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Can art exceed the beatuy of Nature?

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I am fan of a Forum on Architecture and Urbanism.

The forum members frequently post pics of the cities they live in or visit.

Having posted a couple of beautiful photos of two Mexican cities, one of them showing a city in the middle of the jungle, and other surrounded by magnificient mountains, a member of the FOrum wrote that no man-built thing can beat Nature, in terms of beauty.

I was about to answer this guy arguing that men's works (from skyscrapers to Mona Lisa) exceed the beauty of Nature.

But suddenly, I got second thoughts.

Are skyscrapers more beautiful than mountains? Is the painting of Mona Lisa more beautiful than the lady used as a model?

Is the recreation of nature according to the author's values prettier than un-recreated nature?

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Can art exceed the beauty of Nature?

Sure. Beauty is the level of harmony in a composition (or object). The source of the object (natural or man made) has nothing to do with any quality it has (be it its beauty or some other quality).

a member of the FOrum wrote that no man-built thing can beat Nature, in terms of beauty

That member was biased against the man made (for some reason that has nothing to do with Aesthetics, I bet). Aesthetic judgment (and all other types of judgment, come to think of it) should be left to those who are objective.

Are skyscrapers more beautiful than mountains?

Depends on the skyscraper and the mountain. But usually no, it's unlikely that a skyscraper will be more beautiful than a mountain. (because mountains tend to be quite pretty, and skyscrapers are not the best canvas for an artist, the primary concern of their creator is functionality not appearance)

Is the painting of Mona Lisa more beautiful than the lady used as a model?

Oh yeah. (I bet she smelled, too :) )

Is the recreation of nature according to the author's values prettier than un-recreated nature?

Sure, if it's a good artist, who captures all the beauty and leaves out any ugliness.

Edited by Tanaka
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How you answer this question probably says a lot about your sense of life. Prima facie Id say no, but Im open to the possibility.

Aspects of nature can flood your senses with beauty, and make you feel small. While a beutiful work of art can lift your spirit, and make you feel all powerfull. Your reasons for picking yes or no are more important than the answer itself though.

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I don't think you can say whether art - or anything created - or nature can be more beautiful. They are completely different things, and have to be evaluated by different standards. Man-made versus the natural; you can't criticize a mountain landscape for lacking adherence to function, but you can do that for skyscrapers. I would suggest trying to aesthetically compare two things so fundamentally different is not a meaningful task because basically they are almost incommensurable. WHAT would you be comparing between mountains and skyscrapers? Which measurements *specifically*? I think the furthest you can take a comparison is if the manmade and the natural objects in question are beautiful, but NOT their degree of beauty.

Sure. Beauty is the level of harmony in a composition (or object).

Can you be more specific on what you mean by "level of harmony"?

Edited by Eiuol
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Can you be more specific on what you mean by "level of harmony"?

Harmony is the absence of conflict or contradictions.

I can be more specific in the case of mountains and skyscrapers (conflicts of color, texture, shape etc, plus, if it's a picture of the object, conflicts in the composition), but not in general.

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I can be more specific in the case of mountains and skyscrapers (conflicts of color, texture, shape etc, plus, if it's a picture of the object, conflicts in the composition), but not in general.

If you can't be specific in general, that's the point I'm making about how you can't really compare the beauty of a mountain to a beauty of a skyscraper in terms of degrees. You'd have to have some more principles on WHAT makes for conflict as you say. Since you can't answer that in general, and because of the fundamental differences between mountains and skyscrapers, you can't say if structures can *exceed* nature in beauty. They have very different visual elements.

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The question is not well posed, is it?

If you mean, "Can an individual piece of art be rationally judged more beautiful than a given natural entity?", well of course the Mona Lisa is more beautiful than dogshiite.

If you mean, "Can an artistic representation of a natural phenomenon ever be more beautiful than the real thing?", then I guess this is debatable but to my mind it is hard to see how, beyond sheer scale, nature's skies can best Michaelangelo's. And then, there's Avatar for a techy example.

If you mean, "Is the most beautiful piece of art known to me more beautiful than the most beautiful natural phenomenon I have ever witnessed?", then my answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT EVEN CLOSE!!!! (edited here to clarify: nature wins hands down for me).

If you mean, "Can there ever be a piece of art created, but heretofore unknown, that would be more beautiful than the most beautiful thing in nature, also probably heretofore unknown?", well, who the heck knows?

So, I can dig the question if we are talking about the third version, otherwise it seems rudimentary.

- ico

Edited by icosahedron
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How you answer this question probably says a lot about your sense of life. Prima facie Id say no, but Im open to the possibility.

Aspects of nature can flood your senses with beauty, and make you feel small. While a beutiful work of art can lift your spirit, and make you feel all powerfull. Your reasons for picking yes or no are more important than the answer itself though.

Interesting point, JarR.

Your answer has helped me a lot.

When I admire nature for how it looks, I don't feel small. I'm serious.

I think that "feeling so small" is more like a cliche used by those who want to see man dwarfened to better sell him mysticism.

When I see magnificient mountains, or whales and their lambs in the ocean, or a night in the desert full of stars, I don't feel small. I feel thrilled, happy, lucky. I feel happy to be alive to see those things. I am happy to be the observer, and then, at times I am also happy to consider myself a potential actor: I see myself travelling through those starry skies, or hiking through those mountains. In some way, conquering that nature. Not in the sense of destroying it, but making it part of my personal life. Experienceing it, I could say.

Suppose a Howard Roark-like man stands at the edge of a cliff, like in the opening paragraph of The Fountainhead.

Suppose he is not an architect but, say, a lawyer or a doctor.

How his appreciation of the cliff and mountains have differed from the architect Howard Roark?

I think they would enjoy the sight with a somewhat different perspective. THey would have not imagined those rocks converted into buildings, but they wouldn't feel small nevertheless. They would maybe want to climb, hike, paint, photograph those mountains. Build their house on them. In other words, make them THEIRS.

THe conclusion I am arriving to is that the esthetical contemplation of nature as it is, is not inconsistent with the human desire to re-create it. Beacuse in the nature of a mountain or jungle or ocean, and the nature of man as a rational being, what follows naturally is a relationship of man actively experiencing nature: man actively making nature part of his productive life. (I'm using "productive" in the broadest sense).

Am I making sense? Do you have other thoughts about it?

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The question is not well posed, is it?

If you mean, "Can an individual piece of art be rationally judged more beautiful than a given natural entity?", well of course the Mona Lisa is more beautiful than dogshiite.

If you mean, "Can an artistic representation of a natural phenomenon ever be more beautiful than the real thing?", then I guess this is debatable but to my mind it is hard to see how, beyond sheer scale, nature's skies can best Michaelangelo's. And then, there's Avatar for a techy example.

If you mean, "Is the most beautiful piece of art known to me more beautiful than the most beautiful natural phenomenon I have ever witnessed?", then my answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT EVEN CLOSE!!!! (edited here to clarify: nature wins hands down for me).

If you mean, "Can there ever be a piece of art created, but heretofore unknown, that would be more beautiful than the most beautiful thing in nature, also probably heretofore unknown?", well, who the heck knows?

So, I can dig the question if we are talking about the third version, otherwise it seems rudimentary.

- ico

Yeah, my question was not well framed and I think it is closer to your third version.

In short, I was afraid that by answering "Nature wins hands down for me", as you candidly answered, I would be showing a mystical sense of life, or dwarfing man.

But, as I have stated, one thing does not lead to the other.

Admiring nature is not a man-dwarfening act, but a man-lifting act, inasmuch as man sees himself as an active observer, and a potential actor and transformer of the nature he contemplates.

We don't like Plato, but I once read that it is atributted to Plato saying: "When a man sees a beautiful thing, what does he want? That the beautiful thing may be his"

Edited by Hotu Matua
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In short, I was afraid that by answering "Nature wins hands down for me", as you candidly answered, I would be showing a mystical sense of life, or dwarfing man.

But, as I have stated, one thing does not lead to the other.

Admiring nature is not a man-dwarfening act, but a man-lifting act, inasmuch as man sees himself as an active observer, and a potential actor and transformer of the nature he contemplates.

We don't like Plato, but I once read that it is atributted to Plato saying: "When a man sees a beautiful thing, what does he want? That the beautiful thing may be his"

I like this definition of "beauty" from dictionary.com:

"the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest)."

It is likely that technological advancements will eventually lead to devices that seamlessly interface with human sensory organs, or even sensory pathways from those organs into the human brain. At that point, it may be possible to simulate an external experience to such a degree of accuracy that art forms rivaling reality in terms of intensity of pleasure may be creatable.

However, the other side of the equation, deep satisfaction, is unlikely via a simulation -- the technical hacks will be invasive and compromise higher-order biologic proclivities, resulting in mental health issues at least, and likely reducing the long-term viability of human DNA (which is where we ought to be looking for improvements, rather than robotics attached to humans).

So, unless AI becomes possible, beauty is likely to remain the province of natural humans experiencing natural phenomena -- not least of which, as Ayn likes to playfully remind us, is our own sexuality.

Cheers!

- ico

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So, unless AI becomes possible, beauty is likely to remain the province of natural humans experiencing natural phenomena -- not least of which, as Ayn likes to playfully remind us, is our own sexuality.

I don't understand this. I mean, it was already acknowledged that non-natural things can be beautiful. I'm personally pretty indifferent to natural landscapes. I'd rather look at a city.

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Does anyone recall any quotation from Ayn Rand or any Objectivist thinker regarding the beauty of nature?

She made reference to the beauty of the bodies/faces of women (I don't remember she also refered to men)but I don't recall her including references to mountains, lakes, oceans, forests and the like.

I believe that PASSIVE, ECSTASIC contemplation of Nature's beauty comes close to nature-worshipping.

On the other hand, ACTIVE, RATIONAL contemplation of Nature's beauty places the observer (man) in the center of the experience.

(By "rational" I mean to use the process of integration: to think in nature as something that could be understood and enjoyed by ME in all aspects relevant to me)

Edited by Hotu Matua
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THe conclusion I am arriving to is that the esthetical contemplation of nature as it is, is not inconsistent with the human desire to re-create it. Beacuse in the nature of a mountain or jungle or ocean, and the nature of man as a rational being, what follows naturally is a relationship of man actively experiencing nature: man actively making nature part of his productive life. (I'm using "productive" in the broadest sense).

Good thoughts here. Absolutely. Why should the objective evaluation of the beauty of nature be any different than than any other objective value judgement. The necessary requirements being the understanding of the absolutism of existence seen through a perspective that takes the nature of consciousness into account.

more of my (probably subjective) thoughts:

The first time I visited New York I was blown away. But for me at least, theres something about the natural world that has more effect on my sense of life. The only way I can describe it is this: New York city as beautiful and inspiring as it is, is already there. Once its known to me, theres nothing more it can offer. I already have my life to focus on, and theres nothing more I can add to it, or gain from it. It gets old. Theres something about the stars, or the wilderness that to me will always be new, a never-ending quest for understanding or contemplation.

I realize this is all a "feel" that I get and probably completely subjective, but to have a sense of never-ending wonder, whether it be scientific/esthetic (my love for astronomy) or physical and challenging like sleeping in a tent somewhere, its a personal thing, and the only sense of immortality this athiest has found.

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Nature has no "beauty", beauty is part of human's evaluation of nature. In nature, both mountain and skyscrapers are just collections of matter. "Beauty" is only possible in the human perspective. Art, no matter what subject it is, always reflect the human's perspective, not the natures. "Beauty" is 100% man made, it doest not matter was it the matter processed by our hand, or information processed by our head. Mountain in art is more beautiful than mountain in nature, so as the skyscrapers in art being more beautiful than real skyscrapers.

Edited by mynameisyang
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If you can't be specific in general, that's the point I'm making about how you can't really compare the beauty of a mountain to a beauty of a skyscraper in terms of degrees. You'd have to have some more principles on WHAT makes for conflict as you say. Since you can't answer that in general, and because of the fundamental differences between mountains and skyscrapers, you can't say if structures can *exceed* nature in beauty.

I just did, based on specific criteria found both in natural and man made structures and sights. There is nothing in nature that is incomparable to man made things, when it comes to aesthetic judgment.

the fundamental differences between mountains and skyscrapers

If you evaluate the aesthetics of mountains and skyscrapers in different ways, you should list those differences. I don't do that. Functionality is not an aesthetic criteria, it doesn't make something beautiful. Neither is origin (incidental or volitional).

P.S. Just to clarify the various things we're talking about, my original point was that a structure's origin has no bearing on its aesthetic value. I believe that fully answers the OP, who assumed natural and man-made structures were comparable the second he phrased the questions the way he did, and he was just wondering which is better.

But I agree with his assumption, I don't think there are two or more unrelated ways by which we can make aesthetic appraisals. And if there were, we should definitely find different names for each.

Edited by Tanaka
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I don't understand this. I mean, it was already acknowledged that non-natural things can be beautiful. I'm personally pretty indifferent to natural landscapes. I'd rather look at a city.

Sorry, I should have said, to be wholly objective: To me, within the scope of my self-professed rational value system, the ACME of beauty is found in other people, and is very specifically centered on one other person in particular. In the absence of man-made consciousness, I can't see how this "soulular" beauty can be appreciated or created except by another human in the process of weaving their own soul. So, perhaps, that is the essence of my perspective, and thanks for helping me clarify!: The acme of beauty to me is the soul of another; since, according to Objectivism, I create my own soul and so do others, it is in fact a conjoining of a natural plus a man-made entity (another's body+soul as a whole, the body as substantially given, the soul as substantially created, to the more or less limited extent these intercomplementary aspects can be separately considered).

Funny. As usual, experience produces objects that conjoin the given (the subject of one's focus, which is a given for the sake of observation, however it did originally come to be) with the made/maintained (the current state of one's mind). And beauty (or any other flavor of evaluative specification) must relate objects of experience, each of which is partially given and partially created by the consciousness doing the experiencing.

- ico

Edited by icosahedron
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Does anyone recall any quotation from Ayn Rand or any Objectivist thinker regarding the beauty of nature?

She made reference to the beauty of the bodies/faces of women (I don't remember she also refered to men)but I don't recall her including references to mountains, lakes, oceans, forests and the like.

I believe that PASSIVE, ECSTASIC contemplation of Nature's beauty comes close to nature-worshipping.

On the other hand, ACTIVE, RATIONAL contemplation of Nature's beauty places the observer (man) in the center of the experience.

(By "rational" I mean to use the process of integration: to think in nature as something that could be understood and enjoyed by ME in all aspects relevant to me)

Agree with your "belief". But, for my part, I consider human bodies part of nature, as much as mountains and lakes -- but much more beautiful!

I like skyscrapers because of what they imply about the souls of the folk who built them. But, frankly, they are pretty clumsy compared to what can be modeled today with modern computers, so I am expecting better things and perhaps am a bit impatient. Gotta say, if Lando Calrissian's floating city-state is technically feasible, the meaning of beauty has yet to be explored past the edge of the forest.

- ico

Edited by icosahedron
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P.S. Just to clarify the various things we're talking about, my original point was that a structure's origin has no bearing on its aesthetic value. I believe that fully answers the OP, who assumed natural and man-made structures were comparable the second he phrased the questions the way he did, and he was just wondering which is better.

It's not even so much functionality as I think the nature of what you're evaluating counts a lot in determining if something is beautiful and exactly how beautiful. How would you compare a mountain landscape to skyscrapers if skyscrapers can have motifs/geometric patterns along with windows and non-natural shapes, while mountains don't and cannot have any of that? Similarly, how would you compare a sculpture and a painting in terms of beauty? A movie and an interior? A photograph and a vase? Clothing and furniture? In evaluating all these things, the nature of the object matters. You may be looking for harmony in all cases, but WHAT is harmonious varies.

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I just did, based on specific criteria found both in natural and man made structures and sights. There is nothing in nature that is incomparable to man made things, when it comes to aesthetic judgment.

If you evaluate the aesthetics of mountains and skyscrapers in different ways, you should list those differences. I don't do that. Functionality is not an aesthetic criteria, it doesn't make something beautiful. Neither is origin (incidental or volitional).

P.S. Just to clarify the various things we're talking about, my original point was that a structure's origin has no bearing on its aesthetic value. I believe that fully answers the OP, who assumed natural and man-made structures were comparable the second he phrased the questions the way he did, and he was just wondering which is better.

But I agree with his assumption, I don't think there are two or more unrelated ways by which we can make aesthetic appraisals. And if there were, we should definitely find different names for each.

I appreciate we're discussing aesthetics here - that is, pertaining to 'beauty' - and not ART, but your's is a view that affirms equal intrinsic value to natural and man-made.

Ask yourself if you have ever seen an ugly mountain, and your answer is likely, no. Lacking a designer, nothing in nature is ugly - it just IS.

Ask the same about a skyscraper, and I would say, definitely, some.

So, if I were asked which was more beautiful, I'd reply Which mountain? which skyscraper?There is a distinction here I think, more to do with integration of rationality and emotion, and relevant to 'sense of life.'

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I appreciate we're discussing aesthetics here - that is, pertaining to 'beauty' - and not ART, but your's is a view that affirms equal intrinsic value to natural and man-made.

Ask yourself if you have ever seen an ugly mountain, and your answer is likely, no. Lacking a designer, nothing in nature is ugly - it just IS.

Ask the same about a skyscraper, and I would say, definitely, some.

So, if I were asked which was more beautiful, I'd reply Which mountain? which skyscraper?There is a distinction here I think, more to do with integration of rationality and emotion, and relevant to 'sense of life.'

I agree, there is a distinction. I think it is a function of the relative comensurability of the items being compared. This is actually a more general problem of choosing consistent conceptual units, and applying them to produce a scale relating a set of observations/observables. And the question is begged: what could possibly be the unit of measuring beauty in general, across all types of entities? Is such a unit conceivable, or is it more genuine to have distinct scales/units of beauty depending on the classes of objects related? To make the idea of beauty general and rational would seem to require taking "beauty" to be a synonym for "value". And why not? How else to proceed, hierarchically?

- ico

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