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Beauty,Spring 2005
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Beauty Expanded

Marissa Patterson

Coming into a class on beauty I had high hopes that I exit the year with a whole new perspective on what I considered beautiful and I can gladly say that I was not disappointed. Through discussions, readings, presentations, and guest speakers my perspective has broadened and flowered into a new way to view the world. I think that the most thought provoking modes of presentation were the descriptions by different professors about what was considered beautiful in their field. Many of them, such as physics and psychoanalysis, were fields I had never before considered beautiful and hearing the ideas brought up by the presenters gave a whole new perspective to my ideas.

The discussion by Dr. B about light was one of the first that really made me think. The ideas regarding the dichotomy between the colors we see with our brains and the colors that can be made with light were perplexing. How is it possible to see magenta if it is not on the spectrum? Why is it that yellow and blue make green, but yellow light and blue light somehow make white light? These questions and others made me think harder about the link between what exists and what I see. I began to wonder about other objects in the world that are not as they seem. Are the sounds we hear not really the same as the sounds that are produced? If taste is made up of inputs from a limited number of taste buds, what does that say about a delicious meal? It made me ponder whether what I had always thought of as beautiful was simply my mind playing tricks on me, causing me to see beauty where perhaps there was none.

But the more that I thought about it, this disparity between what I think and what exists is somehow made more beautiful from the confusion it creates. The fact that I can see a beautiful magenta flower though the color magenta does not actually exist in the spectrum is an amazing feat of mental capability. My delicious dinner that was simply a combination of salty, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors somehow melted into a delicious array of tastes that did not particularly embody any specific taste-bud region. This ability of the brain to produce such diverse tastes and colors that do not truly exist in nature is mind-boggling in its beauty, a beauty I was not aware of until I learned of it in class.

A short time later we were introduced to the beauty that can be found in physics, a subject I had never thought of as being particularly beautiful. Yet the presentation revolved around the idea that beauty in art is very similar to that of science and that equations and mathematical concepts are beautiful in there own right. The discussion of beauty in physics focused on familiar concepts, such as the location of the earth in relation to the sun and other planets and the idea of a time/space continuum, but I had never before contemplated them in regards to their beauty. The idea that "beauty in physics is taking two unrelated concepts and making them into one joined concept" really resonated with me. I could truly appreciate the idea of simplification of the earth's processes into concepts and equations. There seems to be a great beauty to be found in physics (and other sciences) that take seemingly unexplainable workings of the earth and compress and simplify them into understandable formulas and theories. It is amazing to think of the mental capabilities needed to take an observed phenomenon such as the fact that objects fall when you drop them, then be able to translate that into the concept of gravity, then simplify it farther to equations such as w=mg, or weight equals mass times acceleration due to gravity, measured at a nice and simple 9.8m/s2. The thought that such grand physical properties are constant no matter what occurs is a beautiful concept as well. No matter if you are tossing a penny from the empire state building or a bowling ball onto your toe, the acceleration will always be 9.8 m/s2 and both will most likely hurt someone when they land.

Soon after Mark Lord presented us with his concept of beauty in theatre. His ideas seemed to focus more on what could be deemed the "not-beautiful," trying to find beauty in the unexpected, the thought provoking, or the odd. Originally working towards removing any beauty from his works he eventually found himself adjusting passages in order to incorporate beauty and symmetry into his work. My perception of beauty was greatly enhanced by his words, for prior to this discussion I had often focused simply on the stereotypical beauty but Mark's words encouraged me to try and seek out objects that might not normally be thought of as beautiful and to try and discover of hidden internal beauty about them. Mark also proposed the idea that beauty is fleeting, that it is just a moment in time not to be repeated. I found myself very displeased by this concept. I enjoy preserving beauty, looking at paintings, taking pictures, writing down recipes in order to recreate the original beauty experience at a later date. Yet Mark seemed to feel that this conservation of beauty lessens the experience, perhaps taking the sum of beauty available and spreading it out over time instead of being focused on one moment. Though I am still trying to incorporate this idea into my beauty perspective I can understand why temporality is so vital in theatre where every performance is different from the last and can be beautiful in its own diverse fashion.
Another interesting presentation was that of Susan Levine, a psychoanalyst. This topic significantly broadened my perception of beauty for I had never previously thought about therapy in regards to being beautiful. Many of the things she said struck a major chord with me however. My desire to become a doctor includes a wish to experience the beauty that comes from helping other people, to "fix" them and make their lives whole again.

This desire was echoed in a similar format when Susan spoke about her work with her patients, creating a "coherent narrative" in an attempt to understand why a person would behave in the fashion they do. She spoke about this healing needing to be focused on a relationship in order to be successful and productive, trying to eliminate any of her own negative contributions to make the relationship a positive one focused on the healing. She sought out patterns in her patients in an attempt to delve into their histories and discover what events were vital to the formation of their personalities. I found this idea simply fascinating. Though similar to the diagnosis and treatment of a medical doctor, this is instead a healing of the mind, a search into bits and pieces of meanings and memories in an attempt to get a whole clear picture. I found this ability of hers to accomplish this search for and piecing together of meaning intensely beautiful and I hope to be able to incorporate a similar beauty into my future profession.

Philosopher Christine Koggel gave a more historical look at beauty, speaking about the ideas various other philosophers had about beauty over time. She brought up the question of "who judges beauty," forcing me to think about how I my everyday life I serve to perpetuate stereotypes or encourage misconception. Though this presentation might not have expanded my own perceptions of beauty it served the purpose of causing me to become more aware of what effect my actions (or inactions) have on other's views of beauty.

She spoke about false consciousness, where the "oppressed" unwillingly adopt the views of the "dominant class." In relation to beauty that translates to the common normal person viewing the media and adopting the ideas presented therein about beauty, though those ideas come from a very small group of people. From this I gained the hope to be able to break free from this assumed stereotypical belief about beauty and to transition to discover for myself what paintings, people, foods, music, and flowers I find beautiful.

The topics brought up over the semester in this English class have enabled me to do just that. I am now able to try and see through the mask, to look at objects that are considered by "everyone" to be beautiful or ugly and to concentrate on the object itself, throwing away the conventional thoughts often associated with it. In this way I can better view the world for what it is rather than what others say about it. This course has given me the ability to look at an mathematical equation and find beauty in its simplicity, to look at a pink cloth and find beauty in the idea that there really is no pink at all, to look at the healing process one goes through after a traumatic even and find beauty in the mending of a life. My ideas about beauty have been so greatly expanded by this class and I know that I will take the concepts presented here and use them to view the world in the future, allowing me to find a more beautiful life experience.


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