Beauty: A Conversation
Bryn Mawr College
January 25, 2005

"We the Creatures":
Our Responses to Dewey, Percy and Elkins

What is the Relation between Within and Without?
Between Self-Discovery and Communal "Jargon"?
Between Emotion and Erudition?
Does Education "taint" or "deepen" Experience?
Is the more common pattern between these pairs of terms one of
interference or intensification?

What "should" it be? What COULD it be?

Amy: It seemed that the authors of all three readings put a greater value on beauty that is discovered by oneself, and in the personal relationship between the individual and what the individual finds most beautiful. ...what is most important is our gut reaction to an image....yet I don't believe that the only way something is truly beautiful to us , is when we make that discovery without outside information.

Flora: All 3 writers had similar opinions about the best way to experience art: to remove as much baggage as possible.... they seemed to move from a more abstact to a more specific discussion of the same theme....but the kid on the beach is not going to see the standard scientific process. And I think that's more of a loss than Percy explains. ...It's hard to find a balance between learning proper jargon, which is necessary to participate in any intellectual community, and self discovery.

Brittany: In general, I agree ...that it's better to experience "beauty" or have "beautiful experiences" on a personal, individual level, outside the framework of expertise; that it's better to learn about life by living it rather than reading about it. However, I do take issue with a few... points....good poetry actually enhances my outside experiences .... Just because we accept our role as "consumers of experience"...doesn't mean we can't fully digest what we consume. is our individual task to make a poem mean something to us.

Catherine : All three authors seem to bring about the question whether background knowledge of the object in question of beauty enchance the object's beauty to the observer, or make the object less beautiful....encouraging people to interact with the art. To not let knowledge interfere with the appreciation of a work....the less knowledge one has of art, the less likely they are to have expectations, and the more of a chance they will have to learn about the work first-hand....It is important to find a balance between the books and practical experience in order to fully appreciate anything.

Rachel: Elkins ...treats aesthetics as simply a spontaneous phenomenon that one cannot experience unless one is ignorant....If spontaneity is the criterion for a deep aesthetic experience, everyone with each passing day is becoming less and less capable of experiencing beauty because we...learn something everyday.... the artist and intellectual are not so very different. Both cultivate tension and disharmony. Only their emphasis is different.

Alanna: I thought art was supposed to be a type of outlet for the free expression of human emotion. Placing art up on a pedestal...seems to only bring about the opposite effect -- human emotion is bound, imprisoned, and left to rot as scholarly pursuits brutally tear emotion from the art with which it was once permitted to intermingle. ..."extra packaging"... makes it all the more harder to experience the object just as it is...While this extra packaging is meant to help add to our experience of the object, it rather takes away from our true enjoyment of and appreciation for the object.

Marissa: ...sometimes I feel that the only way to confirm that it really happened is to have it be perfect....If you can have the experience that is "expected" of you, it seems more real....However, it seems to me that if you think too hard about it, if you approach it in an attempt to "see" it, you cannot learn exactly what it is you are trying to learn.

Meera: Walker Percy...thinks that the only way to experience "it" was by discovering something in it's natural state which is not a practical theory.... The art historians attachement to art was an intellectual relationship, Elkins should have questionned common folk with no history of art background.

Liz: I wondered if the lack of tearful emotional response almost the result of too much understanding and a desenstization from that....sometimes the distance is necessary for us to analyze things intellectually....I strongly disagreed... that having no knowledge is the best way to expeirence something....what does one gain by knowing nothing.....There is a reason for a classroom....We need some guidance if we wish to learn something from something that is very far removed from our everyday lives.

Alice: Dewey's writing style is so obtuse elaborate and academic that I can't imagine that Dewey is destined to bridge the gap between art and real life...I feel like he's part of the ivory towered, self-referential problem....Percy's ideal way of experiencing art seems too extreme to me, as Liz said. I don't see how you can appreciate a human made thing without any reference. Maybe anticipation caused by familiarity is most harmful to experiencing naturally occurring things or places. Of course...over familiarity with man-made things certainly hurt the emotional impact of art on art-historians.

Jaya: ..."who exactly am I looking to to tell me what is fine art or not?" ....we've learned to accept certain things fine works of art without ...truly appreciating it ourselves.... an object or event is genuinly beautiful when one lacks expectations for that object/event.... it seemed too cynical. ...The background knowledge that a person has about a painting or sculpture could in fact make them appreciate the work of art much more, although this knowledge will undeniably alter their raw experience with the work. the literary world the term "accessible" isn't always considered a compliment. Often times it's comparable to being called "simple." This has always bothered me...because I think the term merely means that a wide variety of people can find beauty in the words....what I'm getting at is that the questions that Dewey raised about why society devalues works of art that are closely related to common life....

Tanya:... when experiencing beauty, worries and anticipations are lost, but the best of the past and present are felt...a "consummation" ..."heightened vitality"....One does not need to cry to show that they are truly experiencing beauty. That's just absurd.

Alice: I think that maybe if I saw a painting I knew nothing about, maybe there would be this raw emotion....However, I think it is possible to have a truly unique experience image can still take us by suprise and take our breath away, or even make us cry, even if it is something that is an everyday, mundane image....Percy's ...seems like such a cynical way to look at the world....

Megan:The most amazing experiences of beauty are those that are completely without expectations. When you anticipate anything it allows for you to apply your own preconcieved ideas to it and hardly anything can ever live up to what your own mind creates. ...I had read Percy's Loss of the Creature in high school ....It was a revelation for me. However, this was not as powerful...I guess this only further supports his theory about tainting beauty.

Malorie: We need to experience it ourselves and decide what we think is beautiful, even if it is not conventional. ...we must strive to have unique experiences so as to really see an object.... all the information we gather reduces our emotional connection with a piece....Stone Henge "was so small, I always thought it was bigger"... my experience was tainted by all my preconceived notions, not to mention the audio tour.

Kat: ...a reflection on being a corporeal human, and what it means to be a living something WITH a body....throughout western history, there seems to have been a conscious effort made to forget or ignore that we...are... messy creatures.... creation (of art) is ...a means of communicating the alternating lonliness/closeness that humans feel when trying to relate to each other.

Eebs: many traditions admires practices and artwork that are painful to do or look at. perhaps then, it isnt the "curiosity" be the driving force ...rather, it could be some pleasure or joy people find when they encounter something they are familiar with...maybe an expectation of something to come that brings excitement. ...footbinding was considered a work of art...wearing a corset ...does beauty and pain go hand in hand? especially for women?... two opposing views ...were paradoxically true ....some people achieve the "richer experience", by knowing the story behind it...however... it is the surprise/shock of the first encounter that makes the experience more vivid (since the senses are more active in trying to make sense (har har har) of something they havent experienced before. ...perhaps there is a time and place for each method of appreciation.

Rebecca: I have a love for beautiful things. ...However, I have never really had a great interest in fine in the museum are very distant and hard to connect with....because it is so hard to understand the reason why they were created.

Elizabeth: I really find beauty in the places where I'm not told to look.... Formalized art perhaps is the least 'beautiful' to me....I agree with Megan: because I am expected to, or told how beautiful a painting my expectations for them are much higher. I already know that they are beautiful...but they're tainted. But I can walk around and find all sorts of little things beautiful around me...they are pure.... the world we live in is so jaded. Anything can be art now... soon there will be little left for everyone to discover on their own, to find beauty untainted.

Beatrice:... doing research on a painting lessens any emotionality when finally viewing it up close...It is ...impossible - to not let our experiences be affected by any information we receive about artwork....Exposure ...prepares an individual for what they will be viewing...the work of [the artist and the scientist] similar...

Kara: Art should defined anything beautiful that has been created.... anyone who creates something beautiful can be considered an artist, including someone who has strong relationships with others. ...if I am able to create my own standard for what is beautiful ...I don't have to feel inadequate when I am unable to find the beauty in something that others deemed beautiful. I am allowed to have my own definition that is no less accurate. ...However, it is very difficult to have too many experiences like that. ...if we were able to experience all things the way Percy believes we should, we would probably not appreciate how special a new experience can be. It is because it is a rare occurrence to be able to discover something on your own that makes it so exciting when it does happen.'s more difficult to appreciate art that has received constant adoration over the years....the process of creating the piece should be considered when trying to appreciate the artwork.... there is often this need for things of beauty to live up to their reputations. ...I would often feel like 'oh that's it?' or pretty disappointed because of how much something has been built up....I feel this need to know whether or not my thoughts ...were 'correct'.... Whenever ...critics' reviews ...resemble my own thoughts I feel this weird sense of vindication and when I see that they differ...I get...defensive.

Lauren:...many people's responses to the readings differentiated between what is called beautiful because of social constructions of beauty and what is called beautiful because it "moves" us...something is beautiful if it ...makes itself the center of attention. ... The feeling [of witnesses of crimes or accidents] that I-want-to-look-away-but-I-just-can't is similar to the power that a beautiful experience has on us, but rather than seducing our attentions it violently demands them. I take this to be the "creature" element ....Our response to beauty is an almost instinctual reaction. ...there is a significant difference of between an encounter with beauty that is recognized instantly, (without preface or agenda,) and one which is taught and learned.

Amanda:... library resources are helping [Elkins] feel emotions about the beauty of the paintings. But, he also feels that the books...limit the viewer to other's all of the "how to look at art" conflicting with what art is supposed to bring out, emotion..... some texts push a person to see a painting one way or another, but the texts can also open up someone's eyes to see what would otherwise not be seen. ...Different resources may be beneficial in letting loose one's own emotions.

Mo: should be experienced in relation to the common life and experience ....But I don't think that what [Percy] is saying is very practical.... the most useful part ...was simply to question and think about what society does to "package" experiences and how that affects the quality of that experience....I thought that [Elkins] sounded really whiny...I did however like his statement ...about trusting what attracts you.

Arielle: There were things that I objectively know are "beautiful" by accepted definitions and things that I was more attracted to because they were more real to as experience... taking beauty out of it's traditional academic "holier than thou" frame....It seems too intimate to share in an academic sense and space....It is demanding on myself as an individual to feel like so much of myself is on display...and it in a way seems grossly inappropriate for the classroom. ...I want to keep what I find beautiful to myself....

Annabella : I particularly enjoyed his idea that nothing lives without its environment....none of us could think anything beautiful or not beautiful without our past and present and our hopes for the future. Nothing is beautiful or not beautiful on its own. Which leads me to suspect that beauty can not be on the outside.... all beauty lies within the beholder, who then places it (or misplaces it) onto the object they choose to call beautiful....all of this calling of a thing beautiful is beauty itself, unfolding before us, from within us, beautifully. This thing called beauty.

What is the Relation between Within and Without?
Between Self-Discovery and Communal "Jargon"?
Between Emotion and Erudition?
Does Education "taint" or "deepen" Experience?
Is the more common pattern between these pairs of terms one of
interference or intensification?

What "should" it be? What COULD it be?

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