Wednesday, February 13, 2008


This group is going to be concerned about beauty. We will be discussing the nature of beauty, particularly as it related to art. That being the case, we need to begin with something that can get us started on this discussion. Thus, I submit the following lists:

Beauty has the following features:

Complexity within Simplicity
Emergent from Conflict
Evolutionary (changes over time)
Generative and Creative
Hierarchical Organization
Reflexivity or Feedback
Scalar Self-Similarity
Unity in Multiplicity

The following agonally unified opposites also constitute beauty:

Native – Foreign
Light – Shadow
Logos – Eros
Emotion – Intellect (Reason)
Conscious – Unconscious
Soul – Technology
Feeling – Thinking
General – Specific
Universal – Particular

I am convinced that there is a strong relationship between things that are evolving, growing, self-organizing, and emergentist and beauty. Thus, let us look at the features of self-organization and see why:

Cohesion (digital-analog)
Downward Causation
Feedback loops, Circular causality
Relative Chance
Globalisation and localisation
Unity in Plurality (Generality and Specificity)

Emergence has the following features:

Synergism (productive interaction between parts)


Anonymous said...

what emerges can be beautiful just if produces in itself and presents through itself some structure; the structure which in this cases is presented through what emerges is the reason and cause of the beauty of what emerges. But the structure itself DOESN'T emerge: what emerges is something that HAS such a structure.
A very interesting question is:
could we say that the structure itself is beautiful? If yes, your idea of "beauty" would be false. We could save your idea of "beauty" if we deny that a structure is beautiful; according to such a denial, could be beautiful just something which has a structure but not a structure.

I'm very interested in what you think about this topic.

PS - I'm not very good in managing with mailing lists; I don't know how could I control your answer. If you do not receive my answer to your answer, please write to me (if you are interested in debate, and if you have time to waste) at

Giuseppe Feola
Scuola Normale Superiore
Pisa Italy

Troy Camplin said...

If we are talking about structure in a rigid sort of way, then such a structure (if it is one lacking unity and variety, or any of the other paradoxical pairs listed) in and of itself is not beautiful. It may be an element of beauty in the object, and may contribute to the creation of beauty, though it may itself not be beautiful any more than each of the individual elements of the paradoxical pairs is beautiful.

Let us take a well-known structure: that of the Petrarchan sonnet. It has the following structural features: 14 lines in iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme abbaabbacdecde. Is this structure, in and of itself, beautiful? I don't think so. One could use this structure to create an ugly sonnet (or at least one that is not beautiful). There are other elements one contributes to the sonnet that will make it beautiful. The words you use, metaphors, the grammar, syntactical choices you make, etc. The sonnet form also seems to work best when there is an introduction-thesis-antithesis-synthesis structure to each of the 4 sections. This, then is a structure on top of a structure. As one adds structures, one adds complexity. Each individual structure may be simple, but the layering of structures creates increasing complexity. Add these structures to the nonstructural elements and I think you come back to having beauty. Perhaps that's another paradox we can add:

Beauty is a paradoxical combination of structure and nonstructural elements.