Does beauty matter in life?

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    Jun 13, 2008 3:48 PM GMT
    On my way to work today I took a good look at my city: concrete, glass, trash, noise, disharmonious, etc. It's a typical US city. My question is does this lack of aesthetic beauty in US cities influence (in your opinion) the way people take care of themselves, how fat/unhealthy we are as a society, the things we like to do, the way the choose to live? Surely being surrounded by so much ugliness has an effect on us, perhaps subconsciously, after a while? Perhaps we as a society have gone too far towards the road of efficiency (aided by modernism) and away from aesthetics? Any thoughts appreciated.

    (Please note, I'm not saying all US cities are nothing but ugliness; I'm saying, rather, that when compared to say a Paris or Rome, US cities look like an anarchic mess. Also, compare a Western European woman to an American one and there's a definate difference.)
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    Jun 14, 2008 1:23 AM GMT
    Jackal, I think that, for certain personalities, city life, esthetically or otherwise, is not healthy.

    That said, I also think there is truth in the statement "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
    In other words, what you see is what you see, not necessarily what someone else sees.

    If you see ugliness, than maybe city environments are not your thing.
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    Jun 14, 2008 1:31 AM GMT
    Pretty is not optional in my life. It just makes it better doesn't it. Too bad developers never got the memo. Can we say strip mall... I blame the 70s
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    Jun 14, 2008 1:43 AM GMT
    Bens has it dead on - Urban Renewal and 70's aesthetics, combined with decentralization of populations, led to declines in both architectural diversity in city centers. When the only people willing to build is the government putting up their 70's-designed Federal Building, well, you get ugly buildings.

    I'm lucky enough to live someplace where downtown is being "reclaimed," though not without the occasionally cookie-cutter McDonald's building to break up the architectural uniqueness of downtown...

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    Jun 14, 2008 1:51 AM GMT
    Too bad America can't get some interesting architecture like Shanghai. Love the buildings in that city. Used to do PR for a architecture firm. America is just becoming really boring.
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    Jun 14, 2008 2:10 AM GMT
    New Orleans hasn't sold out yet, IMO.
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    Jun 14, 2008 2:13 AM GMT
    Well, beauty inspires Art and we've nearly given up on Art as a whole culture. Thus it doesn't surprise me that beauty follows.

    That said, I think parts of my neighborhood here in Cincinnati are quite beautiful and can often lift my mood or put me in the notion of writing something from the balcony.
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    Jun 14, 2008 2:30 AM GMT
    I do see a connection between the slobbish appearance of most Americans and the crappy look of many of the cities and towns they live in: Unattractive, bloated, out of control and getting worse every year.

    Sorry to say this, but in general our culture does not seem to edify or honor beauty, art, culture, creativity, or knowledge for knowledge sake.

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    Jun 14, 2008 3:32 AM GMT
    as a design student and an asthete, i personally live my life by beauty, and champion it above most else in life. its what makes everything bearable. its divine. i don't think there's anything in nature that isn't beautiful- even things most consider morbid or gross (like a decaying body or a dead tree, for example) have their own beauty- but man tends to create ugliness these days, in the name of economy and efficiency. blame the victorian machine. blame the bauhaus modernist movement. blame democracy and capitalism. industrialization has certainly led us away from creating beautiful artifacts and from valuing beauty in all that we create. i don't think we have any excuse. i've seen fly swatters in the MOMA that double as table sculpture- there' no reason every single thing made by man shouldn't be a work of art. unfortunately, there's the misconception that beauty has to be expensive, and so its skipped over in the design processes of most things. or modern designers bullsh*t themselves (and few others) by intellectualizing beauty into abstract ideas of 'honesty' or 'industrial efficiency,' (as though revealing an ugly building's structural systems will grant it the poetry of art) so they can sleep at night. its a shame.
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    Jun 14, 2008 3:46 AM GMT
    Jackal69 wrote(Please note, I'm not saying all US cities are nothing but ugliness; I'm saying, rather, that when compared to say a Paris or Rome, US cities look like an anarchic mess.


    As you said, you're not saying all American cities are ugly, but if you're using Kansas City as an example of a typical American city, then I don't think it's quite fair to hold it up to the standards of Paris or Rome. There are plenty of small industrial cities all over Europe that aren't much to write home about.

    There are also parts of Paris and Rome that I think would qualify as an "anarchic mess", just as in any big city.

    For me, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Washington DC are about as beautiful as cities can get.

    I'm totally in agreement about the blight of urban and suburban sprawl, though. In the suburbs it has been especially awful. Small towns have died away as the big box stores lining the highways suck up all the business.

    I would put some of the blame on the Interstate Highway program of the 1950s. How many cities had huge highways paved right through the middle? Those projects were a good example of sacrificing aesthetics for efficiency...and now, with traffic congestion, they're not so efficient any more.
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    Jun 14, 2008 4:02 AM GMT
    All cities are both beautiful and ugly. I live in Buffalo, the second most impoverished city in the country (watch out Detroit, we are gunnin' for ya!). Ya, the East side is becoming an urban prairie and ya our tallest building is ugly as sin. But we missed 70's urban renewal. We have some of the most gorgeous art deco buildings you will ever see, there are half a dozen Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and Victorian homes line each of the streets. If you think your city is ugly you aren't looking hard enough.

    Also, how is Modernism not beautiful. Or, how is Western Europe not influenced by Modernism (which by the by was created largely in Europe).

    I am willing to bet that urban dwellers are more fit than suburban or rural dwellers.
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    Jun 14, 2008 4:40 AM GMT
    MunchingZombie said
    Also, how is Modernism not beautiful. Or, how is Western Europe not influenced by Modernism (which by the by was created largely in Europe).


    Hello...Barcelona anyone?
    http://traveldk.com/barcelona/topten/modernista-buildings

    I don't know how anyone could call that spectacular city "ugly."

    As for aesthetics, I leave you with this quote:

    There are only two things that pierce the human heart. One is beauty. The other is affliction. --Simone Weil
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    Jun 14, 2008 4:59 AM GMT
    It's very important if possible to live in a good environment! I am fortunate to live by the sea with stunning views but a bit of ugliness brings you down to earth at times?
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    Jun 14, 2008 5:07 AM GMT
    MunchingZombie saidBut we missed 70's urban renewal. We have some of the most gorgeous art deco buildings you will ever see, there are half a dozen Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, and Victorian homes line each of the streets.


    I would agree that Buffalo has some really great architecture. One of the things I like about the city. Also, this is one of the reasons I live in the Boston area and am not about to move. It feels like a real city and has character. I really don't like cities with a grid system. It feels too planned and too sterile for me. As much as people complain about Boston traffic, etc. it's a very livable city, and very walkable. The architecture is great and there's a sense of history here that I don't see in many other places.
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    Jun 14, 2008 5:30 AM GMT

    Jackal59, first let me say "Thank you for being such an intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful person." While reading your post, I not only found myself touched, but also adequately informed and entertained. I'll spare you the reason why i'd even bother adding this part; you know, but again, thankyou for helping us look good.

    My take on your question is this: absolutely beauty matters, this is why I work as hard as I do and you OBVIOUSLY do, to add a little beauty to the world?

    Why are American cities so ugly and more foreign cities more aesthetically pleasing: because we have more. I think when we have so much, we forget about the value of it and let it deteriorate. I think this ignorance of the details has a bearing on the dismal state of education in some parts of America. We have so many young people, we forget that they all matter and let them deteriorate too. People from other countries, that might be now or used to be ravished by war or political unrest cherish their young more. As a child, I used to always envy foreign students: they would talk about their schools and how strict their teachers were, how structured the learning environment, and how challenging the curriculum. All of my peers would sigh and say how lucky we were everything about our school was so lax, but I knew we were being done a disservice because the foreign kids were SMARTER THAN US.

    They used to come to school dressed so sharp and with such poise. In class, they'd actually listen and add input. My peers dressed badly and misbehaved all the time. Some of them just because they were rude and poorly trained at home, others because they just weren't challenged by the work. The foreign kids always said their parents and teachers pushed them so hard and encouraged them to look their best because they were trying to work their way up and fit into America better. A place, I'm sure with all its excess is pretty intimidating, which is why I can't understand why immigrants rise to meet it and natives just languish and complain.

    I also noticed this in college, the foreign students always dressed so nice, while my peers came to school in their pajama bottoms with their hair unkept. This lack of attention to detail and personal appearance seems ingrained and doesn't stop; at my old job, meatcutting, I used to get teased by the other guys because I dressed too nice. I told them "I don't care that i'm a meatcutter and these nice clothes might get dirty, I wear a coat and smock to protect them, which I have to take off during break, and I have to be seen when I leave the building after work, and when I return home." I think a lot of people allow themselves to look unkept because among all of this excess, they feel inferior, like the meatcutters I worked with who thought they didn't count enough to take pride in their appearance.

    Naturally, I think this dirth in the way we see ourselves: if we aren't a celebrity or rich, we think we need to look as inferior as we feel, carries over to our buildings, our workstations, and the way we keep our yards and homes. In other words, America is getting uglier because more people feel ugly.

    It's scary and I think it's directly connected to some of the stories I've heard people tell in the forum here: shocking tales about people jeering and throwing things at them when they cycle or jog in public. These jeering trash throwing people are the crabs that are low in the barrel and latch on to others they fear might actually crawl out.

    Some might call me shallow, but I think everything hinges on pride in one's appearance: it all starts with that. I hate to simplify it to a possibly crass level, but beauty is the reason poor Cinderella could outshine her rich ugly stepsisters at the ball. She had nothing but her appearnace to fall on because they had stripped her of everything else. In that sense, I'm a little like her (I'm loving that I can compare myself to Cinderella) because I may not be rich or anything, but I do dress well and I do maintain an exceptional body. These things like PRIDE and a killer rack are things money cannot buy.

    Everytime I see another BOX spring up I just wish they'd spruce it up a bit. Why does every building have to be a gray cube? Uuuugh, but look at the people who trace in and out of these ugly gray cubes, they are ugly and gray themselves.

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    Jun 14, 2008 6:45 AM GMT
    I heart Guiltygear.
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    Jun 14, 2008 7:19 AM GMT
    Definitely.

    Aesthetics is mind food. Try living in utter ugly squalor and you'll feel your self-esteem, your drive, your hopes, etc. slowly leach away until you're nothing but a bitter old man.

    Filipino cities are ugly as hell. Something to do with modernization and the rise of factories. I miss the spanish architecture that used to dot towns and villages here, they've been replaced by mediterranean-style mansions and all that. icon_confused.gif

    Anyway, we still got the beauty of nature here, so it's not that bad.
  • GQjock

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    Jun 14, 2008 12:06 PM GMT
    Cities reflect what you view as important as a society

    if everything you are is reflected in how much money you make you get monolithic ugly cement structures
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    Jun 14, 2008 1:00 PM GMT
    There's a lot that's already been said here that I agree with and is so well considered. While I don't think that you can fairly compare European cities with American ones. Besides the fact that American cities haven't been around nearly as long as European ones, there is the difference in cultures. The aesthetics and function of architecture of any era (I'm referring to American history) is strongly influenced by the money, politics and culture of the time. Since so much of the architecture in the last few decades has been influenced by a republican ideology, the aspects of beauty are placed far behind the aspects of power, money, and even jingoism. The conservatives in positions of power seem to have effectively taught the bulk of the American public that the arts are the breeding ground of depravity rather than a rich and fertile ground for a well rounded mind. The only time I can think of (that's not to say there aren't others) is when the Nazi's took power in Germany in 1933 and the concept of depraved art was created and distributed amongst the masses.
    While there are always iconoclasts for an era (e.g. Frank Gehry and less so Michael Graves), the great bulk of architects are limited, not by their imaginations as they are by their clients. Because art and culture is not only tuaght in the most minimal ways, it's almost discouraged in American Schools now. Due to this, when someone actually has the money to include true art and decoration in the design of architecture, they are unlikely to know what is good design rather than simply extravagant design.
    The waves in our economy, here in the US, keep a constant flow "Nouveau riche" where there's no diffrentiation between extravagance and style.
    What's funny to me is that growing up in the 60's and 70's, I felt that my education in the arts was so limited compared to kids in Europe. Now it seems that a child that get's any kind of artistic training in a public school is lucky if it's one hour a week.
  • badtouch

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    Jun 15, 2008 3:52 AM GMT
    uh, this argument has persisted since prior to the 1970s.

    times, yes, they are a-changin' -- as always they have. greeks likely scoffed similar attitudes at what, to them, seemed like vulgar displays of opulance and power by a greedy roman empire. the renaissance, to which many measure modern incarnations of art, was only able to produce its works by way of its benefactors, patrons of means who acquired their wealth by warring with rivals and starving their servants.

    beauty is a thing for which we must strive, must seek out.

    but the global scale is downsizing: instant access to everything, everything accessible easily, made cheap and pedestrian. kids wear forever21 like couture and are copied thousands of times over. copy-and-paste layouts feign originality, though hundreds of others tout virtually identical replications.

    thusly, many an artistic endeavour is appropriated, assimilated and recast instantly into the global pond. we are jaded, disillusioned, beaten down if but by the sheer volume of it.

    but the beauty is not in the art, it is in the way we connect to it, how it expresses that which we could not ourselves have manifest; it is that ineffible expression living within, somehow drawn out.

    beauty is a thing for which we must strive, must seek out.

    and we must seek it first by starting from within.
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    Jun 15, 2008 4:04 AM GMT
    What if we lived in boxes? How interesting would it be to see miles and miles of square, brown or white buildings? Oh, wait.... I do see that. icon_sad.gif
    If money wasn't an issue, do you think architecture would look the same, like all the cookie-cutter houses?
    I don't think so. I have seen some unique houses and buildings in my city, although they are so few and far between.

    I will take classic Greek or Roman architecture any day.
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    Jun 15, 2008 4:44 AM GMT
    Wow, great thread.

    My 2 cents (well, 1.3 cents)...

    There's also the image of timing. Some things are beautiful instantly and forever (Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water House). Some things only become recognized as beautiful over time. People hated the Eiffel Tower when it was built. People hated the Transamerica Pyramid (ok, some still do, but now most don't). Lots more examples, but to me, the most telling one: Levittown.

    Nobody could say that Levittown was anything about beauty when it was built. It was all about the most efficient way to stamp out affordable ($8,000 each), identical housing for new post-war families (5 different colors to choose from!). 6,000 were built!

    60 years later, with the the original puny trees all grown up, the identical houses transformed into unique, individual statements with new materials, remodels, expansions, ...it's hard to tell they were once all the same. People who live there appreciate the human scale of the place and the resulting community compared to the lifeless, isolated, McMansion burbs surrounding newer cities. One might even find beauty there.

    In Levittown. icon_smile.gif

    Let's check back in another 10 or 20 years and look at Daly City.
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    Jun 15, 2008 4:56 AM GMT
    Interesting thread.

    Those of you who are interested in the effect of the cityscape on the individual and questions of beauty might want to check out this link:

    http://www.dallasinstitute.org/

    The Dallas Institute was created by my mentor, James Hillman, for exactly the purpose of studying the aesthetics of the city. (What city needs that more than Dallas?) Hillman's "archetypal psychology" is actually a psychology grounded in aesthetics, belonging to the broader category called "imaginal psychology" (my own field).

    Part of the problem in the consideration of beauty is that it has been a rather taboo topic in the academy for 20 years or so. Elaine Scarry helped change that around 2000 with the publication of her book "On Beauty and Being Just," which revives the argument that beauty and ethics are related. Here's an interview with Scarry:

    http://www.salon.com/books/feature/1999/11/09/scarry/

    Another very good book is "The Poetics of Space," by Gaston Bachelard, a French phenomenologist of the imagination. His other books also take up the subject of beauty.

    I recently read an interesting book by Ronald Schenk, "The Soul of Beauty: A Psychological Investigation of Appearance." Schenk is also influenced by Hillman and Bachelard. Ditto for Roberts Avens, whose "Imagination is Reality" is a classic.

    Hillman adheres to the Greeks' sense of beauty -- not as something "pretty" but something that arrests our attention suddenly and causes us to gasp a bit. ("Aesthetics" is from a root word signifying that gasp.) His obsession is the way the "soul" can be seen in the appearance of images, not as something hidden within the image.





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    Jun 15, 2008 5:16 AM GMT
    DanteWhat if we lived in boxes? How interesting would it be to see miles and miles of square, brown or white buildings? Oh, wait.... I do see that

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    Jun 15, 2008 5:30 AM GMT
    OW knows this I'm sure, but just to be clear, my reference to Daly City was not just because it's the West Coast version of Levittown, but because it had that song written about it, as sung by Mr. Seeger in the previous post.

    isaacsphotomed.jpg