reason. Just when the person wants to turn around, the person will be inspired to press on, and the
only way to escape the eternal sink is to resist inspiration and turn back, which is precisely the
opposite of ‘being inspired’. This kind of situation possible, to experience beauty is to take ‘The
Pynchon Risk’, but what is fully meant by this will have to wait to be explained until “The True Isn’t
the Rational” by O.G. Rose.
That said, even if beauty is a meaningless, endless sink, the fact that it inspires means that
beauty necessarily increases the will to live, the will to will. To be inspired is to want to do something,
and one cannot do if one isn’t alive and/or willing. To experience beauty is to want it, to want
beauty is to want things to be beautiful, and things reside only amongst what exists.11
Life is where beauty is found.
Finally, since beauty inspires, beauty calls out for creation. To experience beauty is to want it
to exist in the world and through you. To drink of elegance is to be stirred to partake of it in how
you are and how you act; it is to come to desire to be a creator, perhaps in the art of politics, glass-
making, raising children, or the like. Beauty calls, and to hear its call is to want to answer.
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’, Keats wrote.12
To be beautiful is to be true to life.

VII

In conclusion, if ‘beauty’ is to have distinct meaning, when I say ‘that is beautiful’, I must
mean ‘that is unique, surprising, aesthetically magnificent, and ‘calls’ something out of me that I in
my particularity can or can’t hear because of who I am and made myself. It means something, even
if I don’t understand what it means, and whispers ‘I am’. It stops me from moving yet moves me,
stands out as ‘visible’ in the midst of a world of ‘invisible’ things, and begets hope as I live amongst
countless things that are hopeless. It brings me joy, though like hope, this is a joy I can only
experience through vulnerability. It is an inspiring mystery, ever-summoning me to take a risk and
dive deeper into it/self to understand what I cannot grasp without finding that there is more to
grasp, increasing my desire for life, to create my being and my world.’
‘Beauty, I will be the art of who I am.’
Notes

1A point inspired by James K.A. Smith from his book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?. Also keep in mind that ‘false’
and ‘subjective’ aren’t similes; as discussed in “Compelling” by O.G. Rose, I can be subjective about something that is
true and objective about something that is false.
2Part of the reason the experts find Joyce beautiful is because they find Joyce ‘genius’, which suggests that there is a
connection between ‘genius’ and ‘beauty’. To say ‘Joyce is beautiful’ suggests that Joyce created difficult, unique,
surprising, original, and creative conditions that must be met to grasp his work as beautiful (you have to read this book
to get that allusion, understand the history of this opera house to understand that plot development, etc.). Without these
conditions that no one else in the world created, Joyce wouldn’t be beautiful, and hence Joyce had to meet the condition
of ‘being a genius’ in order for his work to ‘be beautiful’, just as we in some respects have to ‘be genius’ to experience his
work as ‘being beautiful’. This also hints that ‘design’ and ‘beauty’ are related, but it doesn’t follow that everything that is
beautiful is designed (though perhaps an ‘appearance of design’ is required) (keep in mind the critique that Joyce is
‘nonsense’ by those who just glance at his work: they believe ‘the appearance of intent’ is all there is, such as many think
in regard to much postmodern art.). Trees grow and take shape emergently, and yet that emergent outcome strikes us ‘as
(looking) designed’. Part of the tree’s beauty might very well be to us the fact that it looks designed: the beauty comes
from a sense of the miraculous, the impossible-that-is.
3Animals do not seem to experience beauty, because animals do not experience signifiers (this points to a condition of
experiencing beauty being certain cognitive abilities, though it might not be possible to say which). I don’t mean to say
animals don’t experience aesthetic pleasure – I cannot say – as it is the case that a dog could look at the word ‘cat’. But it
seems to be the case that a dog can’t from the word ‘cat’ experience a ‘movie in its head’ of a cat. Considering this, to
experience beauty is to confirm one’s humanity.

4This ‘moment’ is evidence that the external world is real, as Sartre’s ‘pinned down’-moment is proof of other ‘selves’.
5This metaphor seems to imply Platonism: that Beauty Exists behind reality and that reality ‘is in the way’ of Beauty, and
that Beauty every now and then reaches us through things (as ‘beauty’) because Something/something within us pulls
and translates Beauty through those things into ourselves. I’ve personally never been much of a Platonist, but if there is
Beauty, we can only know it as beauty: things are the windows into their Forms. Additionally, I don’t believe Forms and
things can be divided: they are two-sides of the same coin, though one side transcends full conceivability.

6Itis perhaps the case that the pleasure that comes from beauty is something that the more I arrange and/or plan, the
less I experience it: the more ‘surprising’ the beauty, the more joy I experience. When I buy tickets to an art gallery, since
I am expecting to see beauty, it is perhaps the case that it is more difficult for the works to ‘speak to me’. Since I don’t
know exactly which pieces of art I will experience, there is still an element of surprise, but the very fact I know I am
going to see something beautiful (at least according to some critiques) may in fact hinder my ‘openness’ to the works.
On the other hand, if I don’t know that in the forest there is a magnificent waterfall and I encounter it, unable to fill my
mind with expectations and ideas of what I’m going to experience beforehand, perhaps the waterfall is able to bring me
more pleasure.
7This is perhaps similar to the idea in business that to create value, risks must be taken.

8On this question, we usually end up relying on the opinion of experts, but this can cause anxiety, we feeling at their
mercy.

9Thismistake perhaps has been worsened by our tendency for ‘reality prejudice’, as discussed in “Incentives to Problem
Solve” by O.G. Rose.
10However, though what is beautiful can be entertaining, it isn’t the case that everything that is entertaining is necessarily
beautiful. On the other hand, it also isn’t the case that what is entertaining can’t be beautiful: the modern tendency to
put ‘entertainment’ on one side and ‘art’ on the other can be problematic.

Like beauty, ‘entertainment is in the eye of the beholder’, and both seem to similarly be matters of ‘individual reflection’.
Why one thing is more so ‘entertainment’ than ‘art’ or vice-versa is a difficult question to answer, one that might
ultimately be an individual and ‘high order’ judgment (though perhaps not). Then who should judge? Experts? Perhaps.
11Is it possible that a person be inspired by art to find nothingness beautiful? Technically, nothing can’t be beautiful
(being ‘no thing’), only one’s idea of it, which isn’t ‘nothing’. But even in willing ‘(one’s idea of) nothing’, you must will
to be alive to have the chance to hurl yourself into nothingness. Even if beauty inspired you to never be born, you must
be born to be so inspired. If beauty inspires you to commit suicide, it must be because you think you will experience
something ‘on the other side’ that you want to experience, rather it be God or nothingness. But again, you can’t will this
if you weren’t alive, so beauty must makes you want to live so that you can will to cease to be. What never lives cannot
die, and if beauty inspires you to die, it must inspire you to live so that you can achieve that aspiration. Hence, beauty
necessarily increases an observer’s ‘will to will’.
12Allusion to Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats.
Additions

1. As it is possible for everything to be ‘beautiful’ (to someone), so it is possible for everything to be ‘dangerous’. It is
possible for me to hurt someone with a toothpick, a small stone, a piece of paper, and so on, just as it is possible for
someone to find each of these entities elegant. Considering that there might be no such thing as a ‘non-dangerous
object’ in the same way there might not be such thing as a ‘non-beautiful object’, perhaps ‘beauty’ and ‘danger’ are
somehow related.

2. As judging a man by his strength alone is improper, to judge a woman by the standard of beauty alone seems wrong, yet
judging a painting by that standard seems proper. At the same time, telling a woman that ‘she is beautiful’ can be a
compliment, but only insomuch as the woman isn’t objectified and/or reduced to simply her quality of beauty, as if she
is nothing more. This seems to be like treating a living human like an inanimate object (more particularly, like a mirror),
and it is precisely because a painting is inanimate that considering it simply by one quality isn’t such a violation. But
perhaps like women, paintings shouldn’t only be considered in terms of beauty? Perhaps they should also be considered
in light of the ideology they ‘point to’, their history, their mission, etc.? Perhaps beauty is only the attractive invitation
into something more?

3. The idea of ‘beauty as suspending’ and/or ‘beauty as awe-full’ is similar to the idea of ‘the sublime’ found in Burke and
Kant.

4. Since beauty is an individual reflection, it is collectively a reflection of the ‘spirit of the age’ and people’s overall ideology.
Art is how we read the soul of the people.

5. Do note that this paper has not been asking ‘what is art?’ but ‘what is beauty?’, two questions that are easily conflated
because ‘beauty’ and ‘art’ share so much in common. Another paper is needed, one titled “On Art’, but that will have to
wait for another time.

6. Experience is extension.

7. On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry and For the Love and Beauty by Arthur Pontynen are books that should be
read alongside this work.

8. For a thing to be ‘ugly’ is to see a reflection you don’t like.

9. Considering “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose, is beauty a matter of thought or perception? It seems to
initially be a matter of perception – an ‘open up to’ – that leads to thinking – a response to that which you ‘opened up
to’ thanks to perception. Beauty suspends you, gets past your preset ideas, and surprises you, and this aspect of beauty is
a matter of perception. However, once you are surprised, you think, for you reflect, but these thoughts are ones you will
only have because of the perception of beauty which functions as the groundwork. Beauty seems to be an elevating
dance between the two.

10. The act of observing the beautiful is often the act of wondering why you cannot articulate what you are observing. In
other words, beauty is often an experience of thinking failing to be perception (as discussed in “On Thinking and
Perceiving” by O.G. Rose), and hence the realization that there is a (hidden) difference. This realization is also the
acknowledgment of a mysterious standard existing against which we determine something as ‘beautiful’, and what
constitutes this standard might be a matter of perception, and hence that which thinking longs to understand but its very
touch pushes understanding out of reach.

Art forces us to face questions we don’t know how to face, and if we have any tools to help, these tools cause us more
confusion.