Since you should never try to rephrase what has already been perfectly stated, I’ll quote in full the principle behind this blog:
“Beauty, like all other qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the definition of it becomes unmeaning and useless in proportion to its abstractness. To define beauty, not in the most abstract but in the most concrete terms possible, to find, not its universal formula, but the formula which expresses most adequately this or that special manifestation of it, is the aim of the true student of aesthetics.”
This is the theory of Walter Pater, in his Preface to The Renaissance (1873), a book more famous for the outrage generated by the book’s Conclusion, though the Preface deserves as much attention. After offering a general principle of aesthetics, Pater suggests that the starting point for this individual journey is, in each case, to ask questions:
“What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me? What effect does it really produce on me? Does it give me pleasure? And if so, what sort of degree or pleasure? How is my nature modified by its presence, and under its influence?”
This approach to aesthetics is as much about self-discovery as criticism. It certainly depends on the former preceding the latter. It also means we don’t have to grapple with the daunting weight of scholarship on the subject of aesthetics and art that has accumulated over the last 150 years, though it isn’t clear that this scholarship has advanced much beyond the principle outlined by Pater above, or as neuroscientist Dick Schwaab has it, ‘Art is beauty in the brain of the beholder’.
In any case, I don’t have the credentials to engage with this body of theory. All I have, in common with millions of others who have dabbled in creative writing, is what Orwell described as ‘aesthetic enthusiasm’, the ‘perception of beauty in the external world’ and on occasion, the ‘desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.’
In his famous Conclusion to The Renaissance, Pater outlined an potential approach to life. Reading those words crystallised for me a diversity of unconnected thoughts and theories into one worthy ideal:
‘Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us – for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself is the end.’
In the next paragraph, Pater sums this up in more vivid terms:
‘To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.’
I can’t promise insight as pure or writing as polished as Pater, and I will be far less discriminating. You will find a jumble sale of art, music and movies, from analysis of 1960s rock to impressions of Giotto’s paintings and the definitive ranking of Star Wars films. It is a completely selfish endeavour, but I hope that it might, here and there, prove of some interest to others.