There are many kinds of beauty – From the bittersweet beauty of an Irish love song to the clanging, jarring beauty of the Indonesian Gamelan; the pacific, pastoral beauty of the Impressionists to the stark intellectual statements of cubism and postmodernist art. There is a sad beauty in a long goodbye; a small, warm beauty in a new hello – the human moments of life that poets have for thousands of years struggled to capture in mere words. There can be beauty in pain and pleasure, destruction and creation.
Above all else, there is the natural world, awesome in its majesty and scale — from the fierce, celestial beauty of supernovae to the elegant and intricate beauty of the smallest living things, forged as they are from the three-billion-year crucible of evolution and natural selection.
We are creatures such as these. The long march of evolution has given us the ability and imperative to explore the world around us. Along with it, we have inherited a fantastically complex pattern-seeking brain, capable of abstraction and recursive thought – the basic ingredients required for understanding beauty.
The simplest child’s painting and the most high-concept art have this in common: they are created and perceived by human minds – a tiny portion of the Universe that is self-aware, intelligent, and creative. As Carl Sagan said, we are a way for the Universe to know itself.
This, I believe, is the key to beauty and art. We are hard-wired to find certain things aesthetically pleasing, and our artistic manipulation of time, space, color, form, rhythm, and language is a celebration, an exploration, and an expansion of this neurological foundation upon which our perceptions are built, and the Universe which gave them birth.