Friday, May 10, 2013

Elegance and "Moment" vs. "Monument"

I have spent a lot of time reading about and pondering aesthetics. As an artist and a scientist and a traveler and a trained anthropologist I look at aesthetics from many different angles. One of these is what I call “moment vs. monument.” The “moment” is the small things--the curve of a branch, the shadow of a building, or the texture of a fabric. I tend to observe these things more completely than I observe the “monuments,” the whole tree, the towering edifice, or the complicated tapestry. I find that in my mind I translate these small, sensual signals into an understanding of the larger “whole.” I don’t know if this is how it works for everyone. I do think that our hard-wired nature to see things as small and uncomplicated suggests that this kind of thinking is universal. We tend to build upwards from the small to the large.

This way of building things up from smaller details may not work for everyone. However, I do recognize that this kind of observation comprises my “best practice.” What is yours? As long as I understand how I observe, as long as I understand my own aesthetic sense, then I can enhance my understanding of my world. This is not to minimize or overly extol the value of details. The small things help me interpret the big things but they also have a meaning of their own.

Scientists, like artists and all the rest of us, face the natural world, a world that we have to interpret. Thinking critically about that world, making decisions based on feelings we can trust, is what aesthetics is about. Aesthetics is a way of interpreting chaos into something understandable. Aesthetics is a way of problem solving that helps us articulate our understand to others in a way that can be generally accepted as elegant.

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