When the music CD first came out to replace vinyl records, I thought it was great idea. I am a computer programmer and at that time I had a lot of faith in technology. But when I first heard a CD, it sounded to terrible to me. The people I told this to asked me what was wrong with the sound, and I really didn't have an answer. It just didn't sound right. Yes the sound was flawless, no scratches or warping, but some of the feeling of the music seemed to be lost. A few years later I read an article, "The CD and the damage done" by Neil Young, that described the problem. The CD records those frequencies that are audible to the human ear and throws the rest out. This is reductionist thinking. The problem is that inaudible frequencies affect the way we hear audible frequencies. Music, like all forms of beauty, is holistic, and even those parts of beauty that we can't experience directly in isolation nevertheless contribute to the beauty of the whole.
Beauty is hard to define. It is one of those basic things that we know when we see it. Modern definitions of beauty are interesting for how wrong they are. Merriam-Webster is typical:
the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit
All modern definitions focus on pleasure which just shows how poorly beauty is understood in modern culture. Eating a steak or a candy bar can give pleasure but contains no beauty. My definition of beauty is something that resonates with my soul. In order to do this, that something must have integrity meaning internal consistency. This consistency is also something I sense. So if I look at a beautiful landscape and I see something that doesn't belong there, the beauty is lost. And when I hear music with the sound being altered by the lack of some inaudible frequencies, this is also inconsistent with my expectation and so destroys the beauty. It is this requirement of integrity/consistency that makes beauty holistic.
Art museums are another example of reductionist thinking. Just as the audible sounds in music are affected by the inaudible sounds, so also is any piece of visual art affected by its surroundings. The most effective visual beauty should extend to one's entire field of vision. So a beautiful landscape is most effective when you are there because then it occupies your whole visual field. A picture of the landscape is much less effective. Similarly, a piece of art is most effective in a room that has the same spirit as the art itself. So when one walks into an old church whose artwork and architecture are consistent, one feels much more of an impact than one does from any individual piece of art in a museum even if the museum art is better than the church art.
Another word that tends to be confused with beauty is attractiveness. Here again the steak and candy counterexamples apply. Beauty is a specific kind of attractiveness, attractiveness in a long term sense. Something beautiful is something that we would value or cherish over the long term. This is why integrity is so important to beauty, because only something with integrity can be trusted over the long term. For something only short term, integrity matters much less. A beautiful landscape or city is a place we could imagine living for the long term. Food is generally short term, we eat it now, so it isn't really connected to beauty. A half-naked slut is attractive but not at all beautiful because her value is clearly short term. A beautiful woman is the kind one would want to marry, for the long term. Music taps directly into our emotions. There is fun music that is attractive but not beautiful, and there is more serious music that is beautiful because it ties into our long term emotional needs.
Creating beauty is the inverse process of experiencing beauty. To create beauty, one expresses one's own internal feeling in some concrete way that others can then experience. When one creates something for a specific location, that thing must be consistent and harmonious with its surroundings for it to be beautiful. This is something that most people do naturally. When people live together in a town and each person builds his own house, he will tend to be affected by the patterns he sees around him, so a natural consistency will result. This is how beautiful towns and cities are built. But when a house or building is designed remotely without consideration of the surroundings, the result is ugly. Modern housing developments try to get around this by building a whole community at a time, but this inevitably fails to produce beauty and only produces sterility. Beauty requires variation within a harmonious whole, not mindless repetition. A great book on beauty in the context of architecture is The Timeless Way of Building which explains why traditional methods are far superior to modern methods.
The creation of beauty requires the harmony of everything involved, namely those people who are involved in the creation and harmony with the location if applicable. This harmony is virtually impossible in modern culture which is fundamentally reductionist in thinking. The only thing of beauty that the modern world can create are those things that can be created by individuals in isolation, and the only category that I know of that fits is music. Modern architecture and modern urban design is incredibly ugly.
Modern art deserves special mention, this being the ugliest category of things ever created in human history. This level of ugliness can only be created intentionally. Modern art is the celebration of ugliness in modern culture. Those who like modern art inevitably consider themselves to be progressive, at the cutting edge of modern culture. Modern culture is all about selfishness, immorality, and disrupting harmony. For a person who has fully absorbed modern culture, modern art will resonate with his soul. His soul is ugly, so he will be attracted to ugliness and repulsed by beauty. This level of depravity can't be reached by the majority of the population that still retains some sense of decency, and this is why modern art is a niche market designed for the leaders of modern culture.
Religion has been a major source of beauty. Religion is holistic and is designed to touch all aspects of life. A group of people who share a religion will share a lot in common which makes it easier for them to work together in harmony and create something beautiful together. Religions value beauty as a way of reaching their members. So churches and other religious buildings are often beautiful.
I spent six months traveling around the world and during this trip I visited many churches and temples. I had no interest at all in religion at this time, but I found religious buildings to be visually interesting, so I walked into any that I saw. Of all the religious buildings that I saw, I was most impressed with the Greek Orthodox churches. I didn't even know the religion of Greece, I thought they were Catholics. But the Greek churches made a strong impression on me.
It turns out the Orthodox Christianity grew through its beauty. In the year 987, Vladimir, ruler of Kiev in Russia, sent his people to research which religion he should join. They reported back:
"When we journeyed among the Bulgars, we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here."
So the reason that Orthodox Christianity spread to Russia is because of its beauty.
Many elaborate religious rituals have beauty. Many modern Protestants, especially Evangelicals would scoff at an Orthodox liturgy because of their disdain towards 'ritualism'. But they are forgetting that an Orthodox liturgy has an inner beauty to it that can only be experienced in person, not captured. Many modern Protestant services are soulless and often devoid of beauty. It's as if something of substance is lacking within it.
Modernist China lacks beauty and of course a coherent way of vision to experience beauty. Instead, it is replaced by crass materialism and a need to emulate the west and ones' personal needs over the needs of the group. Being a good samaritan in China is not a good option unless if you want to get sued or accused by the person that you just helped up. China is incredibly fucked up and needs a revival of its traditional values if it ever seeks to regain its lost glory. The Hanfu movement is a tiny step in the right direction, but you cannot dress in Hanfu as long as one still keeps a corrupt modernist and westernized mindset. Without traditional culture, without that mindset of what it means to be the ideal person, it is not a true renaissance of Chinese culture but a mockery of Chinese culture within a modernist mindset. You can't promote culture with cosmetics and costumes, but one can promote culture through good ethics, good morals, exceptional abilities and the like. Other than that, people in the end are selling themselves like cheap whores or silly people who do silly things for their few seconds of publicity and fame. As opposed to being virtuous and being the best ideal person one can be.
Traditional culture these days in China is simply being prostituted out for tourism purposes rather than actually being a part of the culture itself.
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