Beauty: A Conversation
Bryn Mawr College
February 29, 2005

Rainbow created with the smudge/finger-painting technique in Photoshop

Philip Fisher, Wonder, the Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences:


Each person's uniquely determined by the point where...she stands, by the angle between eye, raindrop, and sun....without human observers...there are no rainbows....Wonder is a horizon-effect of the known, the unknown, and the unknowable. It is like the rainbow itself, relative to where you stand....It is a highly personal border of intelligibility....Wonder is a relative fact. It concerns what is new to me....

The religious system of explanation is a technique in which beauty is wounded by meaning....To speak this way implies a deep hostility between narrative and aesthetic mobility....the idea of a single point of explanation is fundamental to the religious or mythological style where there is one story...that completely and finally settles the question as a whole....

imagination swamps the world of the visible by sinking it into...endless extension....Wonder is a response to the visible world...The imaginary is quite simply free of the whole lawful play between the ordinary and the extraordinary....The premise of wonder is that we live in a lawful world....For there to be anything that can be called "unexpected" there must first be the expected....Wonder is the middle condition between an unawakened intellect and a systematic knowledge so complete that there no longer exists anything unexpected....Wonder is the pleasure of the lawful mind.

security of self
wonder welcomes the strange....Wonder and hospitality...rely on the harmlessness of the world....Wonder is the hospitality of the mind or soul to newness, but only where the security of the self has already been secured so deeply that...the reality of fear...can itself be forgotten.....

Example par excellence:

"Snowflake" Bentley

Snowflake Display

The Bentley Snow Crystal Collection of the Buffalo Museum of Science

Second Example Par Excellance:
Lauren's Dad's ("the cloud man's") paintings

Artist's Statement:

I have been watching the landscape of America change for close to thirty years now....The loss of open space and farm land has been significant....Irish poet Seamus Heaney said..."Landscape is sacramental, to be read as text"....For me, reading a landscape, that is, painting a horizon, the trees, the buildings, gives a special kind of information far beyond that which can be gathered by written descriptions alone....

As I have worked over the years...I have used landscape as a metaphor for my own search for balance....Chinese landscape scrolls hold a particular interest for and nature coexist in balance. At times my landscape painting format is long and rectangular in shape. The long horizontal format gives dominance to nature and shows man as only a part of the overall picture....I am looking for the answers to such questions as: How do I interact with the world around me, what can I learn from it, what are my responsibilities to it as caretaker and where do I fit in? The answers to these questions are out there, what we have to do is to learn to see them. As someone once said, "There is nothing so impenetrable as the deceptive cloak of simplicity."

Muska: there is a certain level of dishonesty in the beauty that results from storytelling--whether it is in science or in the humanities. The fiction in both of these fields is in the presumptions that the world can be simplified at all.

Sharon: Annabella offered what is my current favorite metaphor to illustrate the separate science and spiritual realms. She compares the entirety of life, "reality" out there, to a movie, say on a DVD. And science is like the trailers, all those little pieces that explain how the movie was made. But the movie--the world of being and experience--is so much more than those trailers describe. You only have to see it (the movie), live it (reality) to know neither trailers nor science can produce the whole experience. What "else" is out there, each of us has to determine for ourselves. Hopefully beauty will follow us along the way.

Rebecca: We were discussing Dr' B's presentation on light and colors....[some of us] felt upset or betrayed when [we] acquired this new knowledge. It is not that this new knowledge contradicted what [we] alrady knew but... it enhanced it and broadened it....It seemed as though in feeling betrayed by this new information that [we] were closing [our]selves off. All through out our education and even after we are constantly learning that things are not as we once thought. To feel betrayed and to possibly refuse to accept new knowledge seems like an unnecassary and kinda sad loss. After all it seems as though the majority of our education calls us to see things in ways we haven't seen them before and that in turn makes for more well-rounded individuals.

Brittany: McAllister's just pointing out the human tendency to initially resist new ideals of beauty before gradually accepting them....maybe it's less that "beauty is truth, truth beauty" and more just "truth is beautiful." Truth, or stuff that's empirically "proven" to be true, exhibits an attractive quality to scientists. Maybe there is no inherent "quality" of beauty in the realities of the universe. Maybe humans just think it's cool when Stuff Works and We Know Why, and it's the clarity that our own intellects apply to the universe's physical properties, not those properties *themselves*, that is truly beautiful.

Turning now to our Beautiful Texts,
we seem to be...puzzled?
looking for a standard that doesn't jive with our own experiences?
(do we trust ourselves...?)

Meera: I started to read the beautiful texts this weekend (now I question are they really beautiful or is my heart fooling me).

Alanna: I honestly did not find anything beautiful about that book -- when we get into our groups on Tuesday I will have to ask why one of my group members found the book to be beautiful --

Beatrice : I'm not sure I'm getting the message I'm supposed to be.

Annabella: I have as yet not been able to connect with the beauty of this book. Maybe because it is so different from my expectations and I haven't melted into what it is rather than what I wanted it to be....I am thinking more and more that it is me not seeing what must surely be there.

?? : The final a great book but one that I don't personally find beautiful....I'm actually looking forward to tomorrow's discussion session- even though we all picked what beautiful texts we wanted to read, we never really explained why we each found them so beautiful... and now I'm interested to find out what their reasons were.

Marissa: I don't understand why it is is a particularly amazing piece of literature that most people read during high school....

| Course Home Page | Course Forum |Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:34 CDT