Sunday, December 30, 2012

God created us to see the beautiful subjectively.

I have the muse, and it is through the muse that I intuitively know my art of architecture. Others, who do not have the muse, also likewise possess an appetite to know the beautiful of the art, but they know the art less well.

The muse is not a different kind of appetite, but the same appetite perfected or at the least more sensitive to its properly ordered object. But what is of importance here is that just as the artist finally knows his art intuitively, so likewise is it with all men that they too finally know the art intuitively. The difference is that the artist senses his appetite and its proper object while others are notably less sensitive.

This intuitive appetite has both the character of the immaterial as well as the character of the material because the intuitive appetite is an appreciation of the existence of both immaterial and material as they exist in the world about us. And as is natural to their difference as material and immaterial appetites, the material is concerned with the particular and the immaterial is concerned with the universal. Much the same as the concupiscible appetite is concerned with the particular and the Will with the universal.

Unlike the concupiscible appetite and the Will, the intuitive appetite, (or appetites), are not concerned with a moral good requiring the rule of the Will, but with a very different good ordered to the particular requiring the rule of the lower appetite.

What I mean by "the beautiful" is the general appeal to our senses. For instance, architecture, or paintings or flowers are not beautiful in the common parlance of the term, but they can visually please or displease us according to their nature.

Common parlance is important because God made the world about us sufficient for the common man to live in. What I mean by sufficient is that what the common man considers beautiful, is in truth, beautiful. Of course to all things there is a natural limit, but within that natural limit what the common man considers beautiful, is beautiful and not a pretense of the beautiful or a shadow of the beautiful, but truly beautiful.

The reason that what the common man considers beautiful is truly beautiful is because all the arts are essentially practical. That is, the arts exist to be used.

And if the arts exist to be used, then they must in turn be usable, and thus obtainable by men. Which is not to say that there is not a hierarchy of the beautiful, but it is to say that the truly beautiful is obtainable by the common man living commonly.

Because the beautiful is subjectively known, it in turn means that we can form our appetites to more perfectly know the beautiful in relation to the universal. In other words, to know the beautiful most perfectly, i.e. most in conformity with the universal, we must understand ourselves and form the subjective to the universal.

As with all material appetites, the appetite (or appetites) whose object is the beautiful can be deformed or in some manner corrupted so that it's incapable of knowing the beautiful for what it is. And this deformity can exist across an entire society, but such deformity is abnormal because God knew we would fall and form societies where error is common, and so to compensate God created the world to compensate for and overcome our errors.

Or at the least, to compensate for and overcome them as long as our errors are not to great.

In other words, God created a world that was at human scale in paradise, and more importantly to us remains at human scale after the Fall. It's a world created to the scale we actually live at with our fallen nature and other defects.

An example of the created world compensating for and overcoming our error is the mechanists, (i.e. modern chemists and physicists), who mistake number, (i.e. characteristic), for substance and in turn postulate insubstantial scattered force-bits in a void that explains number but leaves substantial change unexplained.

God knew we would error greatly getting the ordering of creation ass backwards, so in turn God created a world where we just had to get it close enough to overcome our errors. We're able to perform metallurgy and similar arts because the calculations and formulas work even when what underlies them is completely misunderstood by the mechanists.

Similarly, God created us so that despite our fallen nature and other defects our appetites can know the beautiful. God created a world that overcomes our propensity to corrupt our environment, as long as we do not corrupt beyond a limit.

And so as a result, the common man despite the fall and despite his propensity to corrupt his environment remains capable of truly knowing the beautiful and not a pretense of the beautiful or a shadow of the beautiful, but the truly beautiful. A beautiful that is known subjectively, because the subjectively known beautiful is at human scale.

Let me explain:

We observe that different societies will each have a different senses of what is beautiful, and we further observe that the cause of the difference is a difference in cultural memory of each society because the difference between what each society considers to be beautiful reflects the cultural memory differences between those compared societies.

By cultural memory, I mean that societal memory that inculcates the members of the society. This memory includes not only customs and folk traditions but formation of the appetites.

For example, we observe this difference between societies when there's a notable marked difference in the visible appearance of the women of one society in comparison to the women in a different society, with each society considering their own to be beautiful in comparison to the women in a another society.

Take the example of apparitions of Mary. Our Lady of Akita is visually different from Our Lady of Guadalupe according to cultural difference of what is considered attractive in the female form. She appears to each, not as she is bodily in heaven, but according cultural notions of beauty in each society.

God moves us by the subjectively perfect female form to contemplate the unseen infinite.

Cultural memory should be distinguished from false cultural memory, such as what is commonly found among traditionalist type Catholics whose cultural memory is a platonic overcoat of what they think their culture should be. It's a false cultural memory not grounded in inculcation, but is instead reactionary seeds sowed on hard earth against the modern culture.

Each society inculcates their members to see their own as most beautiful.

It's an inculcation which is natural to us for the same reason as it's natural for a father to first protect his own children. The natural bond of family, and by extension society encompasses not only duties, but also affections. And since we are material, those affections will have a material characteristic.

As a rule, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder because in some manner the beautiful is an image of our society. We love our own because it is our own, and in like manner we see our own as most beautiful.

Or to put it at a more personal level, what we see as beautiful is an image of ourselves. Similarly, We love our children, our family, or culture, or patria because each is our own, and an image our ourselves.

The first words a mother says upon first holding her newborn is either "I love you" or "you are so beautiful" or some such. They are true words that also tell us much about ourselves. They are true words that tell us of the nature of the bond between mother and child including that we by nature see our own as beautiful.

I remember looking at my oldest, now a senior at Christendom College, when she was three and wondering why others did not see her as the most beautiful little girl they had ever seen, because when I looked at her, what I saw was extraordinary loveliness. And to be sure, she was a lovely three year old girl, but I can now look at her photograph with a bit more objectivity.

We also observe that while different societies will differ on what is beautiful in the particular they will at the same time be in general agreement in some manner on what is beautiful in the universal. But even in the universal, the beautiful is in regard to a specific entity such as women, or architecture or flowers and similar.

The universal beautiful of women, or architecture and similar, is not in relation to the particular beautiful in the same manner as circle is in relation to a particular circular object. Because both circle and the circular object can be visualized and grasped by the imagination. A perfect circle may not have concrete existence, but it can nevertheless be visualized in the abstract.

When we draw an imperfect circle with a compass we visualize it as perfect, but we cannot do the same with women, the material paradigm of womanly perfection doesn't exist.

In contrast to circle, the universal beautiful of women or architecture and similar. does not exist in a subject that can be visualized or abstracted, but instead exists more akin to an underlying principles that can be used as guidelines because the beautiful is complex and not simple in the manner that a circle is simple.

These guidelines etc are not the beautiful, just as the principles of form space and order are not architecture. Just as with architecture, the beautiful doesn't exist in the intellect, but solely exists in a material subject. Architecture can only be visualized as a particular building designed for a particular environment, such as when Frank Lloyd Wright held Falling Water in his imagination where his first rendering was also the final built form.

Architecture can only exist in a material context because it's a complexity of various principles and solved practical problems, similarly the beautiful can only exist in a material context because it too is a complexity, what can exist immaterially and universally are the underlying principles.

The appetite of the soul that has the beautiful as its object has both a universal sense of the beautiful as well as a particular sense of the beautiful because the appetite is also informed by its environment, so that in some manner, that which is beautiful is both particular to a person's appetite while somehow also participating in the universal. The appetite is informed by the universal, and also informed by particular matter to see this or that particular object as beautiful.

The universal guiding principles limit that part of the soul ordered to the particular so that while the beautiful actually is in the eye of the beholder, the particular beautiful is within a limit informed by the universal.

This duel formation has the practical consequence of us not requiring a universal (and thus unobtainable) perfection of the beautiful to satisfy our appetite, but instead we require a subjective (and thus obtainable) perfection ordered to our particular appetite.

It's a practical consequence because the common man living commonly can obtain the truly beautiful according to the appetites, capacities resources actually available to him.

This concept of the beautiful as subjective, where the arts are by nature practical and usable because they are at our fallen human scale stands in stark contrast to Catholic utopianism; the all to common disembodied platonic disposition to make the perfect the enemy of the good

Catholic utopianism, in its various manifestations removes the natural human scale limits that not only bind us but likewise give us stability. What Catholic utopians do is they take a natural good to an unnatural extreme seeing the extreme as the proper good. Catholic utopianism is an error against moderation.

Using deception, i.e. intentional lies as example in contrast to the Catholic utopians who make the perfect the enemy of the good by saying that all lies are evil, the proof of a right ordered society is does it work at a practical level? Does it fit with how the common man commonly lives. Does it fit with intentional lies we commonly say but never consider confessing and would never resolve not to do again. Lies such as our folk tradition of telling our children about the tooth fairy, the sandman, Santa Claus down the chimney, Huguenots coming in the dead of night to carry away and eat naughty children and similar.

Or does it fit with the other common intentional lies that make up everyday life and common courtesy? Such as when a mother says to her toddler hiding her face with her hands, “where’s Mary, I can’t find her”; or the guest who says to his host that he enjoyed the dinner when he did no such thing?

And it's not so much that Catholic utopians mistake the problems we face, as it is that their equally disembodied platonic understanding of man simply doesn't work, or make sense, at a practical level because men are not disembodied spirits, but flesh and blood with fallen nature. God created a world sufficient for us to live in, but it's world rough around the edges. It's a world created for imperfect individual men living imperfect individual lives.

And because life is rough around the edges, our understanding of man and his arts must in turn reflect those same imperfections of life.

Each art, no different than our folk traditions, is by nature proportionate to our human scale as fallen man. A human scale in some manner according to the universal, but more so according to the particular. So in turn, if we want to understand the nature of a given art, we must first understand ourselves and what our scale actually is, because each given art's nature is our nature.

Architecture, perhaps more than anything is the art of designing at human scale because human scale is relevant to most every problem requiring a solution.

As an architect, I spend my days transforming the sublime into concrete practical reality, because at the end of the day the art must produce a product that's both buildable and afterward usable.

Human life is lived in three dimensional Euclidean space with architecture needing to answer a plethora of different requirements.  With every requirement having its own standards to satisfy.  Which in turn makes architecture the art of hierarchical compromise because conflicts between requirements require solutions.

Architecture is three dimensional puzzle problem solving where the solution is finally ordered to human life lived at a practical level. It's problem solving where the subjective is ordered to the universal, but where the final authority is the subjective.

A relation which appears at first blush to be a contradiction, but in reality expresses the balanced relation between the particular and the universal. The final authority of "is this woman beautiful?" is this man beholding this woman. But yet at the same time the beautiful in regard to women is within a natural universal limit.

The final end of architecture, the solution to the problem is each particular built form. Architecture follows universal principles and guidelines, but the final end of the art is this final built form for this particular environment according to a particular cultural memory.

Whether a built architectural form is visually pleasing is most properly subject to the cultural memory of those who use it because architecture is by nature used. And only secondly subject to those who observe it from afar.

I've been commonly told that my built forms, in contrast to others in my field, are significantly more attractive than my elevations drawn on paper. But then, my intention has never been to draw pretty pictures nor even to design buildings seen from afar because architecture is built form whose reason to exist is to be lived in.

It's in the living in it that the merit of this or that built form stands or falls. A meriting that like the beautiful is subjective because those who live in and their needs are subjective, so in turn how well the particular problem given to the architect is solved will be equally subjective.

And of course, the merit of a given built form is likewise subject to the universal and somewhat objective principles and guidelines of architecture because while the solution may be subjective, nevertheless we are by nature moved similarly by light and shadow in movement through space, or gradients of intimacy and all the other innumerable aspects that form the universal principles and guidelines of architecture.

And thus architecture, like some other of the fine arts is measured by two different, but related standards, where I have often found myself judging this or that architecture by the more universal standard finding it deficient when I should have been judging it by the more subjective and more authoritative standard.

Because architecture is the art of hierarchical compromise of a program that often compromises the universal principles and guidelines, it's often unfair to judge architecture on any merit other than on how well the problem actually given the architect was solved.

I've more than once looked in horror at some project I designed where the final product is ghastly according to universal principles of good architecture, but in the particular solved the problem as well as it could be solved. Fortunately, we are a resilient lot where for the most part bad architecture according to universal principles has little affect upon us.

Take for example the longitudinally designed church. An architect can be incompetent and still get it close enough because the shape alone naturally directs us. And if his scaling of the various elements such as columns and similar are just plain awful most people will not look beyond that there are columns.

As with making movies, subtlety is good as long as it's obvious because the common man is not capable of seeing the truly subtle. Which is good, because like the beautiful architecture just has to get it close enough for those who use it to be able to use it according to the use intended.

If greater perfection was required most architecture would not be able to serve the needs of men, so like with the other practical arts, the end of architecture is obtainable by the common man living commonly because his appetite is not overly sensitive to the universal.

And as for those like myself who have the muse, as someone once advised me when I was complaining about some Mass,"just close your eyes". Advice I've since used more than a few times.

Let me clarify that while we see the beautiful subjectively, nevertheless the subjectiveness is within the natural limit of the art so that some art is not art but is instead only gibberish masquerading as art. This is particularly evident in the fine arts.

Take Jackson Pollock as example, all fine art is to some extent an abstraction. Even the realists abstract. But what those like Jackson Pollock did is not abstraction of the visible world about us, their paintings are nothing more than disordered paint splotches masquerading as art.

Of course some will argue that Pollock does have some kind of method, and that his method and technique is the art. But the same could be said of someone who writes letters on a sheet of paper without intent to form words, let alone form sentences. The letter writer can likewise have method and technique, but he is not doing what a writer does which is form coherent thought conveyed by letters.

The writing is disordered because it's not ordered to the proper final end of writing. Similarly, Pollock is disordered because he too does not order his painting within the natural limit of the fine arts. Or if he did order his painting to with the natural limit, then in turn what is most noteworthy of his paintings is his utter incompetency to perform his art.

This post is unfinished read at your own risk

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